Should you Sneak Veggies into Your Kid’s Food?

assorted veggies and a story about sneaking veggies into kids food

There’s a lot about getting kids to eat their vegetables. The question is, what’s the best approach. Should you sneak veggies into your kids food? Or trust that in time, they’ll get on board.

Plenty of folks say, “heck, yes”, get veggies into your kids however possible. Indeed, entire books are devoted to the subject, offering surreptitious ways to work vegetables into everyday dishes. On the flip side are plenty of parents, along with food and nutrition experts, who are opposed to such practices. Vegetables need to be up front and center, they proclaim, otherwise kids will never learn to accept them at face value.

carrot mac and cheese

Should you sneak veggies into your kid’s food?

Although I’ve been known to stir pureed carrots into my mac cheese and have worked chopped kale anonymously into more dishes than I can count, I tend to be a more ‘up front and center’ kind of a cook. I wonder what kind of a message it sends if healthy foods need to be camouflaged. Plus, it’s tough to get in adequate amounts of vegetables when hidden within another dish.

That all said, there’s no harm in a little of both. Have the bowl of veggies and the green salad on the table, but toss those dark leafies into the chili when the kids aren’t looking.Kale Salad in Colorful Bowls - Mom's Kitchen Handbook

On the “serve ‘em naked” end of the spectrum, here are a few tips that may help your kids embrace their vegetables:

8 Ways to Get Kids to Eat their Veggies (without having to sneak)

• Provide options

Try for at least a couple of vegetable dishes at dinner, say a salad and a plate of broccoli, or pasta with asparagus and veggies and dip. Offering choices may up the chances that a child will go for at least one of them.

• Let kids choose

Take kids to the market and let them have a say in what vegetables you make that day or week. Invite them to choose something new, stick with an old favorite, or maybe both.

• Get your kids cooking vegetables

Give children jobs in the kitchen related to the salad or vegetables, such as making a salad dressing or grating cheese over roasted cauliflower.

• Serve veggies first

I’m always surprised by how quickly the kids can down a plate of vegetables set out before dinner when they are good and hungry.

• Garden

Growing and harvesting a couple of vegetables is a great way to up the interest.

• Eat them yourself

Let your kids see you eating and loving a variety of vegetables.

• Don’t push it

Put the food out there, encourage them to try it, then leave it alone.

• Be patient

Some kids take time (a long time) to adopt new foods. Those of you with veggie-averse kids might take comfort in this article in Yoga Journal about one mom’s trial (and triumph) with her picky son.

Should you sneak vegetables in your kids food


02.11.2016 at10:04 AM #

Jill OConnor

A little of both is a good idea! There are some foods I want to like so badly and I just don’t. tastebuds change and hopefully children who don’t like vegetables will eventually like some, at least, later in life. Any way you can get them in, I say, is a good idea. Eating your vegetables isn’t a moral dilemma, it’s a matter of taste.

02.11.2016 at10:04 AM #

Katie Morford

Indeed, Jill, not a moral dilemma. I agree, tastebuds do often change, sometimes it just takes a while. Cake always helps 🙂

02.11.2016 at2:53 PM #

Ned Ketyer, M.D.

As a pediatrician, I don’t think it’s a good idea for parents to be sneaky about anything. Tell them the truth: “That’s broccoli. It’s delicious. If you don’t want it, don’t eat it.” We know from scientific research that if parents serve their kids real food (not processed food “products”) eventually most of them will eat and enjoy it. Parents need to be patient and not have that battle with their kids (which they always lose)! I love your ideas, especially about teaching kids to be handy around the kitchen, growing a garden, and being a good role model by eating real foods yourself. And giving kids choices (where “nothing” is a choice) is also important: “You can have milk or water or nothing.”

02.11.2016 at2:53 PM #

Katie Morford

Thank you so much for joining the conversation. Love hearing from your perspective as a pediatrician. It can be hard (and sometimes scary) for parents to be patient, but it often does pay off.

02.19.2016 at12:05 PM #

Julie @ RDelicious Kitchen

Great tips! I think it’s so important to introduce kids to new foods early. I teach a lot of kids cooking classes at work and the biggest thing I make sure is never to force them to try anything. First it’s just being exposed to fruits/veggies and when they see their peers enjoy them they try new foods on their own!

02.19.2016 at12:05 PM #

Katie Morford

I agree, Julie. It’s best to expose them and let them come to it rather than force it.

02.19.2016 at5:41 PM #

Deanna Segrave-Daly

Such a great post – and I really like hearing everyones thoughts. I think it’s different for every family but I don’t think “sneaking” veggies should be the main way they are served to kids. They should also be served front and center and never forced to be eaten. I like to say you’d never say “take 3 more bites of dessert” so don’t do it for the veggies otherwise they will automatically be less desirable. And it might take months (even years!) before they eat a wide variety and that’s OK. It’s the repetition and continued exposure that can make the difference.

Love Jill’s line: “Eating your vegetables isn’t a moral dilemma, it’s a matter of taste.” – Brilliant!

Now that said, I always puree butternut squash into my mac and cheese but more as a nutrition boost and flavor enhancer than purposely being sneaky.

Love Ji

02.19.2016 at5:41 PM #

Katie Morford

All good advice Deanna. And yes to butternut squash mac and cheese.

02.20.2016 at1:29 PM #

Liz - Meal Makeover Mom

Great post. Your tips are spot on. I have always been a believer that you should weave fruits and vegetables into your everyday cooking (i.e. adding pureed pumpkin to pancake batter or bananas to muffins) because it’s a good habit. Or weave whole wheat flour into baked goods and breadings. But I do not believe in sneaking them in. Veggies should be front and center and they should be celebrated! Thankfully, our culture has changed for the better since those “sneaky” books were published. While I know some parents still struggle at mealtime, our society has made it easier for them to encourage healthful eating with fewer opportunities for sabotage! (i.e more farmers’ markets; more school gardens; vastly improved school lunch programs.)

02.23.2016 at11:53 PM #

EA-The Spicy RD

Great post Katie! I’m against sneaking, but, like you, I do try and enhance the nutrient value of a lot of foods. Onions (chopped finely and sautéed) are in almost everything I make. Sometimes my son grumbles, but then he inhales the entire dish. It took about 8 years before my kids would eat salad. The funny thing now is that my son will eat salad if it’s the main dish, but not on the side 🙂

02.23.2016 at11:53 PM #

Katie Morford

Thanks EA. I like your point about onions, since they can be so ubiquitous in cooking, we forget that they are a nutrient-rich vegetable, too. Too funny about your son. Maybe in another 8 years he’ll eat it as a side, too.

02.25.2016 at9:11 AM #

Jessica @ Nutritioulicious

I totally agree with your stance on this. I add veggies into certain dishes like butternut squash in mac and cheese and mushrooms and spinach in my tomato sauce, but not to be sneaky, rather to give a nutrition boost. And I usually tell my kids what’s in it once they’re eating and enjoying it. When those cookbooks came out based around sneaking veggies & fruits into everything, I had to explain to a lot of people that the downside of doing that is then your kid thinks every cookie is a “healthy” cookie and doesn’t learn moderation when it comes to treats. Just one of the many ways that sneaking can backfire.

02.25.2016 at9:11 AM #

Katie Morford

That’s a really good point about the cookies. Didn’t even think of that. Thanks for chiming in.

Post Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *