I think about my kid’s meals in advance, scanning the fridge for things I want to include and crafting sneaky ways of adding more nutrients to their meals. Its verging on an obsession – a competition with myself to see how many different vegetables I can get them to eat in a day. But is it wrong?
It’s not that my kids don’t eat healthy foods, it’s that they won’t eat some things I really want them to. Take cauliflower, no amount of persistence has resulted in either of them knowingly eating it but they are unwittingly having it a few times a week. The same goes for spinach.
Apparently I’m not meant to be hiding vegetables. Apparently its not good parenting. Its not like I’m hiding sugar (sneaked into most foods marketed for kids), fat (have you read the label of chicken nuggets) or salt (fish finger anyone?). My theory is they’re getting a diverse range of nutrients that wouldn’t be possible if I pandered to their inconsistent food preferences. They’re also being exposed to the flavour which I truly believe sets up their taste buds for a later date.
Things are easier these days with my five year old, I can reason with her – broccoli makes you run faster; carrots give you superhero vision and the like. Failing that I bribe her (apparently I shouldn’t be doing that either) “eat all your peppers and you can watch Horrid Henry” (and there’s the bad parenting again).
It’s not the same story for my youngest, she is 20 months. The first months of weaning were a dream. She ate whatever I offered. Then she learnt choice and resistance. I learnt how to get resourceful.
There are many tricks to adding more vegetables and I’m not just talking spinach and avocado in a smoothie. You can grate carrots into pancakes; use courgettes, squash, beetroot and all sorts of fruit in baking. For babies I especially like using broccoli and cauliflower in what I have imaginatively termed ‘balls’. These are burger-type creations using fish, meat or beans.
A chicken ball for instance is made by putting two chicken breasts in a food processor, adding an onion, some garlic, herbs, an egg and a whole head of broccoli or cauliflower. Whizz that into a lumpy mush and roll into balls. Lightly fry until cooked and freeze. The real plus point is they’re combining chicken with broccoli, teaching their taste buds about healthy flavour combinations.
Another good hiding place is mash; cauliflower and butter bean mash is a family favourite and adding leeks and finely chopped kale enhances the nutritional value. In fact finely chopped kale appears in many of my dishes, from scrambled eggs to fish pies. The great thing is it’s taught my kids to accept ‘green bits’ a strange aversion affecting so many kids.
I mostly try to make sure the flavours are still exposed, but sometimes the ingredients are more important to me than taste-bud training. Take pasta sauce, it’s the ideal vehicle for incorporating loads of different vegetables (see the recipe here), as is curry – a whole cauliflower and some red lentils disappear in a mild sauce. I have no issue with this though I do have issues with masking foods with sweet fruits, creating bizarre indescribable flavours that play no role in long term food preferences. Pear and broccoli pouches come to mind.
Not everything should be a cheat. I do always serve lots of vegetables with meals, some of which get eaten by them, some by me. I also let them see what I’m doing. I like them to have an interest in what is in their food. Gradually they do try previously rejected foods in isolation and their repertoire increases. In the meantime I see nothing wrong with hiding healthy ingredients into meals.
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