True story: I am a recovering picky eater and am raising my own brood of picky eaters. Believe you me, there’s not a restaurant critic or food reviewer on the planet who is scarier to feed than a hardcore picky eater. They can spot an onion from a mile away and they don't give a darn about flavor profiles.
The trick to feeding a picky eater – in general, and healthfully, in particular – is to outsmart them. Having been one for so long, I’ve got all sorts of strategy for getting the job done; for vegetable consumption specifically, the key is condiments. So here are my best tips for successfully feeding veggies to picky eaters.
Pizza! Tacos! Potatoes! All of the above will get the attention – in a good way – of your hungry, however picky, crew. Just take care to sneak extra veggies into the pizza sauce, ground mushrooms into the taco meat, spoon chunky salsa into the shells, and mash cauliflower into the “gravy” on the potatoes.
Play with words in a different way, too. Build entire menus around your kids’ most cherished books. Drizzle breakfast for dinner with a nutrient-packed spinach pesto and call it “Green Eggs and Ham”. Or prep plates of all bite-sized foods with veggie-based dipping sauces like Amelia Bedelia might. Or, blend together a smoothie chocked full of juicy greens, crown it with a twirl of whipped cream, and call it “Freckle Juice” like Judy Blume might.
2. Don't let them see you sweat
Play it cool. No one needs to know that the “rainbow” noodles smothered in that casserole of mac-and-cheese are made of spinach and peppers. Or that the nuggets they’re dipping into that ranch dressing are fried hunks of squash.
Hold off on revealing exactly what your kiddos are enjoying until they are, in fact, enjoying it. Or maybe hold off altogether…until they have their own kids in twenty years. As soon as you start rattling off words like “spring pea” and “asparagus spear”, you’ve lost them. Just let them relish that they have a reason to gobble up their own personal ramekin of ranch.
3. The puree secret
Speaking from my own experience, texture is often the hold-up for picky eaters. Too crunchy, too slimy, too seedy – too scary. So, smash it up, blend it up, purée any vegetable that will sit still in front of you. Peppers, peas, leafy greens, and broccoli florets too, are all manageable when they’re velvety smooth.
The secret is to blend every ingredient that came from the ground to a fine consistency. Then, push it through a fine mesh sieve. Serve the purees warm as soups with a swirl of sour cream, or as invisible additions to crowd-pleasers like marinara on pasta. Or, sell the actual puree as a condiment itself – a colorful dip for pita chips, or a sauce for dunking chicken nuggets and fries.
4. Show them how it's done
Of course, the best way to change a picky eater is slowly but surely, by setting a good example. Make them see that you really do like Brussels sprouts, with or without cheese sauce. And corn, with or without butter. And sweet potatoes, with or without maple syrup. But also, share your own experience with your picky ones. Let them know that as a kid you never would have eaten a meal without cheese or butter or syrup, that part of growing up is pushing through the pickiness. Your brutal honesty will make them know that you can relate, and make them less likely to resist your veggie-laden agenda.
Never give up on offering vegetables to even your pickiest tablemate. Sneak them in where you can, and offer up the rest with ketchups, sauces, and dressings galore. When kids can make decisions about how their food is doctored up, they’ll get excited about what’s in front of them.
Take it from me:
Every dip, dunk, and smear brings your picky kid closer to being a recovered, veggie-lovin’ adult.