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10 Kid-Friendly Ways to Sneak In More Veggies + Veggie-Packed Meatballs

June 21, 2014 by Melanie Zook

First, let me say this: the way to get your kids to truly enjoy & appreciate vegetables now and as adults is for them to see them as they are, in all their glory–let them grow them in a pot or garden, visit the produce aisle or farmers’ market with you, help you prepare them, and most of all, be sure they see you enjoy them.  Try preparing them in new ways so that they learn the tastes, textures & aromas of plant-based foods.  Serve vegetables with as many meals & snacks as possible, and if they “don’t like them,” don’t give up.  Research shows it takes up to 15 times for kids to try a food before they “like it.”  That being said, we can all benefit from adding in vegetables anywhere we can, and it doesn’t hurt to sneak them in once in awhile, especially if it makes a food even more delicious!  Here are some ideas…

Tip #1: Add veggies into meatloaf or meatballs.

Adding veggies to meat dishes not only makes them more nutritious, but also more budget-friendly (when used to replace some of the meat).  Try adding onion, garlic, eggplant, carrots, squash, cauliflower, spinach, or red bell pepper.  Try this recipe for meatballs that I adapted from the Meal Makeover Moms.  My kids LOVE them.  Combined with Tip #2, you can really pack in extra nutrition.  (This photo shows them ready for the oven –look at all those colors!)


Yield: 24 meatballs



Also great for the freezer! After baking, transfer the baking sheet to the freezer. When frozen, transfer the meatballs to a freezer zip-top storage bag and return to the freezer. When ready to eat, just add to a pan or slow cooker with the sauce and cook thoroughly.

Tip #2: Mix minced veggies into tomato sauce (to be used for pasta or pizza) or pureed veggies into cheese for mac & cheese or dip.

Try using carrots, red, orange or yellow bell peppers, baby spinach, or broccoli for tomato sauce and for cheese, try carrots, cauliflower or butternut squash.

Tip #3: Use herbs & spices.

Herbs (fresh or dried) and spices are like mini veggies that pack a powerful antioxidant punch, so use them to flavor recipes as much as possible.  You may even find you’re reaching for the salt shaker a little less too.

Tip #4: Add beans to just about anything!

Beans are a vegetable, and go with just about any cuisine.  Up the fiber & antioxidants by adding rinsed canned beans to salads, soups, wraps, & nachos, or in hummus, black bean dip or Italian white bean dip.  You won’t even miss the meat if you use them as a cheap, nutritious meat-replacer.  They’re even great in Black Bean Brownies!

Tip #5: Make breads, muffins, cookies or granola bars with fruits or veggies.

Try banana bread, zucchini muffins, blueberry muffins or even pineapple or carrot muffins.  Most recipes can be easily “tweaked” to add in grated fruits & veggies, and you’ll find they’re moister that way too.  For example, I like to make the Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Walnut Cookies with canned pureed pumpkin instead of butter (see variations at the bottom of the recipe).

Tip #6: Have fruits & veggies as snacks.

Use 100% fruit/veggie juice or Green Smoothies to make ice pops.  Make 100% fruit snacks (DIY Jell-O Jigglers) or fruit leather.  Looking for something savory?  Bake kale chips.  Kids hungry after school or before dinner?  Try putting a plate of fresh veggies + hummus in front of them & see what happens.

Tip #7: Make veggie frittatas or quiche.

Add mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, squash, spinach, tomato, or broccoli.  Have kale, spinach, Swiss chard or mustard greens? Try this easy Frittata with Fresh Greens, Caramelized Onions & Parmesan Cheese.

Tip #8: Add fruits or veggies to smoothies, pancakes or oatmeal.  

Using the Whole Grain Pancake Mix,  mix in bananas or other fruits, shredded carrots or zucchini or canned pureed pumpkin.

Tip #9: Feature fruits & veggies in a wrap or roll-up.  Try:

Tip #10:  Plan ahead to include veggies in your diet.

You’ve heard it before: the key to eating well is to plan ahead.  Wash & prep vegetables when you have the time so that you can quickly grab them for a snack or add them to last-minute meals.  Store them in your fridge where you can see them in all their glory.  Don’t leave them wilting in a bag in the back of the crisper drawer.

Bonus Tip: Want to eat a more plant-based diet, but aren’t sure where to start?  Try ONE new vegetable, fruit, grain, nut or seed every time you shop.

Some ideas contributed by Meghan Neary, DTR, who enjoys advocating for a healthy lifestyle to promote wellness & prevent long term disease.