It’s common for parents to wonder how to increase fruit and vegetable intake for kids, whether they are picky eaters or not. One thing to keep in mind is that it may take a few meals before kids are willing to try something new, so don’t give up! Sometimes adding, or “snacking in” extra nutrients to basic dishes that your kids love can be a good place to start, if they refuse to incorporate them on their own.
Being a role model by enjoying and expressing interest in fruits and veggies yourself and providing encouragement is key. Here are some more general tips and some recipes to try out.
Make half the plate fruits and veggies! By making them front and center on the plate, kids have the chance to explore texture and taste during mealtime.
Kids are more likely to try something new when they have a choice, so it may be a good idea to let them pick out something new to them at the store.
Try mixing new things in a mixed dish like a casserole, stir fry or soups. The veggies won’t be completely hidden, but the flavors can be balanced by the other ingredients.
Mix up a fruit salad or toss berries, kiwi, or mandarin oranges into a regular salad.
Loaded Marinara Sauce
Have you ever considered loading up your pasta sauce with chopped or blended veggies? Boost the veggie content of your pasta with veggies you or your family already like, or something a little more adventurous. Your veggies could be blended completely, diced up into tiny pieces, or roughly chopped. Blending veggies may help some overcome “texture issues” while still contributing flavor and nutrients.
The following recipe can be made in large batches and frozen in smaller bags or containers to be thawed out for later use, saving time in the future. Amy’s recipe from Yummy Toddler Food blends the veggies completely and looks exactly like regular marinara sauce. She recommends using celery, onion, and carrots for picky eaters who are used to the flavors of regular marinara sauce.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups any combination of these vegetables, roughly chopped: onion, carrot, butternut squash, sweet potato, bell pepper (any color but green) celery, and/or cauliflower
29 ounces canned diced tomatoes with juices
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the vegetables, stir, and cover. Cook for 10 minutes or until mostly soft.
Remove lid and stir in the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low and place the lid so it’s mostly covering the pot but not a tight seal. This will let some steam escape but will protect your cooktop from splatters. Simmer for 20-25 minutes or until everything is soft.
Puree with an immersion blender or in a regular blender. Season to taste with additional salt as needed.
Butternut Squash Pancakes
Butternut squash is a great source of potassium and beta-carotene (the building block for Vitamin A). When blended in with pancakes, the squash creates a fun orange color while adding a boost of veggies in the morning. A quick fun fact: winter squash is considered a vegetable in the culinary world, but is actually a fruit!. The Lean Green Bean Butternut Squash Pancakes recipe is below.
1 cup mashed roasted butternut squash
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup white whole wheat flour
Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. If you do not have a blender, combine squash, eggs, and vanilla in a small bowl and mix well.
Add baking powder, cinnamon, and flour and stir until just combined.
Scoop onto a greased griddle or pan. Flip when bubbly or golden brown.
Fruit and Veggie Smoothie
Another colorful one from The Lean Green Bean, this recipe uses a mixture of yogurt, fruit, and a veggie to make a smoothie which could also be frozen into a popsicle. The recipe is simple and can be swapped for other ingredients.
1/2 cup orange juice
3/4 cup vanilla yogurt
Veggie of choice: 1 cup roasted carrots OR 1 cup steamed cauliflower + 1/4 cup wild blueberries OR 3 handfuls fresh baby spinach
Combine all ingredients in a high powered blender until well mixed.
Serve in a glass, freeze into popsicle molds or pour into a bowl and top with peanut butter and granola