Clever Ways to Disguise Vegetables for Kids

Children can be really finicky eaters. One day they’ll like something and the next day they want nothing to do with it. There will be times when they discover something they love and will want to eat it everyday for a week. As parents we often wonder about what’s on our child’s plate and getting them to eat right to ensure proper nutrition for their growth and development.

Veggies

I like to mix things up every once in awhile with something new, but my toddler isn’t always on board and is unwilling to even try it. I try to fix at least one side dish item that I know she’ll eat in case I run into a snag at dinner. I discovered a few clever ways to disguise vegetables for kids into delicious dishes the whole family will love.

Popular Kid Favorites

Below I’ve listed the top 5 favorite food choices that toddlers and kids love. Rather than struggle with meal time with your picky eater, give them what they want. You can take a new spin on their favorites by disguising vegetables to make them healthier.

  • MacandcheeseMacaroni and cheese
  • Spaghetti
  • Pizza
  • Sandwhiches
  • Tacos

Mac & Cheese
Mac and cheese is a classic favorite among toddlers. I have yet to meet a child who didn’t like this famous side dish. A healthier option than buying the boxed varieties that come with powdered cheese is to make your own and use whole-grain macaroni. My husband loves the shells so we buy those fairly often. Simply prepare the pasta as you would normally boiling until tender then drain. Our sneaky veggie of choice- cauliflower. This vegetable is a great source of Vitamin C, B-6, and potassium along with other nutrients and it’s off-white color makes it easy to hide in a number of dishes. Prepare by steaming or boiling and finely chop in a food processor (or Magic Bullet* if you have one) Add it to your macaroni along with low-fat American cheese and milk. Mix well. The home-made version generally has a thicker consistency than the packaged types making it easier to hide the veggies in it.

Spaghetti
This is another favorite that already serves as a healthy meal with the tomato-based sauce. Make it a little healthier using whole grain pasta and a leaner choice of meat such as Turkey (or if you have a avid hunter- ground up venison) My daughter doesn’t like mushrooms if she sees them, but we like them in our spaghetti sauce so I cut them up into tiny pieces then add them.  If you are making meatballs for your spaghetti you can easily add in some grated carrots and onions to your meat and season to taste.

Pizza
pizza bagelsWho doesn’t love pizza? The frozen pizzas you buy in the store contain a lot of sodium and fats. They’re fine on occasion but you’re far better off making your own. A favorite kid-pleaser? Mini Pizza Bagels! They’re perfect for tiny hands and just the right size for toddlers. Use mini whole wheat bagels cut in half. Spread pizza sauce over the bagel and add chopped red bell peppers and onion. Sprinkle shredded cheese over them (I like to use a combination of shredded cheddar and mozzarella)  and top with mini pepperoni, turkey pepperoni, or cut pieces of ham. I broil mine in the toaster oven for around 3 minutes or until cheese is completely melted but you can do them in the oven as well. You could try this using english muffins as well instead of bagels.

For more convenience, prepare a large batch of these and separate about half of them before cooking to freeze in air-tight bags for easy snacks. You can use a vacuum sealer if you own one. We have the Ziploc bags that you can take the air out with a pump that comes with them. Lay the bag on its side and place the bagel pizzas in them carefully so as not to spill the toppings and then proceed to take the air out of the bag. This will keep them in tact since the toppings will be loose as you haven’t baked them yet. When you’re ready to cook them just add a few extra minutes to your cooking time to ensure they are thoroughly cooked.

Sandwiches
Sandwiches are a common staple among children’s lunch boxes and a big hit with toddlers (as long as you cut the crust off and cut them into triangles!) There are several ways you can make these super healthy and sneak in a little added nutrition with vegetables. My daughter will not eat lettuce and tomato on a sandwich, so instead I’ll make her a chicken salad or tuna fish sandwich and add super finely chopped up celery to it. With chicken salad I also add finely grated carrots by grading against the round side rather than longways. For a ham and cheese or turkey sandwich, replace mayo with avocado. Just puree it or mash it up really well to get it to a creamy consistency then spread. It’s a much healthier fat to use in place of mayo.

Tacos
tacosHard or soft, tacos are usually well-liked among toddlers considering it’s one of those foods they can use their hands for. You can add a variety of toppings per your preference to your tacos, however if your toddler doesn’t like lettuce and tomatoes as I previously mentioned above there is a better way. Rather than refried beans which are typically cooked in fat or lard, opt for the superfood black beans! Just add them to your meat as you’re cooking. You can also cook them and mash them up to use as a spread for burritos or quesadillas as well.

Note- if you are using dry beans you will need to presoak them. If you don’t have time to let them sit overnight (say if you want to make them today, for instance) you can put them in a pot with water (6-8 cups water to 1lb bag of beans) and bring to a rapid boil then remove from heat and let sit for 1 hour. Drain and rinse.

More Hidden Veggie Ideas

These are some more ideas on ways to disguise vegetables for kids into healthier options for your picky eater.

Eggplant Dressing
eggplantThis may just be a southern thing, but we generally always have rice dressing as a side dish with BBQ. An easy way to sneak in a healthy vegetable is by making eggplant dressing. My husband doesn’t eat eggplant but if he doesn’t know it’s in it, he’ll eat every bit of it not knowing the difference. I peel and dice up a medium sized eggplant then boil it in salted water. Cook until softened. For the dressing I brown a pound or more of ground meat, drain then add chopped onions, green bell pepper, and green onions then season to taste. I drain the eggplant, keeping some of the water aside in case the dressing is a little too dry, and mix into the meat. Combine altogether with rice.

Meatloaf
For meatloaf you can add in vegetables like your onion and bell pepper along with carrots. Puree them into a blender or food processor then add to the meat and cook. This is also a great way to sneak them into hamburger patties as well and they don’t taste any different.

Sweet Pea Pasta Salad
pasta saladThis is a great side dish we make for the holidays. You simply add cooked pasta (Bowtie, spiral, or shells although we like it with bowtie), cooked sweet peas, a couple of boiled eggs- chopped, some grated carrots, and Italian dressing all mixed together. You can serve it fresh while it’s still warm or cold.

If you have some ideas of your own please feel free to share them with us in a comment below!

Comments

  1. Hi Carol,

    Great ideas here! I am always looking for ways to sneak more veggies into my daughter’s diet. I had heard of making mac and cheese with butternut squash, but not cauliflower! I’m going to have to try that one. Also, the eggplant dressing sounds delish!

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