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How do you feed a picky eater?

Tonight for dinner I had a bunch of mustard greens from our garden, so I cooked them up and added them to spaghetti sauce. My kids would never eat something like greens, but they are none the wiser when these are mixed into spaghetti sauce. In what other ways do/could you sneak healthy foods to kids?

  • I've converted this question to "Community Wiki" and retagged per this discussion on meta. It's not policy yet, but I think it will be. Consider it an experimental response. ;)
    – HedgeMage
    Commented May 14, 2011 at 0:06
  • totally different from How do you feed a picky eater. This is more about how to add verity of vegetables and other healthy foods in a diet that the kids are already accustom.
    – Fatmuemoo
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 2:30
  • So your kids are picky about eating greens... Not seeing the difference here, other than that you've already solved your problem. See also: my response to HedgeMage
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 2:47
  • My parents sternly forced me to eat veggies. It worked. I eat all almost all veggies/fruits except a few that disagree with my stomach. Of course, you should also put effort into making tasty veggie dishes instead of bland, boiled stuff. Sneaky works too. Commented May 31, 2014 at 5:46

12 Answers 12


One possible way is to not sneak vegetables to children. As children get older, they realize that you're trying to sneak things to them, and it becomes a never ending battle. You should introduce vegetables to them repeatedly until they get used to the idea that vegetables are part of their diet. Eat vegetables with them, keep them around as snacks, and make them a regular part of your family diet.

Have your children help you pick vegetables in the grocery store, start a garden and grow your own vegetables, and have them help you cook the meals using the vegetables. Talk to them about the nutrients in vegetables (keep a list posted on the fridge). Every time you use a vegetable, or talk about it with your kids, go to the list and talk to them about all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients the vegetables contain.

Make healthy foods and eating a part of your life, not just something that you feel obligated to make sure your kids are getting and thus try to get creative about how to sneak them into their foods. They should know vegetables are in their food because they're helping you make the food and understand the importance of cooking with and eating vegetables.

  • 1
    +1 for don't sneak them in. From personal experience, I can attest that sneaking veggies in will eventually backfire.
    – user420
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 13:02

If you're going to hide veggies in your food, why not get the kids in on it? You could tell your kids about how you want to make daddy more healthy but you don't want him to notice, so you're going to try to sneak veggies into your food. Now that your kids are "in on" the scheme:

  • They won't make a fuss about vegetables, even if they do notice them, because that would give away the secret

  • They'll realize that veggies aren't as bad as they thought (and hopefully will keep what they learned in mind after they leave home)

I suspect you don't need to be too serious about it. They'll eventually realize that daddy is in on it too, but then you can just transition it into some sort of inside-joke family thing.

I'm in college right now, and I still think it's fun to sneak weird things into my roommate's food (black bean brownies, spinach in smoothies), and I use it in normal food too (extra-extra-veggie tomato sauce).


For a good book on the subject I would suggest The Sneaky Chef. Pumpkin puree in French toast. Spinach in meatballs and other things of that nature are discussed. It provides a lot of insight on the subject.


My son won't eat anything green and leafy. Broccoli, spinach, green beans - you name it.

However, he loves soup - and doesn't mind if the soup is green.

We have a lot of broccoli, leek and spinach soups, etc and I put spinach in my meatballs and shredded carrots in the spaghetti sauce, etc.

Sneaky is good.


One thing that has not been mentioned here about kids is that they are all about form over function. Kids can be put off by how things look, so one thing we have done to overcome this, is to carve the vegetables into interesting shapes. Carrots make great goldfish, Cucumbers make great Dinosaurs, etc. be creative.

Obviously this doesn't work for veggies like Tomatoes, but try combining different vegetables. Also ask your kid what their favorite animal is or involve them in the creative process.


We've done similar things for certain foods my son claims he is "allergic" to, although he is generally good in his eating habits and eats a wide range of foods. When its come time to make sure he eats something we want we do similar tasks to you:

  • Add veggies or items to sauces, like pasta sauce
  • Pizza, hide it in the cheese
  • Stews or soups that combine items
  • Make the food fun somehow, like a challenge or dare to eat him at the same time

I've had good luck with just getting my son to eat something once, then he usually likes it, some days its getting that first bite in him.


A blender/food processor is my best friend in the kitchen!

soups, chilis, stews: vegetables, beans - the longer it's cooked, the less noticeable they are, mash if necessary

milkshakes/smoothies: yogurt and ice (to simulate ice cream), fruit, sometimes cereal (depends on what kind of textures you like)

muffins, cookies: grains, fibres (wheatgerm, flax), nuts and seeds

  • 1
    I love the idea of smoothies. The kids already love blended drinks, I'll add green leafy vegetables to it and it "Shrek Juice"
    – Fatmuemoo
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 2:34

Every month, I create a 'Passatta' of just about every vegetable going. Spinach, toms, Peppers, brocolli, carrots, celery, etc, etc. I then blend it, and put it through a muslin cloth and have a lovely smooth sauce which I add to all of their food. We did this form the start really, not because they were picky, but we thought it a win - win situation even when they did start eating veg. So now, for example, we'll give them grilled fish, with rice, and Brocolli, peppers and carrots and then pour over a very good portion of the sauce. They've got to really enjoy it.

I know it is also probably against the grain, as I have read books outlining it's not good to do, but we have always said to the kids, that what we put on the table, they eat. That they will stay at the table until it is their bath time if they don't eat it, thus eating into their activity time. We've also added that if there is something new to them, they have to try it, even if it is just once.

They do kick up an awful fuss every now and again (Mango was really tough to get them to eat, as if it is slightly too ripe, it is slimy), but they do operate to the rules and seem to be much better now than they were at any stage.

We looked at this from the angle, that we'd rather they understood we were going to be rigid on this, that healthy eating is a must do, than worry about forcing them to miss the fun things by making them stay at the table. Sometimes they make a stand, and we have to respect that, but in the main, it has worked.

  • 4
    Oh, please please please don't do the "you must eat everything in front of you" thing! It's fine to say "this is what's for dinner, if you don't eat it, you go hungry"; it's even fine to say "you must try everything in front of you, even if you had some last week and didn't like it"; but forcing kids to eat everything is a very good way to set up a lifetime of food issues.
    – Martha
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 23:46
  • Its a good way of ensuring they get all their nutrients too. I have weighed up the options and have chosen this. We give them a certain amount of time to eat it, and this eats into their after dinner activity time if they don't. We've not actually said we make them eat it, just that they will stay there until either they have, or it's bath time. They now eat every thing we give them, with little comment. One now, even has developed, socially, well enough to be able to say positive negative things about the food, if you understand what I mean. I think it works, it works for us, so far.
    – Hairy
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 21:32

Take your child to a garden and let them pick the greens there. Your child will have a completely different outlook on greens after they've visited a fresh garden a few times.

We grew green beens, a few other vegetables and strawberries for easy convincing. Our son absolutely loves greens, including broccoli.


Not a sneak but... the trick is always have healthy food on hand that is quick to serve.

For our 11 month old we make a few batches of food in a blender (chicken & squash, fruit, beans and vegetables... dishes you find in a children's cook book), then portion them out to ice cube trays. When it's time for a meal, toss 1-3 of them in the microwave for a few seconds.

Our 3 year old will eat cucumber, peas, corn, avocado, steamed broccoli, steamed cauliflower, chicken, beef, nuts, fish, and most kinds of fruit, so we always have some combination of those foods in the fridge.



We make pancakes for the boys using all kinds of foods. Recently we made pumpkin pancakes and they loved them. I will never hide what is in their food but I will try to make it more palatable when it is something that they don't like plain.


Try Veggie Booty. It's got a full serving of vegetables and most kids I've seen try it, like it. They cover a rice puff (maybe corn) with Kale powder. You can buy kale powder in bulk and mix it in with all kinds of food without your children noticing most likely.


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