Veggie smuggling: Should we hide vegetables in meals for children?

By Karla Gilbert

As an accredited Nutrition and Health Coach, Karla Gilbert knows how to keep families healthy – and as a mum of two girls, she knows a thing or two about smuggling veggies into your child’s dinner!

Mothers’ groups swear by it and there are recipes flooding the internet on how to perfect it, but is veggie smuggling (the art of hiding veggies in your child’s food) the way to go or is it just providing a band-aid solution?

I can totally understand how veggie smuggling has its place in meal preparation. It’s definitely the easiest route to take on busy days – for a while anyway…

Why we start veggie smuggling

Masking one vegetable flavour for another begins with a baby’s first food. A combination of three or four different pureed veggies can form a mishmash meal. Apple sweetens pumpkin, and broccoli can easily be disguised in a tomato-based pasta sauce. It’s tempting to get the ‘good stuff’ into our kids any way we can.

However, we need to remember that children develop their taste preferences from a very early age. This is why I strongly believe that we need to let veggies speak for themselves and give our children the chance to experience each unique taste.

Why veggie smuggling can backfire

Realistically, constantly hiding veggies is not the best solution. It’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem. When we hide vegetables, we limit our ability to work towards creating good eating habits that take our children into adulthood.

For the most part, it’s best to serve salads, stir-fries and vegetables as a standalone part of the meal. Vegetables are certainly not bad or criminal, but this is the reputation we give this wonderful health-giving food when we sneak and hide them.

That said, there may be some nights where you’re coming home to a tired and grumpy household – and there is a time and place to maintain the peace, where you might like grate up some veggies and add them to a dish to avoid further arguments.

The key is having a workable balance between smuggling and serving veggies separately.

How to incorporate more veggies in meals

Building our child’s trust around food is undeniably important. Developing a repertoire of different foods encourages their adventurous side to try and experience new tastes.

If you choose to add in veggies (notice I didn’t say sneak) every now and then for less fuss at dinnertime, there are clever ways of doing this. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Grating more vegetables into a spaghetti sauce and adding to a bolognese or a lasagne
  • Adding vegetables to mini quiches and muffins
  • Substituting regular rice for cauliflower rice
  • Cooking up vegetable fritters

Don’t forget pulses, (including beans, lentils and peas) are a cheap, low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and count towards your recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables!

The bottom line

Instead of hiding, glorify the humble veggie. Put it on a pedestal and make it a part of life and something that we should enjoy eating. It just may be wise to choose your battles!