It’s no secret that kids can be picky eaters, avoiding the “green stuff” in favor of starchy or sweet foods at meal and snack time. This kid-friendly lunch of burger, fries, macaroni and cheese and a frosty blueberry smoothie may not look like it, but it’s jam-packed with nutritional veggies, including spinach, cauliflower, squash, sweet potatoes and legumes. These unexpected ingredients will probably go unnoticed by pint-sized diners, but turn a kid-approved lunch into a vitamin-rich feast a parent can feel good about. Try these under-the-radar strategies for adding vegetables to the menu.
Smoothies are a great way to sneak nutrition into a child’s diet. If green in a color that is automatically rejected by your youngster, start with sweet, colorful ingredients like strawberries or blueberries before adding vitamin-rich veggies like spinach, kale or carrots to make a drink that appeals to kids and grown-ups alike.
Macaroni and Cheese
Whether you make macaroni and cheese from scratch or go for the ubiquitous boxed stuff, stirring in a healthy dose of pureed cauliflower, squash or carrots is an easy way to add fiber and vitamins without detection.
Pureed vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, squash, carrots and bell peppers are virtually undetectable when added to spaghetti sauce and transform a bowl of pasta into a nutritional powerhouse kids are happy to eat.
Mashed black beans are a stealthy source of fiber, potassium and iron when added to ground beef. Burgers, chili, meatloaf and meatballs can all benefit from the addition of this hidden ingredient, but adding too much may alter the texture too much and tip your hand.
The original chip dip is already full of fresh vegetables like tomatoes, corn and peppers hiding in plain sight. Use mild peppers and go for baked tortilla chips or substitute whole grain crackers for a snack that’s both healthy and kid-approved.
Instead of traditional fries, try baked sweet potato fries. Full of vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes are healthier than white potatoes and skipping the deep fryer make them a healthier option at meal time.
Quick Breads and Muffins
Muffins and quick breads made with zucchini, pumpkin or squash are a sweet way to sneak more vegetables into a child’s diet at breakfast and snack time.
Often declared a favorite food for kids, pizza can be made healthier by hiding vegetables among the toppings, blending spinach, broccoli or other finely-chopped veggies into the sauce or even ditching the dough for alternatives like this cauliflower crust.
Mashed Potatoes…or Not
Mashed cauliflower is a dead-ringer for traditional mashed potatoes and has antioxidants plenty of vitamin C and potassium to make it worth the switch.
Cookies are a sweet treat few kids will pass up. Pureed vegetables like sweet potatoes, pumpkin or zucchini can be stirred into cookie batter without significantly altering the texture.
Cakes and Cupcakes
Pureed pumpkin, squash and sweet potato used in cakes and cupcakes recipes can improve upon the original by adding moisture are well as booting nutritional value. Chocolate cakes can hide small amounts of dark green veggies like spinach and kale and carrot cake works so well, it doesn’t even have to hide.
Homemade popsicles make great use of fresh fruit like strawberries, watermelons and peaches, but cutting back on the sugar and adding unexpected vegetables to the puree like spinach, carrots, beets or cucumbers turns a summertime favorite into a treat that’s actually good for kids. We won’t tell if you don’t.