How do I sneak healthier food into my family’s diet?

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Confession: I have totally been known to sneak veggies into our son’s food — he’s two-and-a-half and generally a good eater, but some days are easier than others. Sometimes, on the not so easy days, he’ll find grated carrots and broccoli on top of his cheese pizza because that’s how we roll.

Today on Offbeat Home Dakoma is asking how she can get her husband and teen-aged daughter to eat better — more or less without their knowledge. While Cat’s not advocating all out secrecy, she’s delivered some stellar advice.

Have you guys snuck healthier food into the meals of your family before? How did you do it without incurring wrath? Discuss!

Comments on How do I sneak healthier food into my family’s diet?

  1. I haven’t had to fool my child yet, but I’ve been doing the following to my husband for years 😉

    Anything you can puree, you can sneak into tomato sauce pretty easily.

    Mix mashed potatoes half and half with pureed cauliflower.

    use a healthy zucchini or carrot bread recipe, make muffins – and call them cupcakes. Feel free to sneak in other fruits and veggies. My favorite muffins are a carrot, apple, zucchini mixture.

    When making lasagna – skip the ricotta and use a nonfat cottage cheese.

    If your kids like soup – make “cream” soup by pureeing white beans, potatoes, or other veggies to form a creamy base.

  2. A friend of mine who’s got a picky daughter blends every vegetable under the sun into tomato sauce – she’ll eat tomato sauce on pasta like it’s her job, but she’s none the wiser that there’s everything from eggplant to carrots in it! I think it must be a texture thing.

    Pureed squash or pumpkin is really easy to put into anything from cake to soup, and is mildly sweet, so I assume that kids would like it? I make a pasta sauce that’s basically just squash and goat cheese blended together with a bit of the pasta water to bind it, and it looks like KD but tastes like awesome.

  3. Smoothies and loafs! And loaf-like things like fritters, patties, balls, and burgers.
    But really, smoothies for greens are the best. You can’t hide it, but you can convince that it’s yummy.

  4. I’m actually quite philosophically opposed to “sneaking” food.

    I offer a veg at each meal. If they eat it, they eat it. If they don’t, they don’t. Some days my daughters (both three) adore broccoli. Some days one of them eats three whole tomatoes and nothing else for lunch. Some days, like today, they ignore everything but the pita chips and mango. Some days they even refuse roast chicken and french fries, their favorite foods in the world.

    I figure that at this age, if I simply make sure to offer a healthy variety of foods, they’ll get what they need. Seems to be working so far.

    • I don’t think the two approaches are mutually exclusive. I offer vegetables at nearly every meal (if not, then fruit). Sometimes she’s into it, sometimes not, but if I feel like she hasn’t been getting enough veggies lately, it’s into a smoothie. I agree that every meal doesn’t need to be balanced, but I think you can go too far with letting them eat whatever they prefer. Chicken nuggets and pasta with maybe one piece of broccoli a year is not going to cut it, and that’s what some kids will do, given the option, for a variety of reasons (texture issues, change issues, quality of food issues etc.).

      • I don’t let them eat whatever they prefer — that’s a straw argument. I offer protein, veg, fruit, carbs every meal, and they eat what they want to from that. I give them choices, but not unlimited choices (“do you want O’s or puffs for breakfast?”), so they feel they have some autonomy.

        And I don’t sneak food. I really feel that sets up a dynamic of competition, subterfuge, and the seeds of possible eating disorders. They’re three. They won’t be eating potato chips all day b/c they can’t. They don’t have access. So I don’t make it a big deal and they don’t think it’s a big deal either.

        Sure, I might do something different for different temperaments but believe it or not my kids are *very* picky, moody eaters. But I subscribe to the philosophy that it’s my job to provide healthy food, their job to eat it. Not my job to *make* them eat it.

  5. my daughter used to love pureed spinach, but right before her first bithday decided to never eat mushy baby food again. I had a freezer full of baby food cubes though that I didn’t want to chuck. So I started mixing pureed spinach with eggs and scrambling them, and she loved it. I use shredded baby spinach now. I tell her it’s Green Eggs and Ham. She’s 2 and usually eats what we eat now, but It’s excellent for days when my husband and I are going to eat buffalo wings or something else she shouldn’t have after she goes to bed.
    Just be warned : spinach puree + carrot puree + egg = great tase, but dog poop appearance.

  6. This isn’t really a tip for ‘sneaking’ veggies, but I find that it really helps to buy local, seasonal food if you can. My cousin N., who is four, absolutely HATES tomatoes, so it was a quite the shock when I saw her happily devouring a tomato salad. I asked her what made it so good. “These tomatoes come from Uncle D’s house. His tomatoes taste GOOD. Other tomatoes are yucky.” She was right on the money, the home grown tomatoes were delish…and the stuff from the grocery store was just bland mush. Having real flavour can make a huge difference.

    • My 2-year old will snack on anything from the farmer’s market or garden, and I have a policy of buying her any kind of fruit or veg she asks for. In one trip she ate: smoked wild salmon, purple cauliflower, purple cabbage, 2 heirloom tomatoes and a carrot. And everyone else got a kick out of it!

  7. Another good trick with the lasagna is to use part skim ricotta mixed with firm tofu–it helps the lasagna hold it’s shape and is full of protein and other goodies! Pureed white beans also works for that trick (if you are going to be mixing them with ricotta, use milk to puree them with, instead of oil, as it makes the flavors blend better). I stuff pasta shells with part skin ricotta, pureed white beans, and thawed frozen spinach. A much more nutritious take on the original!

    I am pretty fortunate in that my young men are willing to try most things I put in front of them, but I find that adding bacon helps. So a lot of my food is super nutritious stuff (kale and white beans) paired with a little bit of bacon or sausage. (Cured pork products, while not exactly healthy, go a loooong way.) Cheese works similarly.

  8. This is not directly about sneaking things in, but I have another suggestion – don’t divide food into “yummy” and “healthy”!

    Kids get a lot of weird reinforcement from TV, other people, etc, that healthy stuff does not taste nice, and their favourite foods *must* be cake/ice cream/sweets/etc. Anything you can do to minimize that is great.

    When my brother and I were growing up, our favourites were kind of weird (“adult” type foods, not “kid” foods, according to lots of people…). We loved shrimps, in fact all seafood, spicy things, garlicky things, dark chocolate, olives, dipping posh bread in oil and vinegar…

    I give my parents credit for this. Nothing was “healthy vs yummy”, or even “kid food vs adult food”. If we asked if something was nice, our parents would say something like, “Well, I really like it – why don’t you try it and see what you think?” I think this led us to (a) try a lot of different stuff, (b) think it was ok if we had different food opinions from other people and (c) end up with a varied and interesting diet.

    So – tell your kid that you like stuff, including the healthy stuff, and see what happens!

  9. I actually find that if I bend my internal rules about what food is appropriate at what times my toddler will happily eat what is offered. Soup for breakfast, sure! Spinach and egg scramble for dinner, yup!

    This morning that meant he ate frozen (yes, still frozen) peas and scrambled egg for breakfast. For a snack, green bean, pea and mango smoothie and some almonds. Last night he had spinach pizza for dinner. When he wakes up from his afternoon nap he’ll be offered hummus and bell pepper strips for dipping. So, veggies in our house are always the first offer to a hungry little guy, then protein, then carbs…

    We also find that It helps that we happily eat our vegetables in front of him and always offer no pressure tastes from our own plates (yum, kale!). If he doesn’t like it, fine, if he does we feign indignation as he “eats up all our chard”! Oh, and if he can put “sprinkles” of nutritional yeast on his own veggies he is more apt to eat them as well.

  10. I read in one of my child brain development books that is takes up to 8 times for kids to get used to a new taste. So encouraging them to put the new food (veggie, fruit, etc.) in their mouth (even if they spit it out) is helping their taste buds adjust to a new taste. Could be messy and time intensive but at least the science gives hope that a kid might eventually eat broccoli (if they don’t eat it now) if you are persistent.

  11. Oh yes… my almost-two year old HATES vegetables, which is almost unthinkable in our house because we’re healthy eating vegetarians! Shredded zucchini is easy to “hide” in lots of dishes. Sometimes I will cut up broccoli tops very small and mix them into pasta dishes. Other times I just offer veggies and let him reject them. I have to admit I mostly compensate by giving him extra fruit through the day, which he does like.

  12. Just my crazy addition. But trust me it’s worth a shot. I eat frozen vegetables like they are popcorn, literally out of the bag while sitting on the couch. And every picky eater I’ve tried it with, in my nanny days, liked it.
    Kids love to share what is “yours” and and they like to sneak treats. This plays into that. And the texture is completely changed. My favorites are frozen sweet corn, green beans and peas.

  13. While I think I’m mostly just blessed to have a toddler who will eat almost anything you give her…one thing we do is offer fruits & veggies as snacks or dessert. While we still have chips & ice cream around the house; 90% of the time a snack is carrots, banana, or some other fruit/veggie. We’ll have fruit for dessert either alone, with chocolate syrup, or sometimes ice cream. I think it helps to associate healthy foods as being “fun” foods.

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