Adults know how delicious fresh vegetables are, but those super-nutritious ingredients can be a tougher sell for little ones. If you’ve tried to introduce your kids to veggies with mixed results, it may be time to try more creative methods. From color-themed dinners to kid-friendly dishes full of hidden veggies, these four strategies—complete with tasty recipes—make dinner fun while helping your children get the nutrients they need.
Celebrate Your Kid’s Favorite Color
Whether your toddler is crazy for orange or finds it easy being green, whipping up a dish in her favorite color can get her excited for the feast at hand. An easy way to create a tempting meal is to pick a color—say, orange—and use a food mill to puree ingredients into a vibrant, monochromatic soup or a topping for a rice dish. Carrots become an orange soup flavored with ginger and a touch of honey for sweetness; just hold the caraway seeds in that recipe to keep the flavor simpler. (Check out these extra tips on how to up your soup game.) Your kid loves red? Puree roasted peppers and add them to rice for a dinner the same shade as Elmo.
Create a Perfect Pairing
You know the old saying: A spoonful of cheese helps the vegetables go down. OK, it might not go quite like that, but who can argue with a little helping of cheese to perk up a vegetable dish? It’s simple to add veggies to quesadillas, for example, by opting for a classic pairing like broccoli-and-cheddar. In my house, we often make mac ‘n’ cheese by swapping out the milk and butter in the cheese sauce, and mixing in a veggie-packed broth instead. We’ll make the broth with everything from steamed summer squash to boiled beets to roasted red peppers. Those veggies totally disappear into the mac ‘n’ cheese—and at most they’ll add a fun tinge of color to the sauce. When you’re choosing your vegetables, you can go for pairings that complement the cheese you’re using: red pepper-and-havarti, for instance, or beet-and-goat cheese. We like to start with this mac ‘n’ cheese recipe, and make the following alterations for the cheese mixture.
To make the cheese sauce (in step 3 of the mac ‘n’ cheese recipe above):
Instead of melting butter, soften your chosen veggies by either roasting, steaming or boiling them, depending on your preference. Then puree those vegetables with stock or with the liquid that’s left in the pan or pot you used to cook them. You’ll want to end up with roughly three cups of pureed vegetable as the base of your sauce. That base will substitute for the melted butter, mustard, milk, onion, herbs and egg in the recipe. Then, in step 4, skip right to the part where you add the cheese of your choice (in the amount specified) and season with salt and pepper—then follow the rest of the recipe.
Disguise With Dip
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more kid-friendly food than hummus. This mild chickpea puree can be deliciously garlicky—or you can leave out the garlic if your kids don’t like it—and makes for a fun dip. It’s easy to make a snack-sized portion at home with a pint-sized food processor and, even better, you can add some unexpected ingredients like pesto, red pepper or eggplant. To make a pesto hummus, just mix in the pesto after you’ve processed the other ingredients, and stir to combine. For red pepper, eggplant or other similar vegetables, you’ll want to roast the veggie first. Then add it to the food processor with the bulk of the ingredients, as the recipe calls for. If you find that your hummus is not pureeing as smoothly as you’d like it to after you add in the roasted veggies, you can add olive oil—one tablespoon at a time—to get the right consistency. And of course, you can leave out or adjust the hot sauce in the recipe above, depending on how much your little one enjoys a little spice. Extra points for using veggies to dip!
Stuff With Veggie Goodness
We’re not above straight-up hiding vegetables in kid-favorite foods like pizza or waffles. To make a healthier pizza, try this easy cauliflower crust recipe, and load it up with your family’s favorite toppings.
It’s also fun to work veggies into breakfast favorites, and serve them up for dinner. Any grated veggies like sweet potatoes, zucchini or carrots will do. Grate the vegetables using a box grater, squeeze out any excess water, and season to your liking. To make waffles, you can just add your veggie mixture to a standard waffle batter. Love hash browns? Make a healthier version by substituting your favorite grated vegetables for potatoes, and putting the veggies directly on the waffle iron. (I like this recipe for waffle-iron hash browns, and you can make it with any grated vegetable instead of the potatoes.) Or try these handy spiralizer recipes, which show you how to mix veggies into your pancakes too.
Want more great food ideas for toddlers and kids of all ages? Check out these tips on making veggie-packed meals fun for kids and easy for you.