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Getting Kids to Eat Veggies — I Need Your Help!


Getting Kids to Eat Veggies

I really love to read. It’s my favorite hobby, especially if it’s a well-written fictional novel. (My second choice is a non-fiction book about nutrition, of course.) There’s nothing like it on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Problem is, since starting this blog, I rarely pick up a book these days. (Someday I will again!) This isn’t easy for someone who used to devour several books a month.

A couple books that I’ve had on my list for a while, but haven’t had a chance to even think about getting from the library, are the two that are old now, about getting your kids to eat more veggies without them knowing it.

Their titles are:

The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals


Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food(Note: see my newer post about a book review on this book…)

So here’s where I need your help:

If you’ve read these books, can you comment and let us know what one (or two or three) of your very favorite ideas were? Even if you have your own tips and tricks, please share those, too!

Here’s my best tip for getting kids to eat veggies, but there’s nothing sneaky about this:

When I get home from the farm market on Saturday mornings, I wash all our fruits and veggies and leave them to set out in a bowl on the counter. Inevitably the kids will snack on these, sometimes without even realizing it. Kent & I eat more fruits and veggies that way, too!

Photo credit


  1. Roasted veggies are amazing; my kids love them. Roasted carrots, cut like french fries, seasoned with a little salt, pepper, cumin, lemon juice (or whatever suits your fancy) tossed with olive oil and roasted at 400 are amazing. Not sneaky, but really good!

    I also have them work with me in the garden or go to the farmer’s market with me and they can help pick/ pick out fruits and veggies (which they love!) and they enjoy eating veggies/fruit right off the vine.

    Smoothies are always good; the vita-mix can easily handle a carrot or cucumber blended in with sweeter fruits.

    “Creamed” veggie soups are very sneaky; just cook veggies and blend with broth and a little cream and seasonings for a delicious soup.

    I love Jessica Sienfeld’s ideas of blending pureed spinach into brownies and butternut squash into mac-and-cheese. Both have been hits with my kids!

    Organic and Thrifty

  2. Hi Kelly,
    I have Deceptively Delicious and have made many great tasting dishes from it. Early on though, I sort let the cookbook sit on the shelf and began doing my own “sneaking” of veggies into our foods.

    The best way to get more veggies into my family is really to keep putting them out there. I frequently make veggie trays just for us. We munch on them before dinner or throughout the day. I’ve been in the habit for several months now of eliminating the carb heavy sides from our evening meal (not every night, but most nights). Instead of rice, or bread or potatoes I serve a salad and hot veggie or two hot veggies. I usually ask Grace which one she’d like to have. Frequently she decides she wants to try both and I think it’s very much because she’s had a choice in the matter. Another thing we do is to involve her in choosing the vegetables and letting her help prepare them. In the produce department, or at the farmer’s market, we walk around and look at everything and I let her pick something and help me prepare it.

    I know these are simplistic suggestions, but they do work in our house. I was pleased as punch yesterday afternoon when Grace grabbed a bag of organic baby carrots to share with her friends as a snack!

  3. Part of me likes the idea of sneaking veggies into my crew, and part of me says, “No, they need veggies and they need to learn to eat them.” I guess I waffle between both positions a lot. I made a list one month of veggies they would eat willingly (carrots, potatoes, broccoli, peas and beans, lettuce, tomatoes) and those they would not touch on a dare (cauliflower, collards, kale, avocado). It’s the second bunch I try to hide into some foods about half as often as I offer them at the table.

    I had great success with kale in smoothies and avocado in pudding, but they still aren’t buying the spinach brownies, even if they don’t know what’s in them. It just doesn’t help my overall nutritional goals to sneak healthy veggies into sweet foods. Sure, they get the nutrients, but with a dose of sugar. It also “trains their palate” toward sugar.

    As for most of the savory dishes, the time factor and the loss of nutrition probably comes close to negating the value of the veggie in the meal.

    Local Nourishment

  4. I have read both books. I think most of the recipes work, but I am not too sure how many servings of fruits and veggies you are actually getting. I guess they can be helpful for introducing children to the flavors of certain veggies. I still feel it is best to make them at least try the things they don’t like. I still struggle with it. At least I know they are getting something to help supplement. I have a post written about both books.


  5. I’m not a huge fan of sneaking veggies to my son, I want him to appreciate the flavors of what he is eating. So I guess these tricks are a sneaky as I get :)

    1. when I make spaghetti sauce it has the obligatory onions and garlic in it but I also put a whole package of sliced mushrooms in it and a box of frozen spinach.

    2. soups and stews. my son will eat just about any veggie in a soup or stew

    3. when I make meatloaf or meat balls I saute onions and garlic to add to them and I grate one large or two medium summer squash or zuchini and add them as well. Grate the squash into a separate bowl because there is so much juice that will come out of them. I squeeze the juice out and put it in the spaghetti sauce.

    4. greens and bacon or greens, beans, and bacon. My son loves the smoky flavor of bacon so we use 3-4 slices chopped in lieu of oil. Often times I’ll fry up some chopped bacon, add some chopped garlic, 2 cups of cooked butter beans, some red pepper flakes and let that cook for a few minutes and right at the end I’ll throw in 3 bunches of chopped arugula. My son loves this, he would eat the whole potful if I let him.

    5. I make homemade popsicles. I usually juice some chard, parsely, a couple of carrots, and 2 small apples and then freeze it in popsicle molds. Some how the cold counter acts the “greens” taste and he will gobble these right up.

  6. I read and own both books, and only garnered a few tips. I like to get extra veggies into our foods both for my husband and I as well as our toddler.

    1. Put diced tomatoes and/or shredded carrots into every ground beef dish that can handle them – taco meat, sloppy joe meat, chili, spaghetti. She purees them to be sneaky. I just cook it down a little – even if my daughter only eats the chunks of meat, they’ve been steeped in Vitamin C and betacarotene.

    2. Smoothie popsicles – many bitter flavors are decreased with a cold tongue.

    3. We add green pepper, carrot, onion to our meatloaf and meatballs, chopped in the food processor. Around 1/2-3/4 cup per pound of meat. Stretches out the meat (grassfed is pricey!) and with grassfed beef, you still get plenty of beef flavor.

    I refuse to puree foods and add 3 Tbs of puree to an otherwise unhealthy food. Some of the suggestions in the book are like that, and it seems silly to me. Also, how can I “sneak” a veggie into food when my kid always helps me in the kitchen?

    Good luck, Kelly. Thanks for this wonderful blog!

  7. I pulverize greens and mix them in everything from basil-spinach-pesto added to eggs for green eggs to soups and stews and sauces. With enough tomato sauce they don’t even see the green but in time, even the most nonaccepting vegetable eater will eat it green too. Believe me, I have one of those, gagging, standing his ground, refusing to eat the veg for 1/2 hour while I sit and wait, takes patience and a lot of offering over and over and over again in many delicious ways but it does happen. My greens trick is my fave too bc it’s an easy way to add greens every day. I sometimes will freeze it in ice cube trays to use later when I get a lot at once.

    Annie – Hip Organic Mama

  8. My mom had sneaky chef and while I’m not a huge fan of the book or recipes in it, the main idea of adding a puree of veggies to many things is good for our family. It isn’t taking “unhealthy” foods and making them better, it is just attempting to get something your kids wouldn’t otherwise eat into their tummies. My 21 month old LOVES spaghetti. We use brown rice spaghetti and homemade sauce. I got the idea from this book to add some pureed spinach, peas, whatever I happen to have. It works very very well. She won’t eat these things otherwise. I now always add a bit of puree to anything I can–for her and for us!

  9. I use both methods of getting my family to eat a wide variety of foods. I am very sneaky about somethings and changes I have made in our kitchen and eating habits. I add pureed veggies or mashed beans into lots of different things. I keep containers of my family’s favorite brands and store my homemade things in those containers (salad dressings, etc.)
    But at the same time I have always had my children help grow vegetables in the summer time. We keep a bowl of fruit out to munch on and we keep cut up veggies to munch on. Since the children were tiny they have always helped cook or make salads.
    Like Liz, I try to do a big salad and two veggies at meals. We only have rice or potatoes and pasta a couple of times a week now.
    I think the biggest difference that we did to get our children to eat veggies was that when they were young our house rule was that for your age that was how many bites of something you eat. If you are three you ate three peas. I don’t remember any real battles at the table. I always put very small portions on their plate. Like a tablespoon of food and they made the number of bites from that amount. By the time the children were 6 or so they just ate the food that was prepared. We also were consistent that if you didn’t finish dinner there was no snack for you that night. And if I was serving a new veggie or one that I know they did’t like, the second vegetable was always a favorite. And I might have added a favorite fruit for dessert that night. That way they were only trying one new thing at a time.
    I now have a preteen and teenagers that eat a wide variety of all different types of food. We still say even if you don’t like something eat a small amount because taste change over time. I also try to be really low key about my family’s food and eating habits and not be domineering that we have to eat a certain way. We talk about making healthy choices alot. But I am also very tolerant and don’t make a big deal when they eat something I would consider a bad choice.

  10. Like others, I am not a fan of ‘sneaking’ food as a general principle for so many different reasons.
    1. I don’t like the idea of being sneaky and try to involve my daughter in all aspects of food preparation: shopping, preparing and cooking (and she’s only 6).
    2. I think it’s important to continually introduce veggies in their natural form (fruits? no problem. she is a fruit fanatic.) and I don’t ever expect that she’ll like them the first or even tenth time around.
    3. We keep a list of vegetables that she *does* like and that list is growing all the time! Just yesterday I brought back a variety of veggies from our farm share and I showed her the Chinese cabbage. I emphasized the Chinese part to her because she was born in China and is proud of that heritage. “Chinese cabbage?” she asked. “I want to try some.” I handed her a leaf and she bit into it and a big smile came across her face. “Mama, I love it!” (she knows how much this pleases me :-) So we added Chinese cabbage to her love list.
    4. Do I “sneak” veggies in things? Sure, sometimes I do but always let her know what’s in there (spinach in lasagne, zucchini in bread, etc.). Sometimes it’ll turn her off to it, other times she loves it.

    In general, I believe that it is our habits and our clear passion for healthy eating that is most important. Sure we can sneak stuff in there and that may produce short-term benefits (they get nutrition) but in the long run perpetuates a notion that veggies are less desirable *and* that you don’t trust your child to make healthy choices.

    Sorry for the novel here – this is a topic I’m obviously passionate about and I happen to enjoy the challenge of turning kids on to good eating. It’s my “other” full-time job, besides my paying job and my mothering “job”. :-)

  11. I do buy fresh fruits and veggies in season (which is most of the year in California). Like you, Kelly, we always have bowls of fruit on the kitchen counter, carrots and celery in the fridge, and onions, garlic and potatoes in a cupboard.

    That said, I am with Katie. I don’t believe in sneaking veggies. Here’s why: they are not very nutrient-dense. If I’m going to try to sneak foods into my family, I’d rather do it with egg yolks, ground beef heart, liver, coconut oil, and fish eggs.

    So quite honestly, I’d don’t give a rat’s a** if my family eats veggies. I could care less. But I insist that they take their cod liver oil, eat their liver and shellfish, and get plenty of coconut oil, butter and lard. Seth hates liver but he likes liver pate so I now keep duck liver pate in the fridge for him and he eats it on crackers.

    He also enjoys anchovies and sardines and herring and kippers so I keep those in the cupboard. He eats them on whole wheat or rye crackers — and Kate likes them, too!

    And you know what? They’re not complaining. I never hear them say “Do we have to eat more duck fat French fries?” Or “Oysters on the half shell AGAIN?” “Do we have to eat our ice cream?”

    Kate ate a DOZEN raw oysters last week at the farmer’s market. Did she eat any vegetables? Nope. Did I care? Nope.

    I agree w/ Sally Fallon — vegetables are a good vehicle for butter and cream.

  12. Oh yes, the daily challenge. Honestly, I don’t know how I could fit in junk food into out day because to get a decent amount of fruits and vegis into me and my child each day requires a fruit/vegi option at every grazing/eating opportunity.

    Fresh in season sugar snap peas are a hit right now. I did puree broccoli into my pasta’s white sauce but Mikey now wants his broccoli separate. He doesn’t want to eat the broccoli but does because I explain to him how his body needs the nutrients that only the broccoli has. He seems to get it. I blanche the broccoli and add salt and butter to it. I ask him how many pieces he would like to eat and then give him that many.

    Last night, he ate five. We counted them out and made a little counting game out of it. I am happy if he eats any at all. And hopefully, he has had other nibbles of vegis throughout the day. I really just want him to get use to eating all sorts of greens and even if it’s just a little taste right now, I am hoping that it will change into a lifelong habit.


  13. Kelly, I try to get greens into my kids as much as I can. They like their other veggies with just butter.

    In Gary Taubes book Good Calories and Bad Calories and he found studies on the Inuit that lived off of just meat and they were perfectly healthy. I also read in NT that the adrenal glands of animals were the highest concentration of Vitamin C of all foods.

    It is carbs that cause so many problems. I had to wean my oldest off of carbs before she ate any veggies. She was 1.5y.o. at the time and would cry at the cupboards were the cereals, crackers and breads where kept. After about 1-2 weeks she started to have a healthy appetite for veggies. It is not the veggies that have to change, its the taste buds!

    On the other hand we do make green smoothies for the kids in the summer when garden greens and fruit are in abundance. My youngest likes the taste of these smoothies but hates their color. We just put it in a cup that is not transparent and she drinks it all up.

    My youngest also likes to dip her veggies (cooked and raw) in dressings. Caesar is her favorite.


  14. My 6 year old son used to eat only a few select foods when he was a toddler (pizza, PB&J, and frozen peas). I got really fed up and started only bringing whatever veggies we were eating for dinner to the table. Once he finished his veggies I gave him the rest of his meal. We had to do this for about 6 months. Now he eats anything I put on his plate and if he’s getting full he knows to finish his veggies before asking to leave the table. This week he has eaten cabbage, roasted radishes and greens, braised turnips and greens, arugula, dandelion greens, fiddlehead ferns and spicy Thai curry….not bad for a kid who only ate frozen peas :)

  15. I don’t have kids of my own but I’m also on the train-their-palette, not sneak-it-in side of this argument. My oldest sister has chosen a vegetable every year that she is going to work towards liking. She spends the year reading recipes, trying to grow it, cooking it in a million different ways and by Christmas every year she’s found at least one way she likes it. She did turnips one year, sunchokes one year and kohlrabi another year.
    I admit, I will “sneak” grated vegetables into my own taco meat and spaghetti sauce. I also like to cook green vegetables in with pasta so that it’s broccoli, pease, carrots and pasta with red sauce. One of my favorite ways to eat cooked greens like kale and collards is mixed in macaroni and cheese :)
    Another thing that folks have mentioned is getting the kids involved in choosing and preparing the food. I’ll add to that growing and collecting the food. I love the taste of lots of cooked greens but the taste and texture of cooked comfrey is kindof unappealing – it gets a little slimy. I eat it though, because I went to all the work to wildharvest it. It makes me feel good to eat something I worked so aard to get!
    Having picky kids is one of my nightmares! Good work to all of you who are teaching your kids to eat real food.


  16. I found you through Anne Marie and your blog is great! I don’t try to sneak veggies in – I put them right there on the plate, take it or leave it. I do cook with lots of them though, so they are in everything from sauces to rice and pastas to egg dishes (my kids -almost two year old twins- love quiche and frittatas made with spinach, brocolli, onions, you name it). The favorite vegetable in our house is spinach gratin – I use the barefoot contessa recipe – they would eat that every night if I had it. Covering any vegetable in cheese or cream sauce usually makes it a hit, or roasting in the oven and topping with grated parm. My mother taught me that they’ll eat what we eat, as long as they see us eating it (meaning, don’t just have the veggies on the table, make sure you eat them during the meal). Seems to work for us.

  17. Kelly, I have not read the books, but I think the best way to get kids to eat veges, is for them to grow their own garden, and then pick and prepare the veges.
    An easy one is called a spaghetti garden. Tomatos, basil, onions, and what ever else is needed for the recipe.
    It does not need to be a huge plot. A rasied bed will work just fine.

  18. I don’t like ‘sneaking’ as the primary source of veggies, mainly for the reasons listed in previous comments. However, if I have veggies that are going bad or want to pack extra nutrition into something we’re already having (pancakes, spaghetti sauce, etc.), then I’ll “sneak.” Although it isn’t sneaky because my toddler usually helps me :)

    Other strategies we use:
    -My husband and I set the example by eating and enjoying veggies ourselves and being willing to try new foods.
    -We made a ‘new food chart’ for the wall and my 2 yo gets to put a smiley next to any new food he tries. This entices him to actually try it before turning up his nose.
    -I let him help me make dinner, since he pretty much eats anything he ‘cooks.’
    -We change the name of the veggie (like in the book “I Will NEVER Not Ever Eat a Tomato”) When we started calling peas “green drops from Greenland” my son would eat the whole bowlful!

  19. I just had a whole comment written asking for your opinions on only eating produce that is available by you and in season…but it got too long and I decided to make it its own post…look for it soon and I hope you’ll all share more of your great comments there, too! Thanks for making this such an interesting conversation. :)


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