Today a reader asks for tips on how to avoid eating the holiday candy that will make its way into their home via their children. My answer in the video, plus extra tips from friends. Special shout-out to Winter Redd of the podcast, Hungry Squared—check it out!
Disclosure: I am participating in the Monsanto, #HeyLetsGrow campaign. Gardening materials, as well as $50 for additional gardening supplies, provided by Monsanto. All opinions within this post are my own.
Dear Misery Loves Cookery,
My kids hate vegetables. It’s frustrating. I hide them in their food, but they won’t touch them if they know they are there (and they sometimes won’t touch food if they even think they are there.)
I know that they won’t die if they skip a meal, I’m mainly writing because this is so irritating, it’s making cooking meals stressful and meal time no fun for me. Is it too much to ask for me to have an enjoyable meal everyone once in awhile?
No, it is not too much to expect to enjoy a meal every once in awhile, you just may need to change what is required for you to enjoy yourself.
- Your kids are healthy, and
- You manage to get nutrients into them by sneak attack (hiding vegetables in casseroles, smoothies, etc.), and
- You have vegetables on the table and model eating them, and
- You have a requirement, either each night or occasionally, that they take a bite or two of a vegetable, and/or try new foods when they come to the table, then…
…if they don’t eat all their vegetables—or even most of your vegetables—you are off the hook.
In order to be happier about this, please:
- Let go of the expectation that they enjoy their meals, and
- Accept that they might grouse about their requirement to take a few nibbles of things, and
- Stay calm, but have appropriate consequences when kids either refuse to try a few bites and/or have a table tantrum, and
- Take deep breaths and focus on your own plate, enjoying the bites you get to take, redirecting the table to different conversation topics, etc., then…
…even if the table descends into veggie-protest chaos, you will feel better.
Is it important that kids learn to value nutritional foods, and hopefully develop a taste for them? Absolutely.
Is it worth ruining your evening dinner every night to fight for this, day-in, day-out? No.
Even if you occasionally get the kids to choke down some broccoli, if you are miserable with your kids, routinely, you are winning the battle but losing the war.
My recipe for this week is a little different than my usual recommendation: I want you to take your kids to a nursery or home store, and I want them to pick out vegetable seeds to plant.
There is a considerable amount of chatter in the “how to help picky eaters get interested in vegetables” universe that if kids can help to grow their own food, they are more interested in consuming it. I’m not sure if this is always true—our daughter loved planting salad greens in our community garden when she was little, but still resists salad like it comes with a curse—but it won’t hurt!
Getting kids connected to how food is grown, plus giving them time to dig in the dirt and explore, offers you the opportunity as a family to enjoy time together that isn’t about hating vegetables, but rather, about taking care of them.
Our family will be growing vegetables right along with you! Thanks to the #HeyLetsGrow campaign at Monsanto, I received seeds, tools, a gardening bag, a starter tray, mugs, a little jar of honey, and some additional funds to get our vegetable garden off to a great start.
Because we live in Florida, I have to plant immediately—the heat of the summer is not our friend—so I will keep you posted, and hopefully provide some information for your own garden.
We take a lot of delight in all the things we grow here. We are finishing up the end of citrus season, as evidenced by our lemon tree (our orange tree looks about the same.)
My husband has two fig trees, a Black Mission (which doesn’t seem to want to fruit) and a Celeste (which is fruiting like crazy.)
(As you can see, even our dog likes the fig trees.)
I have an herb garden, which makes my daily cooking so much happier. Parsley is a big fan of Florida.
And all of us, our daughter included, enjoy raising milkweed. And no, that’s not a vegetable, but it helps us support monarchs, and we are pro-pollinator in this family. No pollinators, no food! Check out one of the latest caterpillars, as well as his/her punk cousin, who formed a chrysalis right above our front door.
I hope gardening together will be as fun for your family as it is for ours. Until then, keep hiding those pureed veggies in the chili, friend, and play some tunes and dance around while you are making the dinner that they may refuse. Let’s all do that. Solidarity!
(Disclosure: I received a Nutra Ninja Ninja BlendMAX Duo for review, a product I feature within this post. I received no additional compensation for this post, and all opinions featured within are my own.)
Okay, MLC, I need some picky eater advice.
Since infancy, my daughter has had some minor digestive issues. Nothing to be concerned about; essentially she needs lots of water and lots of fiber. Water: easy. Fiber: not so much.
She also has Sensory Processing Delay. (Slightly less severe than Sensory Processing Disorder. Kind of a fascinating disorder, I think. 😉) This means she is legitimately even more sensitive to certain textures and tastes than your average picky eater. There is also a lot of anxiety involved in this disorder, including trying new things.
Chicken works for her. She LOOOVES chicken. Favorite vegetables: broccoli and cauliflower. She actually enjoys those.
Under pain of death, she will not eat carrots. It’s the one thing I won’t even make her try.
Fruits: she loves bananas and watermelon. Pears. Applesauce, but whole apples take coercion.
Smooth is good, and soft. Crunchy is okay, too. She’s good with things like rice and noodles. I think she has the hardest time with in-between or mixed textures, like casseroles, or creamy pasta salads. Does that make sense?
Some things we’ve tried: brown rice instead of white rice; whole grain cereals instead of those made entirely out of sugar; hiding secret vegetables in the spaghetti sauce. Now I’m looking for even more suggestions!
What tips do you have for getting fiber in general, and fruits/vegetables in specific, into your picky eater? Thank you.
It sounds like you are doing a lot, already, to boost your daughter’s fiber intake, and to address her particular sensory concerns. I’m not sure how much I can add, but here are my ideas.
You likely know many of the foods that provide a good amount of dietary fiber, but let’s list a few here, just for fun:
- Split peas/peas
- Brussels sprouts
- Berries (blackberries and raspberries)
- Chia seed
- Acorn squash
I completely understand her desire to have smooth foods smooth, crunchy foods crunchy. I don’t even put milk in my cereal, because I can’t stand “food floating in food.” Cottage cheese, ricotta, rice pudding—no, thank you.
I think we all have some texture challenges with food, and while I believe it is wise for you to help her stretch her tolerance, getting nutrients into her will require some stealth.
Given her need for consistent texture, either crunchy or smooth, and her existing love of broccoli, I’d start with smooth broccoli soup as a regular staple in your weekly meal rotation.
If you don’t already have a powerful blender for the job, I’d like to recommend the Nutra Ninja Ninja BlendMAX Duo. (Amazon Affiliate Link) I was given one of these blenders for review, and I can tell you that at $199, it crushes items to the smooth texture that I thought only my $600 blender could tackle. The Auto-IQ feature allows you to choose between a totally smooth, consistent texture and a less homogenous one. This would likely prove very helpful to you.
Steam up a head of broccoli, add 3-4 cups of water or stock, season to taste, and blitz. If you want to up the fiber content, consider adding another fiber-friend from the list, above. Flaxseed, chickpeas, peas, or even an avocado could work.
The more the taste of broccoli shines through, the more likely she is to accept the other “hidden” fiber in the soup. Adding a small amount of fat, either through dairy or oil (if you haven’t added avocado, already), at the very end will help to enhance the taste and improve the mouthfeel of the final product.
A fun smoothie every morning would also be a nice fiber-rich start. If she likes applesauce/pear sauce, start there. No one ever recommends applesauce in smoothies, but why not? Add some frozen berries, some milk or water, and some applesauce, and give it whirl. Again, sneak in extra fiber through chia or flaxseeds, or even some whole almonds. The key is that you want to make everything as smooth as possible, and hide non-favorite items that aren’t as detectable.
(This morning ritual also highlights another great feature of the Nutra Ninja Ninja BlendMAX Duo: smoothie cups.)
Don’t be afraid to pour soups and smoothies through a wire mesh strainer when you are done blending. I often do this when I make protein drinks, just to catch any additional powder or fibrous material that didn’t properly blend. One “off” sip, and the whole meal or drink could be refused. Catch it ahead of time, and save yourself the panic.
If all else fails—if you really can’t sneak other foods into her soups or smoothies without her detecting and refusing them—consider adding a water-soluble, tasteless fiber supplement to these meals. Please speak to her physician first, of course, to determine the best supplements for her, and the appropriate amounts to give.
One last note: you mention that your daughter has particular anxiety trying new things, so I would challenge you to continue to put one or two dishes in your regular dinner rotation that aren’t her favorites, reminding her each time that this isn’t something new, she’s had it before (last Tuesday, two weeks ago Saturday, for dinner when Grandma came over, etc.) It might not solve the problem, entirely, but if a food is no longer something brand new to protest, it might not cause as much stress.
I hope this is helpful. Thanks for reaching out. I wish you many delicious non-carrot meals (although sneaking them into a soup may be worth a try.)