Picky eating can be stressful for your child as well as their parents…

As a parent, you want to do the best for your child. So you go to the trouble of preparing food that’s full of nutrients including lots of vegetables. Only, when you go to serve it your child declares they are not eating it, and in extreme cases, they could become distressed at the sight of certain foods.

The situation can quickly turn into a losing battle, with many parents giving in and offering snacks or other food instead just to calm them down. It’s understandable how if this scene is repeated every mealtime, it can become frustrating not to mention concerning for parents. 

One solution is to get creative with how you serve your food. By making dishes appear both fun and appetising, it could form the much needed truce between your child and the food you serve them. Here’s how to hide veggies in food when you have picky kids, along with an overview of what causes fussy eating to begin with. 

Understanding Picky Eating Habits In Children

As an adult, it’s easy to forget that food can be an alien experience for children. Everything from the colour, texture and of course the taste is strange to them. Taste buds are a defence mechanism in the body, rightly or wrongly telling us whether to eat something based on if they perceive it could be a threat to our health or not.

Furthermore, children have around 30,000 taste buds, which is a third more than adults. This means they are more likely to be highly sensitive to taste in general. 

Most of us can recall food we didn’t like to eat as children. Usually, we remember not only the sensation of not liking the test but the negative reaction from our parents trying to override our quite legitimate response. From a parents perspective, you can understand eating carrots is important, but to the child, it just seems as if they are being made to eat something they don’t like. It creates a negative association with that food which for some children lives on with them into adulthood too. That’s just one of the reasons why it’s important to approach picky eating with care. 

Hiding Veggies In Food

If the sight of vegetables in their whole form on a plate is creating an issue for your kids, then it’s time to quite literally, make things a little more bite-sized. It’s a good idea to build a repertoire of foods you know your kids like to eat, or slightly tweak the dishes they already like. An example is making your own burgers instead of heading to McDonald’s as this is something the kids can get involved in too. It’s very easy to add vegetables to burgers, and they can even be made entirely from veggies such as sweetcorn, mushrooms, butter beans and spinach too. 

When it comes to dishes such as spaghetti bolognese, stews, roasts etc – how you physically shape the vegetables can help you disguise them. Chopping up vegetables so they aren’t immediately identifiable is useful, especially if there’s lots of colour going on.

Alternatively, you can have some fun by employing tools for the job. Spiralizers can turn the likes of cucumbers and carrots into pretty twirls rather than intimidating blocks on the plate. Likewise, it’s possible to get a device (that can even be used by the kids!) to create a heart or star-shaped vegetables. All of a sudden, eating vegetables goes from being a chore to something inquisitive and fun.

Choosing A Good Disguise

When you lay vegetables out on a plate you leave no room for negotiation, especially with kids who refuse to eat them. When it comes to hiding veggies in food, a good tactic is to think about the base of the meal you are cooking. Let’s take anything with a sauce for an example. A tomato sauce that you use to make spaghetti bolognese could be infused with finely diced carrots or spinach. Neither will greatly alter the taste but will add a range of vitamins in a way that’s not easy for your kid to quickly pick up on. 

Or, you could try the opposite tactic using lots of vegetables at once that makes it difficult to pick up on everything that’s in it. Vegetable meatballs are a great place to start because you can add 6-7 different vegetables meaning no specific ingredient stands out more than the others. Vegetable fried rice or a traybake could work for this too. Alongside changing the visuals, incorporating different flavours to your dishes can also act as a good disguise.

Finger Food For Picky Toddlers

Transitioning into solid food is a delicate process for both toddlers and parents. On the one hand, it’s about choosing foods that will pique your child’s curiosity, but this needs to be done in a way that is presented safely to avoid a choking hazard. Finger food is ideal because it’s both small and offers an introduction to new tastes without overwhelming the senses. Using a colourful tray to serve finger food is perfect for picky toddlers because you can add in some fruit and cheese too.  

Ideal finger food for picky toddlers can cover a wide range of foods. However, vegetable ideas include carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, cooked sweet potato cubes, pepper slices, baby broccoli, or small sugar snap peas. A good strategy is to include a variety of colours, textures and tastes. As they get older you can experiment by creating faces or shapes with the food too, which is very easy to do with smaller food blocks. 

Encouraging Healthy Eating In Picky Kids

Food and psychology are closely linked. We often view unhealthy foods as ‘treats’ when actually, eating them is anything but due to the high fat and sugar content. Positive reinforcement of vegetables can go a long way in ensuring your kids don’t refuse to eat certain foods because they want treats instead. On a basic level, it can help to explain the benefits of vegetables to your kids. A visual way to do this is to install a chart, such as those which show vegetables and the corresponding body part they nourish most.

This method is especially great for kids who are a little older and question everything. It can be hard to give all the answers as parents, especially when you know they are just looking for an excuse not to eat the food. By explaining how vegetables will help grow and nourish their bodies, it changes their perception of food. Just by having a conversation, it may also break down some of the barriers as to why they don’t like particular foods. You can then use this information to tweak future recipes, especially if you are looking to hide veggies in their food. 

Hiding Vegetables In Smoothies Or Juices

It’s easy to just consider food as a solid matter on a plate, but this isn’t the only way to get nutrients into your kid’s diets. Smoothies or juices are an excellent way to get them to consume vegetables. There are several benefits to this method. Firstly, drinks tend to be very colourful making them already seem more attractive, especially if you add a fun straw too. As everything is blended into a liquid, specific vegetables can’t be identified. Plus if you add some fruit the whole thing can taste sweet and not at all like you are drinking several vegetables! 

Ideal vegetables for smoothies or juices include carrots, spinach, sweet potato, celery, cucumber, beetroot, kale, avocado, and broccoli. Recipes will vary depending on the vegetables you choose, but as an example, spinach goes great with apples and celery. Or, carrot and orange make for a refreshing combination. A top tip is to juice fruits and vegetables with high water content and make smoothies with drier ones. You can also add sugar-free juice or almond milk based on your ingredients to boost the water content of smoothies too. This will make it easier to drink. 

To Sum Up

The concept of hiding veggies in food when you have picky kids is complex. There are some who don’t agree with it at all, even though it’s for their own good. After all, when your child is growing they need lots of vitamins to develop mentally and physically healthy, which can’t happen without a varied and balanced diet.

The best tip we can give is to reinvent food so it appears fun and intriguing. This is much better than kids feeling forced to eat something they hate, which could cause food avoidance issues further down the line. 

Also remember to not have guilty feelings for feeding your children with junk food on their special day. Dogmatic rules without a little wiggle room always has the potential to spark a toddler rebellion, so bear that in mind.

We hope you’ve found the above advice helpful, so be sure to leave a comment below with your tips too. Or share this article with any parents who are going through a similar situation. If your child continues to refuse to eat vegetables and you are concerned, a good port of call is your GP or a therapist who specialises in childhood food aversions.