Kids are notoriously picky eaters, but you can use these tips to sneak healthy food into their meals without having a revolt at the dinner table.
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Kids are notoriously picky eaters. It’s normal. We know that. But what do we DO about it?
All of my boys have gone through phases of being picky eaters…my youngest would happily live off of cold cereal if I would let him, and he regularly declares his intense disgust at something he did like and ate happily just last week.
Getting balanced meals into him can be tricky, but I’ve found some success in getting sneaky about it!
Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s important for my kids to KNOW that they are eating vegetables and other healthy foods, but I also realistically know that I cannot force them to down tons of broccoli if they don’t like it (and they don’t).
We have a “taste everything” rule at our house, but beyond that–and our frequent discussions about why it’s important to eat a variety of foods–I don’t force particular foods into my kids. I want them to have a positive relationship with food, and be willing to try everything, without dreading that they’ll have to eat a plateful of something they don’t like.
We typically follow this golden rule: “Parents are responsible for what is presented to eat and the manner in which it is presented. Children are responsible for how much they eat, and even whether they eat.” (Ellyn Satter)
The tips I share below are not a replacement for good family habits and educating kids about fueling their bodies with “growing food” (as we call it).
They are, instead, meant to fill in the gaps…to give them (and all of us) a boost of nutrition while they are still learning how to make good food choices (read more here about one thing I do).
I figure you can never go wrong with adding extra healthy food into your diet.
With that in mind, I hope these tips give you some new sneaky ways to get healthy food into your kiddos.
8 Sneaky Ways to Get Picky Eaters to Eat Healthy Food
1. Puree veggies to use in sauces and soups.
This all started because I had leftover baby food in the freezer after Little Man decided he was too good for being spoon fed. I threw some extra pureed butternut squash in our taco soup one evening, and I thought to myself…this is brilliant! It’s such an easy way to increase the health-factor of all kinds of different foods.
We use sweet potatoes or butternut squash in spaghetti sauce (like in this lasagna skillet), sloppy joe sauce, and pretty much any soup with a beef or tomato base. We also put cauliflower in alfredo sauce and other creamy recipes.
I learned a lot about adding purees to recipes from the book Deceptively Delicious. It gives tons of ideas of recipes you can fill with hidden veggies–and your picky eaters will never even know!
Tip: Just like with making homemade baby food, it’s easiest to make a batch and then freeze them in ice cube trays to be used a few at a time in cooking.
2. Replace some flour with ground flaxseed.
Several years ago, I was told that I had borderline high cholesterol. Thank you, genetics. I knew that one way to combat it was to add more Omega 3 Fatty Acids to my diet, which are conveniently plentiful in fish…which I inconveniently kind of hate. But my doctor mentioned to me that another good source of Omega 3s (as well as lignans and fiber) is flaxseed.
Since then, I’ve experimented with putting it in all sorts of foods, like these yummy granola bites and these blueberry muffins. I’ve also often replaced 1/4 cup flour with 1/4 cup flaxseed when making waffles or pancakes. You can see the flecks in whatever you’re cooking, but it doesn’t change the taste or texture much. It just adds a subtle, nutty flavor to things.
3. Replace half the oil or butter in recipes with yogurt or applesauce.
In muffins & quick breads, this is a super easy way to cut down on fat. If a muffin recipe calls for one cup of oil, I’ll do 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup applesauce or yogurt. The bread stays nice and soft, but it’s healthier. Just make sure you use plain yogurt and unsweetened applesauce, otherwise you’re just replacing fat with sugar.
Here are some of my favorite healthy muffin recipes that use this trick:
- Mini pumpkin chocolate chip muffins
- Apple Oatmeal Muffins
- Mini blueberry muffins
- Banana chocolate chip muffins
4. Switch out regular fries for their sweeter cousin.
My boys LOVE fries. Forget any other part of the meal, just pass the fries and ketchup, please. Obviously, fries are not the healthiest food on the planet, so I started making sweet potato fries. They’re hard to get as crispy as regular fries, but if you sift/sprinkle a little cornstarch over them before baking, it helps them crisp a bit. Either way, my little hungry hippos will eat these non-stop. And, I love them, too!
5. Be smooth.
There aren’t many foods more celebrated than smoothies in our household (except for maybe cake and ice cream, but…well…). We love to make them for breakfast or for morning snack time.
I know some people go all in with the green smoothies, but I’m not going to lie, I can’t stomach them. Instead, ours usually involve a handful of spinach, mixed with milk, yogurt, bananas, frozen strawberries and/or blueberries, and whatever else I have on hand. The other ingredients mask the color and flavor of the spinach, so my picky eaters don’t even know it’s in there!
Bonus points if you add some flaxseed or chia to the mix!
6. Make dessert healthy!
I love taking leftover smoothies and pouring them in popsicle molds (we really like these). My boys think it’s the coolest thing ever to eat popsicles, so when they ask for smoothie pops and I agree, I get awesome mom points, and they have no idea they’re eating all sorts of good-for-you foods. Win!
7. Make healthy available
This tip isn’t quite as “sneaky” as some of the others, but it’s one of my best strategies, so I’ll share it. Kids get hungry approximately every 2.3 seconds, right? When we’re home all day, I typically serve two healthy(ish) snacks per day in addition to their three meals. If they are hungry beyond that, I try to keep an assortment of fruits and veggie in a snack tray in the fridge. They are always welcome to eat anything from the snack tray.
Sometimes I use the one in the picture below (from the dollar store), but last year I finally bought a snack tray with a lid so I could keep it in the fridge between meals more easily. Game changer!
My motto is, “If you’re not hungry enough for carrots and apples, then you’re not really hungry. You’re just bored.”
I also often pull it out to go along with snack time or lunch. Just having a colorful array of options makes my kids more likely to choose fruits and veggies.
Plus, putting a variety of foods in the tray allows me to expose them to new foods in a no-pressure way. Even if they don’t eat the new food, they have at least seen it, and seen me eat it, and that increases their likelihood of being willing to try it later.
8. Dip it!
Many kids love the fun of dipping foods. It’s a great way to encourage them to try new foods…I mean, what veggie doesn’t taste better with a creamy coating of ranch?
Here are a few more dipping ideas to use with fruits/veggies:
What do you think?
Would your kids go for these ideas?
To be sure, we still eat our fair share of goldfish crackers around here, but these tips have helped me make sure that my kids are getting the nutrients they need to grow up to be “big and tall like daddy” as my littlest one likes to say. Enjoy!
Do you have any sneaky tips to get your picky eaters to eat healthy food?