Convincing Your Picky Eaters to Love Their Vegetables
Everyone has that picky eater who just insists they hate vegetables. It might be the “meat and potatoes” guy who refuses to eat asparagus, or the super finicky six year old that just isn’t going to budge no matter what you do. Dinner time becomes a frustrating battle in serving a healthy meal that will actually be eaten, rather than simply pushed around the plate. Whatever shape or size your challenging eater comes in, there are ways to get them on board with eating more nutritiously.
The biggest challenge of getting your family to love their vegetables is taste. Everyone has their likes and dislikes, but even more, if what you have served is a limp, tasteless blob on the side of the plate, no one is going to be excited about it. Offering up tasty alternatives will make a difference. Try using spices and herbs. For example, drizzle a little olive oil and garlic salt over asparagus and lightly broil it, leaving it to a slightly crunchy texture. A little lemon juice squeezed over your vegetables will give a light, refreshing taste to what might otherwise be bland. If your guy likes spicy foods, try adding a few sliced jalapenos, or a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. The key is to know what your family likes, and try alternatives that meet what they like. Try a little honey mixed in with sliced or baby carrots for a sweet alternative.
Try disguising your vegetables. Add finely grated carrot to your spaghetti sauce or soup base. As well, crush your tomatoes instead of chopping them when you add them to spaghetti sauce. That child that hates tomatoes, but loves ketchup won’t even notice them. Try zucchini bread as an alternative to banana bread. Don’t tell them what they are eating. Give it a fun, funky name – Funky Monkey Bread, or something similar, that will delight your child’s imagination. Puree vegetables to add to sauces, soups, stews or even pasta dishes for an extra punch of nutrition that will also hide the flavor and texture of that much hated vegetable. Another example to think about: puree cooked cauliflower and mix it in with your mashed potatoes, or finely chop spinach and add to a homemade dip.
Some other alternatives may be stuffing vegetables such as squash boats, peppers, tomatoes, mushroom caps, or even artichokes. Try slicing a yellow squash in half, scoop out the center to make a “boat”, then finely dice the squash, mix with a little bread crumb, some crumbled bacon, a sprinkle of cheese, and stuff the boats, then bake it just until the cheese melts.
While frying might not be the healthiest alternative, try something new as a special treat. Lightly coat long green beans with your favorite wet batter and fry them just until the batter is golden brown, then serve with your family’s favorite ranch dressing or dipping sauce. This kind of compromise will have your family excited about boring, tasteless green beans for once.
Sometimes with children it’s all about presentation. If you serve them cooked, soggy vegetables, it may simply be a textural issue for them. Small children are learning all about the things they do and don’t like. If your child doesn’t like cooked squash, try slicing it and serving it raw with ranch dressing for dipping. Arrange raw vegetables on a plate in the shape of a smiley face, or something else that will bring a smile to your child’s face. You are more likely to get them excited about eating that carrot for once.
Finely diced onions and mushrooms, sautéed with a little minced garlic is a great topping alternative to grilled steak or fish. Plus, the aroma of that trio will have your family’s mouth watering, even if they claim they don’t like eating them. Thinly slice eggplant, squash and zucchini, brush it with a little olive oil, or for a different taste, try sesame oil, or a hot/spicy oil and grill just until they have those nice grill marks on each side. In other words, try other cooking alternatives. A very light stir fry of crunchy vegetables mixed with your family’s favorite herbs and spices may go over much better than steamed. Experiment. Try tossing in a few chopped pecans or walnuts. If something doesn’t work for you, try another alternative.
The key is don’t let past frustrations force you to give up. Think about what your family enjoys and find ways to successfully introduce healthier alternatives in a way that is friendly to your family. It may take several attempts and some major failures, but eventually you will find what brings them to the table and makes your entire dinner experience a much happier and healthier one.