Back when Coco first started eating solids, she wasn’t a picky eater. She gladly slurped up whatever Vitamixed concoction I spooned into her mouth (except bell peppers). I would proudly tell people how she ate her veggies, all while not-so-subtly implying that it was because I’m an excellent cook and a SuperMom who can get her kid to eat anything.
In short, I was being an inexperienced ass.
The onset of the neophobic response around 15 months turned my happy little eater into a meat-spitting, vegetable-tossing, sugar-and-cheese-demanding mealtime rebel. Knowing that she can’t live on Babybel and animal crackers (because I’m smart), I had to come up with ways to get her to eat vegetables and protein. I consulted the internet for toddler friendly recipes. On days when I have the time and energy for recipe cooking many of the online recipes are winners. But everyone has those days when meal time sneaks up on you and you have no idea what you’re going to feed everyone. Sound familiar?
I’m not above shameless deception at this point. Yes, eventually I will have conversations with her about the importance of eating veggies, but we’re not there yet. Now I just need her to eat them until she can be reasoned with…like when she’s 20. Here’s a list of last-minute, scrounging-in-the-pantry-and-fridge, not-recipe tactics I’ve used to sneak in the veg.
And if you don’t want to be sneaky, here’s a helpful post with some other suggestions on how to deal with a picky eater.
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase after clicking on one I get a small commission at no additional charge to you. I only recommend products I use and love.
Roast The Veggies
For the most part, raw veggies suck. Be honest. No one ♥loves♥ snacking on carrot sticks and broccoli florets. Roasting veggies is a way to tame some of their vegetal qualities and bring out their sweetness. I think Coco prefers the cooked texture, too. Just heat the oven to 400° F, toss veggies in some oil and a little salt, spread them on a baking sheet and cook until they get some color and are cooked through. This will vary depending on the size and type of the veg. We’re not going for gourmet delicacy, just cooked.
My Successes With Coco
- French green beans (the skinny ones) – Toss with oil and salt and roast whole 10-15 min. Excellent with Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel seasoning sprinkled after roasting.
- Cabbage – Slice the head vertically (pole to pole) into ~1/2 inch thick slices. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast 15 min or until the edges are browning. Cut cooked cabbage into manageable chunks for your kid, or leave whole slices and let them unwind the cabbage wheels. Also good with a little paprika sprinkled on top before roasting, but don’t stress about that if you don’t have any.
- Broccoli – Break into bite-sized florets, toss with oil and salt and roast for 10-15 min. I try not to let these get too dark or Coco will refuse them like they’re covered in boogers.
- Carrot sticks – You can use either baby carrots or cut your own sticks. Toss with oil and salt (and Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel seasoning) and roast 15-20 min depending on how thick the sticks are. These are good with a little browning but it’s not necessary to get any color.
Puree Veggies Into Something Else
Make a smoothie – Add in a cup of frozen spinach. You won’t taste it, and neither will your toddler. Just put it in an opaque lidded cup in case they have a thing against green.
Make mashed potatoes – Boil some other kind of root veggie along with the taters then mash them together. I generally stick to a ratio of 2 parts potato to one part other veggie. Turnips, parsnips, rutabagas and cauliflower all work well with this trick. Also good is carrot and sweet potato mashed together, but these are better roasted than boiled.
Make polenta – If you haven’t made polenta yet, I’M ABOUT TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE. You can puree pretty much anything into the cooking water and for some reason the polenta (or corn grits) magically hides the taste. Thicker purees like winter squash, pumpkin and root veggies work REALLY well with polenta. I use instant polenta, which you keep in the pantry and it’s ready in under 5 minutes. Here’s a formula you can follow:
- Mix 2 cups water/broth and 2 cups veggie puree with a little salt in a medium sized pot. Bring to a boil
- Add 1 cup instant polenta, reduce the heat to low, then stir constantly for 3 minutes
- Turn off the heat, stir in some butter and Parmesan if you like, then spread the whole mess out on a cutting board or counter top covered with parchment paper or plastic wrap. Spread it to about 1/2 inch thickness…just eyeball it
- Once it’s cooled (about 10-15 min) you can cut it into squares, triangles or other fun shapes, and serve it like bread. Store leftovers in the fridge for quick veggie-laden snacks.
Make pasta – Show me a kid who doesn’t like pasta and red sauce. Puree similar colored veggies into jarred red sauce (Rao’s Marinara is AH-MAZING and Amazon has it for the cheapest I’ve seen it anywhere). Carrots work best here, but you could also sneak in some roasted red bell pepper puree (except with Coco, see above). Go easy on the pureed veggie, though. I know a few toddlers who will taste it if you’ve gotten too brave with the quantity.
Make mac n cheese – Mix in some pureed butternut squash. Most stores sell cut up butternut squash in the freezer section, yep. I keep a bag of that in my freezer at all times. I made mac n cheese with butternut squash puree for my husband and he really liked it. Let me be clear: my husband HATES it when I try to healthify something unhealthy, and he has no qualms telling me about it. Here’s a quick and dirty recipe:
- Cook about half a package of short pasta (wagon wheels, shells, macaroni) according to the package.
- While that cooks, heat about half a 16 oz bag of frozen butternut squash in a saucepan over medium heat with a few tablespoons of water. Let that cook until tender. It takes about as much time as the pasta.
- When the squash is cooked turn off the heat and use a stick blender directly in the saucepan to puree it until smooth. You could also transfer it to a blender to puree it, but that would leave you with more dishes to clean up. Get a stick blender, ok?
- Drain the pasta, and dump that into the saucepan with the pureed squash. Pour in a cup or two of shredded cheese, stir to melt and combine, and season to taste with salt.
Make blender muffins – Make blender muffins and add some spinach or kale. You seriously can’t taste it, but you have to market the shit out of these to your kids because they come out GREEN. Think Incredible Hulk or Ninja Turtles. This is a recipe I’ve been using to get veggies into Coco at breakfast. You can use a cup of frozen chopped spinach instead of the fresh spinach written in the recipe. Google “blender muffins” for more ideas…they are stupid easy. Everything goes into the blender, blend it up, pour it into a muffin tin and bake. Easy clean up! They also freeze beautifully, so you can make a double batch.
Disguise Veggies With Like-Textured Favorites
a.k.a. hide them in plain site. This one won’t work every time if you have a kid who can pick this stuff out, but even a few bites of covert veggie is a win some nights. These are my favorite combos:
- Roasted spaghetti squash mixed with actual spaghetti (put some of that Rao’s on it!)
- Cubed, roasted turnips or rutabaga with potatoes
- Grated carrots with shredded cheese
- Roasted cut-up carrots with roasted sweet potato
Mix Veggies With Fruit
I know, weird, right? Sometimes this works. It’s worth a shot.
- Cubed cucumbers and apples or melon
- Grated carrots with grated apple or sweet potato (yes, I know it’s not a fruit, but it’s sweet!)
- Cut up cherry tomatoes and strawberries or watermelon
What tricks do you have up your sleeve? I can always use more ways to sneak in veggies!
Is Your Picky Eater Refusing Vegetables?
Maybe it's time to get sneaky. I'll show you how. Get the Hidden Veggie Cheat Sheet to learn how to quickly disguise 5 common veggies in 15 different ways.