It used to drive me crazy: I’d send my son off to school with a balanced, healthy lunch, but as often as not, the lunchbox came home with carrot sticks untouched. I tried hard to resist the urge to cajole, confront, or criticize him— but pressure usually backfires. Instead, I got a little creative. I don’t mean that I sneak vegetables into his food, mostly because it seems unlikely that he’ll ever want to eat a vegetable if he doesn’t realize he’s enjoyed them already. Transformation is the key; make it into something else, even a different shape, and it’s much more appealing. My boy’s most likely to eat his veggies if I use one of these techniques:
- Cookie cutter = instant fun. Cut slices of cucumber, beets, carrots, or jicama into playful pieces. (Save the excess for your own lunch!) Got a green thumb? Use Veggie Molds to grow star- or heart-shaped produce, then slice and serve.
- Chip it. If it’s in chip form, my kid will at least try it. Use a mandolin to slice root vegetables paper-thin, then coat with olive oil spray, sprinkle lightly with salt, and bake at 325°F until crisp.
- Ribbon it. Similarly, if it’s noodle-like, thin and floppy, it appeals. Use a vegetable peeler to make ribbons of carrots, cucumbers, zucchini—anything that’s long enough.
- Wrap it up. Summer Rolls and flatbread wraps make great vehicles for vegetables. Shred up some mild leafy greens, carrots, and cucumbers, and add whatever protein your kid likes best. A dipping sauce or dab of condiment (my guy goes ga-ga for mustard) makes it even more enticing.
- Blend them in. Use vegetables as an ingredient in foods kids already like, for instance these super-fudgy Beet Brownies. The root vegetable’s natural sweetness lets you use a bit less sugar, and together with whole-wheat pastry flour, it bumps up the fiber. My son wouldn’t touch a beet if I served it to him straight, but in a lunch box treat? He can’t resist. (If you’d rather not clue your own kids in on the secret ingredient, I’ll never tell.)