When we first started offering solids to my son, I remember oozing with joy as I watched him inhale things like freshly pureed organic fruit, chunks of avocado, and fistfuls of lentils. There was nothing he wasn’t willing to try, and I delighted in watching his diet, palate, and belly all grow. What was all this talk about picky eaters? My kid loved everything!
And then he turned 1. Determined to live off of nothing but almond butter and toast, he took his formerly colorful segmented plates and turned them into artful arrangements of tomatoes, peas, and squash scattered around my kitchen floor.
Getting him to eat a balanced variety is a daily game of cat and mouse. I offer it, and he turns his nose up in disgust. And like any mom, I worry. And so I’m doing what moms have been doing for as long as it’s been a cliché sneaking vegetables into his meals in whatever way possible smoothies, baked goods, soups, and more. It doesn’t always work, and we have our fair share of messes (his) and tears (mostly mine), but I continue to keep trying and seek out creative solutions.
Luckily, I’ve found a few methods that actually work.
Here are five ways to sneak veggies into toddler meals, along with some of the funny ways these have worked (and not worked) for us. Make sure to visit Happy Family’s Facebook page to share a funny feeding story of your own for a chance to win $20,000 towards college for your child!):
Here, have a muffin … 1 of 6
The word "trick" might sound a little sneaky, but these days I'm willing to do whatever it takes to keep my toddler's diet balanced and colorful. Click through to see five ways we're upping the veggies!
Hide them in an otherwise irresistible dinner 2 of 6
I've been hearing catchy food slogans like "macaroni and peas" or "shells and trees" since the days my own mother was trying to get more green on our plates. Now a mom myself, I understand the feeling that runs down my spine as I watch my kid eat plate after plate of toast and peanut butter without a speck of color or vegetables in sight.
And so I have become the cliched parent who offers a favorite item — something like macaroni and cheese — with a handful of green peas or leafy greens scattered throughout. Of course if your toddler is anything like mine, he will carefully eat around every bit of green, and remove all pasta from the plate before declaring himself "all done!" Sigh.
Blend them into smoothies 3 of 6
I know this is a really predictable way to boost veggies for kids, but it's popular because it works! For whatever reason, my toddler rejects food based completely on sight but rarely based on taste. If he doesn't recognize it or like the look of it, it is flung from the high chair into the drooling mouths of hungry dogs below him.
So every other day, we make a big pitcher of smoothie mix! We'll pack it with naturally sweet things like bananas, mangos, and strawberries, as well as undetectable veggies like spinach and carrots. Cullen gulps these down like they are a true treat, and I breathe a sigh of relief that he's drinking a handful of spinach each afternoon.
The only thing to be careful of here is exactly where and how you serve the smoothie. My son has been known to paint with his straw cup in the backseat of our car! Also, smoothie cups that are accidentally left in cars for several days in the heat of summer essentially become bio-hazards. Trust me on this.
Bake them into something else 4 of 6
Even the pickiest eaters cannot resist baked goods, right? I have tried countless varieties of vegetable-laced baked goods: muffins, pancakes, bulked-up banana breads, and quinoa cakes. In our house, these are pretty much fool-proof. Something about that mini muffin shape proves to be irresistible, despite the shreds of zucchini and carrot poking from the sides.
These zucchini and carrot pancakes are our new breakfast favorite! Just be sure you make enough for everyone. I have been left virtually pancake-less several times after my toddler has inhaled a monster portion and left me scavenging for stale cereal in the pantry.
When in doubt, turn it into soup 5 of 6
For whatever reason, my kid loves soup. I like to think that he got it from me, but I think it's more that he is still enjoying the thrill of learning to use his own spoon. Soup is one of the easiest ways for me to get him to eat things like kale, lentils, beans, carrots, and other healthy, colorful things.
Of course soup comes with a price: the world's biggest mess. I like to keep my expectations low, and aim for him to get 50% of what's in front of him into his mouth. The other half ends up on his clothes, in his hair, all over the floor, and often even stuck to parts of me that I discover later while walking around at the grocery store.
In a rush, grab a pouch! 6 of 6
We are on the go a lot these days — out every morning for things like play dates, trips to the zoo, or even just basic errands. I like to have snacks on hand that I can offer throughout the morning, and depending on our timing, sometimes these even serve as a lunch replacement.
I can't always realistically have fresh produce tucked away in my diaper bag. If we're out for several hours, I don't have access to refrigeration, and I also don't want a huge mess spilling out into my purse. Enter the pouch. I have a big stash of these in my pantry, and I always have a few on hand in my diaper bag. I tend to stick to the varieties that have greens like spinach, kale, and peas because Cullen will happily snack on fruit the whole day. It feels good to have a portable, non-perishable item that goes beyond crackers and dried fruit. If only they lasted longer than 30 seconds!
A word to the wise: Pouches are awesome for a number of reasons. Moms love them because they are easy and full of nutrition. Toddlers love them because they are tasty and can double as a colorful squirt gun. Watch out for flying squirts of goo coming from the back seat of your car!