At Main Street Kitchens, we hear one common lament from parents: it is hard to get children to eat their vegetables. Well, we asked our customers over the past week for their suggestions, tips, tricks, cajoling techniques, bribes, blackmail schemes, and any other ideas on how to get young people to consume their veggies. The results were wonderful; we've written them up for your use below. Please add your suggestions in the comments!
The first key to success is to make it next to impossible to separate the vegetables out from the rest of the meal. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the hardest way to get a child to eat vegetables, a giant pile of steamed broccoli isolated on the plate is an 11. Diced red pepper in scrambled eggs is a 4. And a corner of grilled cheese dipped into tomato soup is a 1.
Speaking of soup, they are the enemy of the Vegetable Avoider. Just plain chicken stock has been perfumed with onions, leeks, carrots, and celery, so already, the child is getting some vegetable matter whether he likes it or not. When you chop up those same root veggies into small dice and put them in the broth with some noodles and the remains of Sunday’s roast chicken, most children will at least get some veggies in every bite, even if it is by accident. The professional method, of course, is to puree the vegetables into soups. Carrots, butternut squash, potato/leek, lentil, split pea, white or black bean all work wonderfully. The expert will then add some bacon, garlic croutons, chopped ham, or oyster crackers to the soup. Slurp, slurp. Bye-bye soup.
Sweetness usually works. Slice carrots into discs and let them brown slowly in butter over medium heat. Stir in some honey until they are caramelized a bit and kids will hoover them. Savory is good, too. A surefire way to make cauliflower or broccoli appealing is to add some cheddar, Parmesan, or other cheese to them. Throw some feta in a salad. Never underestimate the power of a squirt of lemon juice.
The previously-mentioned egg is a wonderful cloak for vegetables. The sharper your knife and the better your knife skills, the smaller the dice of your veggies. The smaller the dice of your veggies, the harder it is for the child to separate them out from the inside of an omelet. So make sure your knife is sharp and practice dicing onions and peppers so that you can put them in eggs. Chop spinach very finely and stir into the eggs before you cook them; the spinach is impossible to avoid.
Perhaps the best tip is to use a Microplane grater on your vegetables. Finely grate zucchini into some hot olive oil, stir in some cooked pasta, and bam! -- your kids are eating zucchini or they are going hungry.
One recent trend in kitchen tools is the Spiralizer. It takes ordinary veggies and turns them into fun, interesting shapes. It's amazing how turning beets into ribbons makes kids want to eat them. Try it out!
Dipping is huge. Use Ranch dressing, peanut butter, or cheese fondue. If your kids like fruit, add some to a vegetable: grapefruit and avocado or mandarin oranges with some baby greens.
Of course, if all else fails, you've got options. Set a timer for 5 or 6 minutes and say, "You don't have to eat your vegetables, but if you haven't finished them by the time the timer expires, no dessert." And let us know if that works!