You say you have a picky eater on your hands.
Let me tell you something, just between you and me:
I completely understand.
You come to this site. You see my pretty food pictures. You see my happy kids. What you don't see?
Me in tears, on the phone with the pediatrician asking if a 2 year old can survive on crackers alone.
Me begging my 4 year old to just try ONE "no thank you bite" of a new food while biting my cheek so I don't scream.
Me thinking I can't take even one more meal at that table with a child who is screaming she doesn't like it before we've even sat down. Before she's even seen what's on the plate.
I. Understand. You. I feel your picky eating pain. It is so tempting to give up but the mommy guilt sets in so you try again. We are doing the very best we can and trying every trick in the book.
We will get through this. Some days our tricks will work and other days not so much. I've come to realize it is all about the baby steps towards incrementally better choices.
So today I've gathered up 30 Days of Vegetables: tips and tricks for getting your picky eater eating better. Vegetables are the groundwork for better health. They are so important that at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital they grow their very own! The kitchen garden at St. Jude is jaw dropping but what their chefs do with the bounty is even better.
Chef Michael Vetro spoke to our group during my blogger tour of the St. Jude campus and shared with us how he firmly believes that the freshest ingredients make the healthiest food for the kids battling life threatening disease under their roof. He knows he is fueling their bodies for the fight they are waging and he does his part to help keep them strong so they will win.
It's just one example of many how everyone at St. Jude understands the important role they play in these families' lives. Chef Vetro spoke of how he has to feed not just your average picky eater, but one who's taste buds have been destroyed from chemo treatments on top of everything else.
If we struggle to get our kids to eat veggies, imagine how tough his job is! I was so grateful he shared some of his tricks with me so I could pass them along to you.
But honestly, if you come away from this post with nothing else please just know you aren't alone. Your efforts matter, even if they don't seem like they are working in the moment.
Hang in there and I'm crossing fingers some of these tips help!
P.S. To prove you are not alone, come join the conversation on picky eating habits over on Facebook:
30 Days of Vegetables: tips and tricks for helping picky eaters eating better
There are three main methods to getting veggies into your kids:
- The straight up veggie on a plate
- The chopped up and slightly hidden veggie as part of a normal meal
- The pureed all to bits and snuck away beyond seeing veggie inside of a treat
Chef Vetro insists that all three methods count and all have their place. While it is tempting to just go route #3, you want to be sure you're still attempting 1 & 2 for introducing flavors and textures but he is not above hiding veggies in pizza sauce or fruits in milkshakes and smoothies. Whatever it takes to get them past that picky eater!
Straight Up Veggie On a Plate:
This is where the fresher, the better comes in to play. If you're going to attempt to cajole your picky eater to try a vegetable, you want to be 100% sure that experience will be positive. Stick with the most delicious in-season and fresh options until they are more tolerated. If you're up for it, grow your own like St. Jude Children's Hospital does!
- Check out our attempt at summer gardening with radishes. It was a huge hit with both girls.
- Take your kids to the farmer's market and let THEM pick out a veggie that catches their eye. If none do (been there!), ask them to pick a color and then YOU select the veggie that matches. Little Pea discovered that spring snap peas from the farmer's market were her favorite veggie ever using this method. For 3 glorious weeks, she devoured them by the bag full. She could tell when they stopped being in season, and immediately began refusing them.
- Play with the serving style like these grilled weeknight dinner kabobs
- Entice them with colorful presentation like this rainbow salad
- Mix the veggie with a favorite fruit to make it more enticing like this roasted peppers & pineapple side dish
- Choose a slightly healthier veggie option than a standard favorite. For example, swap these amazing sweet & spicy roasted sweet potatoes for regular white ones.
Chopped up and Slightly hidden:
Here the veggies might be peeking out, but hopefully there's enough noodle, cheese, sauce, or other pleasant object covering them up that you can sneak a good quantity in before they notice!
For pasta lovers try:
7. Lasagna for beginners: sneak in some chopped zucchini between the layers
9. Chinese noodles with pork & spicy peanut sauce: the sauce on this is so thick and flavorful, you could add broccoli or peas into this mix and it would help mask the taste.
10. Asian chicken pasta salad: yummy both hot or cold if your child has temperature preferences
11. Asian noodles with sweet and spicy chicken: this is one of my kids' favorites. Toss in an asian slaw mix with the noodles to hide cabbage and shredded carrots.
12. Garden lasagna cups: perfect for after trips to the farmer's market. We made these by the panful during the summer.
13. Homemade alfredo sauce: perfect for hiding peas
14. Hidden veggie roasted tomato sauce: perfect for hiding zucchini, peppers, onions, kale, spinach or a whole host of veggies
For soup lovers try:
15. Tuscan chicken soup: let it simmer gently for hours and the veggies become so soft the kids hardly know they are there.
16. Chicken chili: much chunkier, but if you serve it with tortilla chips you can sell it as "Hot Salsa Soup". My older daughter loved this!
17. Tortellini soup: those plump cheese tortellini might just tempt your picky eater to tolerate the vegetable based soup.
Veggie heavy casseroles for the whole family:
18. Chicken pot pie: lightened up comfort food classic
19. Quick and easy chicken enchiladas: hide extra peppers inside all that cheese!
20. Easy chicken fried rice: mix and match veggies hidden in a yummy rice base
21. Roasted sausages, potatoes, and apples: a sweet way to entice them to try onions & potatoes
22. Old fashioned beef stew: the gravy makes the veggies soft and easy to eat for kids who hate the crunch
Mix it up with a salad:
Salads are great because they can be tossed together to hide veggies or they can be served deconstructed style with various ingredients served separately. Whatever you think might work better. I have been SHOCKED in the past when Little Pea would gobble up raw spinach leaves if they were served all by themselves. If your child enjoys fruit, both of these options might help with the greens.
23. This citrus salad is perfect for kids who love oranges since the juice helps sweeten the spinach.
24. Everything but the kitchen sink salad combines sweet blueberries with the salad greens. This is great served deconstructed as well.
Baby Steps Hidden Away:
When all else fails, these are some of my favorite ways to get a little produce into the kids:
25. Potato chips as health food: read it before you gasp
26. Banana zucchini bread: my kids have NO idea the zucchini is in there
27. Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting: my girls have been begging to make this again. Skip the frosting and dust with powdered sugar if you want to lighten it up.
28. Sweet potato onion bread: using a jar of pureed baby food is brilliant. You could easily add other purees to up the nutritional factor.
29. Spicy peach salsa: tempt them with tortilla chips and sweet peaches, they'll hopefully miss the peppers and onions
30. Strawberry mango salsa: I'm cheating with this idea because really there are no veggies in it but if you've made it this far and you are still groaning with worry that your picky eater just Will NOT eat anything from this list, I love the punch of nutrition this blend of fruits has. My kids can't resist it with cinnamon pita chips.