Five Food Hacks: Getting kids to eat vegetables and love it

You don't have to try to fool your kids into eating food that's good for them. You just have to slightly more clever than they are. That's where these five handy food hacks come in. Just little tricks that will help you get more vegetable matter into those little mouths.

Putting out veggie appetizers. I learned this one from my friend Kate who just mentioned it in passing one day and it's brilliant. Kids are always hungry while you're preparing dinner and start asking for snacks. Meanwhile when faced with a plateful of food, the vegetables often get left on the side of the plate. I'll steam some broccoli or cut up carrots and put them out while I'm making dinner. The kids will almost always polish off all the vegetables before I'm done cooking. Result: A pleasant meal with absolutely no nagging.

Smiley face salad. I remember the first time I saw my daughter eating a salad at a friend's house. She was a toddler and I had never even tried to give her salad yet and there she was happily munching away on raw spinach no less. The trick - take a small plate and make a face on it using salad items. I like baby spinach hair, a baby carrot nose, grape tomato eyes, red pepper lips, and cucumber ears. Set out a little cup of salad dressing for dipping and sit back and watch some magic.

Basil-Spinach Pesto. I often read about people who hide veggies in sauces. It sounds like a great idea, but every time I try to do it, I end up watching my children pick their food apart when they discover the "hidden" intruders - or just refuse to eat any more. One recipe that has been successful in our house has been this basil spinach pesto recipe that I found in Martha Stewart's Everyday Food years ago. I don't follow the recipe exactly (I skip the sauteeing shallots), but it still comes out great. I've also just made my traditional pesto recipe and added spinach which is equally good.

Yuck-Away. Yuck-away began as a story we made up to encourage my daughter to eat things that didn't look cute when she was a toddler. It was something about a mad scientist who invented this stuff that made all things yucky taste good. While I told the story, I would pour a teaspoon of maple syrup on her vegetables. I figured that a little unrefined sugar was better for her than not eating vegetables at all. Once she got used to eating veggies, the yuck-away was no longer needed.

Soup. I said above that I could never hide vegetables in sauces, but for some reason my kids will eat things otherwise unimaginable if it is in a soup. I have no explanation and I don't care to discover one. I'm happy enough to let well enough alone.

Interested in learning more tips on how to introduce healthy foods into your children and toddlers' diets? Check out Winning the Food Fight: How to Introduce Variety into Your Child's Diet. This is a not-dumb book, written by a psychologist who helps parents understand what's up with picky eaters and gives smart, practical advice on how to get kids to try new foods.

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