There’s no getting around a picky eater conversation when you get a bunch of moms together. The common thread is always the lingering green vegetable on the plate, while your child's fingers have obliterated everything else in sight. If your child will eat non-toxic play dough but not veggies, what’s a mama to do?
I had to become the Reverse Veggie Monster. My goal: To get sneaky with food prep and hope my munchkin was none the wiser. Some days, when it worked, I strutted around like a champ.
Other days, the broccoli got plowed over and forgotten, though the stalks were individual trees in a carefully crafted veggie woodland snack display. I should’ve known in advance on that one. Mealtimes are an adventure, and you have to treat it that way, accepting wins and defeats.
My Kid’s Picky Palette Actually Likes Some Healthy Food
Picky veggie eaters do like particular healthy foods. Some days my kid just doesn’t eat veggies, but there are healthy foods that have seen success:
Applesauce takes us all back to childhood. It’s sweet and has a weird texture, but it’s not the veggie-weird texture. It’s also not green. Kids hate green food, unless it’s dyed green eggs and ham.
My kid is obsessed with the stuff, and I say, have at it.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are another childhood classic, and my kid’s preference is creamy PB and toasted bread, no crusts. Beyond that, we try almond and other nut butters as substitutes in PB&J and brownies. We’ve tried apricot, sweet potato and other interesting jams. Some tastes aren’t as strong, and some are even preferable.
They’re cute. They’re tiny. They’re cheesy and crunchy. Not the real goldfish, you monster!
I’m talking about the cute, tiny, cheesy and crunchy snackable Goldfish. If I had my back turned for five minutes, I swear this kid could eat a bag of them.
So, Goldfish are a win. We take snack caddies and place cucumber slices with yogurt, blueberries, chocolate nibs and other snacks into the various sections. Bigger win.
Greek yogurt all the way. My kid prefers the taste and texture and gets to pick whatever fruit goes in. Eat up that calcium boost and probiotic yumminess, kiddo!
How to Deal: Rethink the Feeding Dynamic
It’s time to hit the books, folks — or rather this one particular recommendation I have. According to “Child of Mine” by Ellyn Satter, you need to rethink the feeding dynamic because you’re overthinking how to get the veggies from the table into their tummy. I did the same thing, trying to cajole and even bribe my child, placing the power in their hands.
The feeding dynamic is not about power. It’s about health, nutrients and personal taste. I’m a picky eater, and you’re a picky eater, too. We’re all picky eaters.
At one point, I tried pureeing spinach just to get the green leafy goodness into that tummy, and felt so-so about the whole thing, especially when my kid caught on. They’re smart little suckers. Meanwhile, I read that fruit pulp retains the moisture in brownies, and decided to make brownies — my kid loves fruit, and I use up the extra pulp. More wins and less guilt.
Why drive myself and my kid crazy trying to get the right foods into the gut? Trying to be the Reverse Veggie Monster only made my cooking more complicated and time-consuming. I’d invent these fun creations that my wrecking ball of a kid would smash and leave me to clean up my works of veggie art. I’d sneak veggies into chocolatey food with mixed success. Here’s what I did differently:
- The best thing that has worked is to let the child choose. Put it out there in the open, and lay all the cards — or carrots — on the table.
- Focus on the vitamins of various veggies, because that same vitamin your kid hates in a particular vegetable is present in a preferred one. Instead of squash or spinach for vitamin A, replace the food option with mango or sweet potato fries.
- Veggies aren’t a side piece, and they deserve to be the main squeeze. Spinach, eggplant and squash aren’t just side dishes. They work as main dishes, too, such as veggie lasagna with eggplant slices as the noodles or cooking squash noodles instead of spaghetti noodles.
- Is it the way the veggie is cooked? Texture is as important as taste when it comes to your palette. Some people prefer steamed vegetables over overcooked ones. Try cooking fresh green beans lightly, instead of overcooking canned green beans, for example. You can add a squeeze of lime, too.
- Try different spices and flavors. Look to the recipes of various cultures, such as Indian food or Asian food. Everyone likes samosas and stir fry in my family. What about a peanut sauce?
- Don’t stop offering particular vegetables or vegetable in general. If you don’t serve it, they won’t eat it. Keep trying.
A child’s refusal of food will make the parent feel like a bit of a failure, too. You’re trying so hard to please your child and get the veggies in their tummy that you’re making it more difficult.
Let it happen. Some days my kid just doesn’t eat vegetables, and I’m okay with that. Other days my kid does eat vegetables and sometimes discovers a new spice, flavor or acceptable texture.
I’ve stopped trying too hard, but I haven’t stopped trying. I had to alter my goal as the Reverse Veggie Monster, taking mealtimes as they come, filled with promise, wins, rejections and veggies. In the end, the most important part of mealtime is done, my kid has a satisfied tummy and I haven’t squashed my confidence in my parenting decisions.
Applesauce, Goldfish PB&J and yogurt, oh my — my kid is actually eating something healthy.