Every time I read an article telling parents about all the amazing, sneaky ways to serve vegetables, I cringe.
Sneaky strategies like pureeing vegetables, creating animal shapes with vegetables or hiding vegetables in kid-friendly foods may help in the short-term but if you really want to raise kids who eat healthy, they need to eat—and learn to love—food in its whole form, not kids who grow up consuming vegetables only in a sauce or a smoothie.
But how can you get your kids to eat vegetables without being sneaky?
Here are 10 strategies to try.
1. Eat healthy yourself
You can’t expect your kids to eat their vegetables if they don’t see you eating them.
I’m convinced that my kids love to eat salads because it’s what I eat for lunch every day.
Eating family dinners together and snacking on vegetables can also go a long way in getting your kids to eat them.
2. Offer a variety of vegetables
When kids feel like they’re in control and are empowered to make their own decisions, food battles get easier.
Try putting out a buffet of vegetables at mealtimes and let your kids choose what they want to eat.
At dinner, serve a cooked vegetable and a salad or make one vegetable you know your kids will eat and one new vegetable they can try.
In the beginning, the goal isn’t necessarily to get them to eat, but to give them choices.
The more consistent you are, the more apt they’ll be to try vegetables and eventually love eating them.
3. Add grass-fed butter.
Butter is delicious and a non-sneaky way to get your kids to eat vegetables.
If you’re unsure about the fat and cholesterol however, a small amount of butter on vegetables isn’t going to make your kids fat or sick.
Although saturated fat was previously thought to increase the risk for heart disease, recent studies show that’s simply not the case.
A March 2010 meta-analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no link between saturated fat in the diet and coronary heart disease and stroke.
Another meta-analysis in March 2014 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine also found there’s not enough evidence to advise limiting saturated fat to prevent heart disease.
The fat in butter also helps the body better absorb and utilize vitamins.
Opt for grass fed butter, which is a better source of vitamins A, E and K than butter from grain-fed cows.
4. Roast vegetables
When you roast vegetables, they turn out sweet, savory, and delicious—even those your kids are least likely to eat like.
Roasting vegetables couldn’t be easier or quicker and you can make large batches to use in several meals throughout the week.
You can roast almost any kind of vegetable but use an olive oil mister to prevent dousing them with unnecessary calories.
5. Put vegetables out in plain sight
One of the best non-sneaky ways to get your kids to eat vegetables is to put them front and center—and then stand back.
Every time I cook vegetables and leave them out to cool, whether it’s a type I make every week or something new, I find that my kids always ask to try them.
Another way to make vegetables visible is to wash and cut them and store them in clear glass containers in the refrigerator.
6. Get your kids in the kitchen
Shopping and cooking vegetables with your kids helps them to feel empowered to make healthy choices.
When they’ve had a hand in making a meal, they’ll be more likely to eat it.
In fact, according to an August 2014 study in the journal Appetite, kids who cooked with their parents ate 76 percent more salad than those whose parents prepared the meal alone.
When you go to the grocery store or the famers’ market, let your kid pick out a vegetable they love or a new type they want to try.
When you come home, try a new way to cook the vegetables or a new recipe and make them together.
7. Pick vegetables from the garden
This past spring, our family planted our first vegetable garden and my kids were thrilled to pick and eat the salad, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers that we grew.
Whether you plant your own vegetable garden or volunteer at a Community Supported Agriculture farm, kids get really excited to see the fruits—and vegetables—of their labor.
8. Make sure your kids are hungry
Taking advantage of your kids’ hunger is a non-sneaky way to get them to eat vegetables.
When your kids are likely to be really hungry, whether it’s when they wake up in the morning or right before dinner, is the time when they’ll also be most likely to eat vegetables.
Try incorporating (not hiding) vegetables into omelets or serve them as an appetizer before meals.
9. Add a dip
Kids love to dip their food so serving vegetables with a dip can encourage them to eat.
In fact, according to an August 2013 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adding herbs and spices to a reduced fat dip increased preschoolers’ willingness to taste, like and eat raw vegetables.
10. Have a play date or a date with grandma
If your kids have friends who are healthy eaters, arrange a play date or a dinner date.
It may take a few tries and your kids may not eat an entire plate of vegetables, but they may be more willing to at least take a bite when they see another child doing the same.
This can also work with grandparents if they eat healthy. I’ve found this to be true with my own kids who have eaten cucumbers and Swiss chard all because it was served at their grandparent’s house.