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With so many cheap processed foods trying to sabotage our shopping trolleys, the constant role of us parents is to find new ways to sneak healthy foods (particularly veggies) into our family’s food! Some kids are super-fussy, & it seems all they want to eat is sausages, chips & crackers! I don’t advise you to ‘just let them grow out of it’, as in my experience – kids who are allowed to get away with eating just sausages & chips as kids often continue to do so, & they don’t get used to the tastes & textures of vegetables & salads the way kids who are brought up on them daily do. You either do the introductory work when your kids are young, or they will pay the price for it later with ongoing fussiness, nutrient deficiencies & the health issues that arise from them. Getting veggies in can be hard work at times, but it will pay off – & there are many ways to sneak things in / introduce gradually so it’s not too scary!
It’s not only the kids who experience trouble with eating their veggies, I actually speak to quite a few adults who are definitely old enough to realise that they should be eating more veggies, but still really struggle with textures / tastes & do not eat very many at all! Because they find it so difficult to eat veggies themselves – they’re unable to enforce good vegetable-eating habits in the kids, so the issue gets passed down & compounded!
Here’s a few easy & inexpensive dishes, perfect for getting more veggies into the ‘average Aussie family’ diet. You’ll notice most of these dinners use mince as a base – reason is it’s inexpensive & kids are generally pretty good with it, plus it’s an easy texture that allows you to hide a lot of veg in it. You can experiment with beef, chicken, lamb, kangaroo or pork. Make it free range & grass fed wherever you possibly can (ask your butcher or farmer at the markets!) I ethically agree with & have experimented myself with both a vegetarian & vegan diet in the past, but I do feel that for rapidly growing kids, some animal protein & fats are important & very useful nutritionally. Just look for & support the producers who operate on a small scale & treat their animals with more care, & incorporate loads of veggies & plant foods in so that meat isn’t playing the starring dietary role, but is there in smaller quantities to supply the nutritional bits that plants don’t cover.
Meatballs / Patties
Better option for BBQ’s than the kid-favourite sausages, as you can pack them full of veggies! The secret is to chop everything really finely, or use a processor / blender. Into your mince you can add add onion, garlic, fresh herbs (i.e. basil, oregano, chives, rosemary, mint, curry plant), carrot, celery, mushroom, capsicum, zucchini. Just watch the water content with the wetter veggies (you may need to squeeze the water out of grated zucchini for example). I generally add in something absorbent like chia meal or chia flour (ask in your health store) to help bind the patties & soak up any excess moisture from the tonne of veggies. You can also add in some seaweed flakes (i.e. dulse or kelp) to sneakily boost nutrition, salt & pepper & some dried herbs & spices like cumin, thyme or sage.
A quick & easy option for most families – yet there is a big nutritional difference between the average ‘pasta-meat-sauce’ spaghetti bol & a veggie packed healthy version! To maximise your veg intake, start with onion, garlic & mushroom (all finely chopped). Fry these & then add finely chopped celery, carrot, capsicum, zucchini, & even beetroot. Add in some leafy greens, seaweed flakes, herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary all work well), & then mix all of this into your cooked mince, along with some plain chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce (I use molasses as a mineral-rich sweetener / flavour booster & salt & pepper). I’ll often just eat this without the pasta, but the kids miss it! You can use GF pasta or even some ‘courgette’ / spiralled zucchini noodles. Serve with some simple raw greens or a salad, & some grated cheese to top if desired.
Same veggies as the bolognaise. Chopped finely – this is just the bolognaise brew arranged with layers of sauce / cheese / pasta! You can use GF sheets or finely sliced pumpkin as the ‘pasta’ layers too.
All of the same bolognaise veggies will work here too, & you can incorporate some sneaky tinned asparagus into the sauce (blend it in), & throw in some frozen peas. I often use a mix of cauliflower or sweet potato in with the mashed potato topping, & you can throw some green / brown lentils into the mince part – or even use these instead of the meat. You can use things like salt & pepper, tomato paste, mustard, molasses & herbs / spices / natural sauces to make it flavoursome.
Great crowd-pleaser to introduce some legumes! Soak some black beans overnight, then rinse & drain them before boiling until soft. Or you can use canned if you’re not good at planning! I use a combo of whole beans & some of the canned refried beans. These can be added in after you’ve cooked up the rest of the mix, which can be your meat (if using, you can easily make a great vego mexican brew with just the beans & veg) plus finely chopped onion, garlic, celery, carrot, broccoli / cauliflower, zucchini…whatever. You can use molasses as a sweetener, plus salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric (not too much or it gets bitter) & coriander to make it taste ‘Mexican’! Serve with guacamole (mashed avo with lemon / lime juice, salt, pepper & garlic) & fresh coriander / shallots on top.
Rice Paper Wraps
Onion & garlic, add in some ginger for the Asian flavour, or whatever Asian style paste / herbs you like – i.e. coriander, basil, mint, lime juice, tamari…just fry the mince with the garlic / ginger / spices / paste, add finely chopped veggies / herbs, & have some others raw & grated on the table when you serve up. You can have several bowls for different people to choose their own additions, & some dipping sauce. Or instead of Asian style, try a rosemary & garlic lamb mince with yoghurt, mint & cucumber dressing. You can find the wraps in the asian section of the supermarket, & you just need to dip them into hot water to make them soft enough to wrap (requires a little practice, small children will need help making theirs).
A great winter hot veggie snack. Sweet potato & potato, homemade & oven baked. You can coat in some tapioca starch & spices to get them really crispy / crunchy. Cook in macadamia or coconut oil, & serve with yummy dips (see below!)
You can hide a lot of veggies (& probiotic yoghurt / healthy olive oil) in dips. Cooked sweet potato & pumpkin, cucumber, herbs, avocado, semi dried tomato, beetroot, olives etc – & we think of dips as party or snack food, so tend not to be on the lookout for veggies! Google veggie dips or any of the above-mentioned veggies with dip & you’ll find recipes. Also – they are nice & smooth, & generally there are crackers to be had with them – so veggie dips can be a winner for veggie-shy people!
You can find some half-decent GF wraps in the supermarkets now. Bundle up a heap of healthy fillings with some kind of yummy dressing. Meat / cheese – whatever other fillings you / the kids like, to go with the veggies. Think avocado, hommous etc.
Mushroom, tomato, onion, herbs like rosemary, parsley & thyme, baby spinach & shredded kale…just start of with a few teeny tiny bits & you can increase as they get used to the ‘bits’.
Same as omelettes – start with a few bits & increase as they get used to the new tastes / textures.
You can add some veggies chunk style, & some hidden, finely blended into the pie ‘sauce’. Top pies with mashed & seasoned veggies.
This can be a good one as most veggie-fussy types like mayonnaise / creamy dressings. You can make a basic coleslaw with just shredded cabbage & carrot, or add in shallots / raw onion, celery, kale, capsicum, grated beetroot, parsley etc. Kids usually like a little grated cheese in there too.
Use the fine holes on your grater, to grate a large raw beetroot with 2 medium carrots. ‘Dress’ with some fresh grated / juiced pineapple & / or orange, & add in some desiccated coconut & currants if desired. Amazing sweet & juicy side salad that many kids & adults like, & a great way to introduce raw beetroot to those who’ve never tried it.
I like to add boiled eggs into potato salad to balance the carbs with some protein / fats. You can add finely chopped shallots / chives, raw onion, parsley, celery, frozen peas….potato salad is great for resistant starch (the carbs turn into this when cooked & cooled down). Resistant starch is good food for your gut bacteria.
You can use quinoa too (or a mixture) & use leftover meats or veggies in here. I use shredded fried eggs, free range nitrate free bacon, or chicken leftovers, onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, shallots, carrot, corn, frozen peas, capsicum, broccoli, cauliflower (chopped up into tiny bits).
You can sneak cauliflower into your mashed potato, use lots of butter & salt & pepper to flavour, & garlic, chives or parsley are also yum in mash. You can add cooked broccoli & carrots into sweet potato / pumpkin mash…mash makes textures less of an issue so you may have luck with some different veggies incorporated in this way.
Herbs are super-nutritious like veggies (often even more so) but can be expensive. It’s great to grow a few in the garden / pots. You can make amazing fresh pesto using basil & baby spinach, parmesan, olive oil, salt & pepper, lemon juice & garlic. This pesto can also be used to flavour other veggies. It goes great with roasted sweet potato chunks, or in a salad.
Spinach & Feta Pies
Kids love greens hidden in cheese! Most people love mini spinach & feta pies. Use a cupcake / muffin tray to bake a heap of these – great way to get some greens & protein in if dairy is well tolerated. Basil is awesome in these.
Platters / Finger Food
Olives, carrot, celery, capsicum, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, sugar snaps, beans….you can make great healthy platters using veggies. Just combine with things you already like i.e. cheeses, nuts, crackers, dips etc. Finger food / platters are very kid-friendly & they’ll be able to experiment carefully with a little encouragement.
Pineapple / banana / papaw / mango / kiwi / apple / pear etc can be the ‘sweetness’ to make a glass full of raw green veggies yummier! Celery tops, cucumber, baby spinach, kale etc can all be blended up into drinks – many people find drinking their veggies is actually easier than eating them!
You can make an amazing, vibrant red smoothie using raspberries, watermelon, dragon fruit & beetroot. This is just cool for kids because it is SOO bright red. Pink grapefruit & ginger are nice flavours in this too.
Some people can’t handle the thick, fibrous texture of smoothies with veggies in them. Juice can be a great way to get used to the different veggie tastes, without having to deal with the textures at the same time! Try small amounts of spinach, kale, cucumber, carrot, beetroot, ginger, turmeric etc – using familiar things like apple, mandarin, pineapple & orange to sweeten / mask.
You can make quite a few cool cakes with veggies win them. The obvious one is carrot cake, but google chocolate beetroot or zucchini cake, black bean brownies…you can actually sneak veggies into cakes & sweet treats!
I hope you find some of these tips useful, & I’d love to know your thoughts, struggles or even your own tips! Just leave a comment below or send me an email !