My 2-year-old loves broccoli. Like can’t get enough of it. She also loves sautéed spinach, whole cucumbers, carrots, kale chips, peppers, cauliflower, and even brussels sprouts. With a food writer mom and a dad who also loves to eat and cook, it’s no surprise she’s a good eater. But I also don’t think it’s an accident: I work hard to ensure my kid enjoys eating healthy.
I make an effort to keep a variety of vegetables and fruits in the house at all times. I vary what I give to her so that she doesn’t become bored. After all, we don’t want to eat the same thing day in, day out–so why would our kids? I encourage her to get cooking in the kitchen with me and taste everything. But above all else, I just try to make the natural flavors of vegetables come alive.
This isn’t revolutionary or even complicated, and yet it isn’t necessarily the norm and can even sound daunting. Let me share a story to illustrate.
This summer I spent a long weekend with a dear friend and her kids. I offered to make lunch for everyone, but my friend declined, saying her kids are very picky eaters. I shrugged and went ahead to make sweet potato macaroni and cheese and some steamed broccoli for my daughter. No sooner had I placed the food down on the table than my daughter and my friend’s kids devoured all the food.
She said to me, “What did you do to that broccoli to get my kids to eat it!?’
“I put butter and salt on it.”
Now it wasn’t a Paula Deen-portion of butter. It was probably a Tablespoon, with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. It was also fresh, local broccoli I bought from my favorite farmer’s market. But all the same, it was just steamed broccoli with butter on top.
I didn’t hide that it was broccoli. It was a big f-ing bowl of broccoli on the table, because I want my daughter to know she is eating a vegetable and enjoying it. And while I appreciate, and even practice from time to time, the art of sneaking extra vegetables into dishes, I prefer to advocate for letting the vegetables shine in their own element.
Here are some of my favorite techniques for getting kids to eat, and enjoy, their daily veggies:
1. Put some butter on it
Butter makes everything better and a little goes a long way. No one wants to eat bland vegetables, so make sure those veggies are doused in butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and they will ask for seconds.
2. Sharing is caring
Let your kid try anything they want off your plate. They are more likely to try new things and maybe even like them if they see you are eating them and that you are willing to share.
3. Make it fun
Fact: Kids love dipping stuff. So let them choose their dip of choice (or several) and serve them up a big platter of cut-up veggies like celery, carrots, bell peppers, or even blanched asparagus spears with things like ranch dressing, hummus, Greek yogurt, salsa, or even—gasp–cheese sauce. Who cares, as long as they are eating vegetables and enjoying.
4. Make it colorful
We aren’t the only ones who eat with our eyes–your kids also want to be enticed to eat something colorful and appealing. We all don’t have a ton of time to make elaborate pancake shapes or sculptures made of veggies, but we can plate things nicely to make it just a touch more appealing.
5. Buy fresh (as much as you can)
I know that buying fresh, local vegetables is more expensive and also sometimes more difficult when you are a busy mom with an already harried schedule. But fresh vegetables are healthier and just taste better, so give your kids the best chance at actually enjoying the veggies you serve them as much as your time and budget will allow.
6. Put it in some soup
My kid loves soup, does yours? Add some store-bought low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock, veggies, canned beans, and alphabet soup pasta and you have a kid-friendly and delicious meal. You can even throw in some frozen veggies instead of fresh for a super easy weeknight dinner.
Recipes to try: