Does your picky eater shun veggies? A study that was conducted in 2010, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stated that 60 percent of children are not eating enough fruits to meet the daily recommendation each day. Similarly, 93 percent of children are not eating the recommended amounts of vegetables everyday (CDC). From being a big sister, a babysitter, and an older cousin, I know that children have difficulty eating vegetables because they look and taste “too healthy.”
There is a new trend in social media showing how to hide healthy ingredients in meals in an attempt to encourage healthy eating and increase your preschooler’s fruit and vegetable intake.
Vegetables are a great food group to add to meals because they can be disguised easily. They can be mixed, minced, chopped, and more. Try some of these fun recipes and techniques to get more fruits and veggies in your family’s daily diet:
Broccoli and cauliflower (steamed) can be very finely chopped (use a food processor if you have one!) and combined with eggs to create a fun take on “green eggs and ham.”
Muffins are a great way to sneak in some healthy items! No one will suspect grated carrot or squash in a tasty muffin with cinnamon, raisins, and fruit. Here is a recipe from Cooking Matters that includes pineapple and carrots that your child can help make! Preschoolers can help measure, add to a bowl, and stir ingredients. They might be more likely to try it if they help make it!
1 medium carrot
1 cup canned crushed pineapple with juice
5 Tablespoons canola oil
¼ cup cold water
1 Tablespoon white distilled vinegar
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt Pinch ground nutmeg
- Preheat oven to 350o
- Rinse and peel carrot. Shred with a grater. Measure out ¾ cup shredded carrot.
- In a bowl add pineapple with juice, oil, water, vinegar, and shredded carrots.
- In another bowl combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.
- Add the bowls of ingredients together and mix.
- Coat the muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray. Fill each muffin cup about ¾ full with batter. Bake on middle rack of oven until muffin tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 20–25 minutes.
- Allow to cool before serving.
*Check out the Cooking Matters website for more great tips and recipes to try!
Pumpkin or butternut squash pancakes or waffles are a healthy alternative. Use half whole wheat flour to increase the fiber content but keep that fluffy texture. Here is a recipe for pumpkin pancakes from USDA What’s Cooking? Mixing Bowl:
2 cups flour
6 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pumpkin (canned)
1 3/4 cups milk, low-fat
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice and salt in a bowl.
- In a bowl, combine egg, canned pumpkin, milk and vegetable oil, mixing well.
- Add wet ingredients to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Batter may be lumpy. (For thinner batter, add more milk).
- Lightly coat a griddle or skillet with cooking spray and heat on medium.
- Using a 1/4 cup measure, pour batter onto hot griddle. Cook until bubbles begin to burst, then flip pancakes and cook until golden brown, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter. Makes about 1 dozen 3 1/2 inch pancakes.
You can sneak many green vegetables into a smoothie without changing the flavor. Try kale and spinach! This recipe calls for kale or spinach along with a banana, milk, yogurt, an apple, and some frozen fruit. Your child will never expect the kale or spinach!
1 cup kale or spinach
1 banana, medium
cup low fat milk (or optional coconut milk or almond milk)
1 cup plain yogurt
1 apple, medium (cored and sliced)
1 cup frozen fruit
- In a blender, blend the kale or spinach and the liquid of your choice.
- Add in the rest of the ingredients, blending after each item.
- Serve and enjoy, cold.
- Reserve the leftover smoothie in the refrigerator for later in the day or the next day.
Vegetable noodles have been a large hit recently. If you have a spiralizer try using zucchini, squash, asparagus, or cucumber to create a “pasta” dinner. If you do not have a spiralizer you can use the wide side of a box grater to create large flat noodles. This will resemble lasagna noodles. You can cut them into strips to look like fettuccine.
Did you know that you could hide squash in mac and cheese? Try this recipe from Cooking Matters for a healthy update on the classic. Little ones can help mash the cooled squash and stir ingredients together.
Non-stick cooking spray
12 ounces whole wheat macaroni
1 (1½ pound) butternut or acorn squash
½ cup water
6 ounces reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
1 (16-ounce) container nonfat cottage cheese
1 cup nonfat milk
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup dry whole wheat breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 375o
- Coat a 9-inch square baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook macaroni for 2 minutes less than the package directions. Drain and set aside.
- While the pasta cooks, cut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut into large chunks. Place in a microwave-safe bowl with water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for about 10 minutes. Let it cool.
- Grate cheddar cheese.
- Peel cooled squash. Place in pot used to cook pasta. Mash it with a fork. Add cottage cheese and milk. Stir. Add pasta, cheddar cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir until combined. Spread evenly in prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake until breadcrumbs are brown. About 45 minutes.
*Check out the Cooking Matters website for some great tips for this recipe!
Pizza is another favorite among children. Let them add their own vegetables and tomatoes to encourage them to try it. Funny faces and shapes are always a crowd pleaser.
Try chocolate chip cookies made with hidden sweet potatoes or carrots in the dough. Here is a recipe from the USDA website which hides sweet potato and oatmeal into chocolate chip bars. This recipe works best when stirred with your hands, so it’s great for some hands-on fun for little ones!
2 large, fresh sweet potatoes cooked and mashed
¾ cup of whole-wheat flour
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup low-fat or fat-free plain yogurt
1 large egg, beaten
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups quick cook oatmeal (not instant)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup (6 ounces) of semisweet mini chocolate chips or regular size chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350o
- Place sweet potato and sugar in large mixing bowl; mash until smooth.
- Add oil, yogurt, and egg and mix thoroughly.
- Measure and mix flours, oatmeal, baking soda, and spices in a bowl.
- Add dry ingredients to sweet potato mixture and stir just enough to combine.
- Add chocolate chips and stir to mix.
- Spray 13” x 9” x 2” baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Two 8” brownie pans could work too!
- Pour batter into pan, smooth out batter evenly in pan and place pan on middle rack in oven.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, then let it cool for 8 to 10 minutes before cutting into squares.
Get creative with your preschooler and try other fun add-ins with your everyday recipes. You might be surprised by what they’ll love!
Biobehavioral Health | College of Health and Human Development
“Children Eating More Fruit, but Fruit and Vegetable Intake Still Too Low.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 Aug. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2016. http://www.cdc.gov