Hidden Vegetables - What You Don't Know Can Help You

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Ronnie Fein
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crispy turkey veggie meatballs

My husband Ed likes to tell the story about when he was a boy and ate dinner at his grandma’s house on Tuesdays. One time she gave him spaghetti – a favorite – and when he had almost finished he found a slice of meatloaf that had been hidden underneath the pile of pasta.

Ed hates meatloaf.

I suppose his grandma figured that if she put the meat under the pasta, Ed would either not realize it wasn’t spaghetti(!)! Or he would eat it anyway, because it had touched the spaghetti, and therefore he would like it.

He didn’t.

Kids are smart. You can’t hide much from them, least of all when it comes to food. And if they catch you trying to deceive them it doesn’t send a good message, does it?

So what do you do when your child won’t eat stuff that’s healthy? Like vegetables?

I don’t have all the answers and I am not a psychologist, nutritionist or expert on health matters. I can only relate what I have found to be successful.

To begin, I would never serve my children vegetables that were completely objectionable to them. As long as they chose, say, green beans I was okay that it was not broccoli. There are enough choices without having to push one or another.

vegetable burgers

Second, I would include vegetables in dishes I knew they liked rather than serve them as a “side dish.” For example, I would sauté diced zucchini (and occasionally carrots) along with the onion in my homemade spaghetti sauce. Sometimes I mixed in finely chopped cooked carrots, celery, parsnip or green beans or raw spinach or zucchini into meatballs or meatloaf. I added all sorts of chopped, cooked vegetables to corn fritter batter and macaroni and cheese. I mashed my chicken soup veggies with egg and matzo meal and made them into “burgers.” (Those were big favorites, especially if I put them on a bun.) The vegetables in these dishes were not hidden exactly, let’s just say they were veiled, and it made them less objectionable. I liken this sort of thing to people who will not eat fish if it is presented whole, but are fine with filets.

Another thing I realized is that my children didn’t seem to mind eating what looked like a vegetable if it was oven-roasted to mimic French fries, so I made carrot and parsnip fries a lot.

They were also okay with vegetable soup, especially if it included pasta, or any mild-tasting soup that was essentially a puree, like carrot soup or avocado soup, where, again, the food didn’t resemble its raw form. Occasionally I would puree some of the soup (stock plus vegetables) with canned beans, which they didn’t want to eat, and they didn’t realize they were also eating the beans too. They never asked what made the soup so thick so I never had to tell.

In order to get us to eat cooked spinach, my mother mashed it into cooked potatoes. She told us it wouldn’t taste like spinach that way. She was right: the bland, starchy potatoes mellowed out the vegetable’s metallic tang. I served my Mom’s “creamed spinach” very often with great success.

I didn’t make vegetable smoothies when my kids were young, but I know that it is simple to add cooked spinach, avocado or other pureed vegetables with a banana and yogurt or kefir to make a tasty drink children will taste and probably like too.

Squash (or carrot) Muffins

I am not a fan of mixing vegetables into ultra-sweet desserts such as brownies and cake. The amount of nutritional value they get for the load of sugar never seemed worth it to me. Carrot cake, while one of my very favorites, is not exactly healthy. However, I have added vegetables to muffins, cornbread, scones and other quickbreads where the sugar load isn’t as fierce.

Here are some of the “veiled vegetable” dishes that became favorites at our house.

Chicken Soup Veggie Burgers

Turkey Veggie Meatballs with Panko Crust

Squash or Carrot Muffins