You know the drill, Mom and Dad. You go out of your way to prepare healthy meals starring nutritious vegetables. Your kids, however, greet their plate with scrunched up noses. They don’t care that the food is good for them. They won’t eat it and challenge you to make them.

Sigh. Who has the energy to sit at a table all night facing down a plate of peas?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in the past 30 years. This means parents need to find effective ways to get kids to eat more healthfully. That, of course, means downing more vegetables.

Related: Is Fast Food Hurting Your Child’s Report Card?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, children should eat one to three cups of vegetables a day, depending on their age. For example, 2-to-3-year-olds need one cup and teens need two-and-a-half to three cups. But making that happen is a challenge when kids reject broccoli, tomatoes, spinach and squash at home and toss the lunch you made them for school.

As a volunteer for the Olivewood Gardens & Learning City in National City, California, near San Diego, I taught cooking classes to young, mainly low-income children. We worked with organic produce that was mostly grown on site. That experience taught me that adults tend to go about wooing kids with vegetables all wrong. Bits information is good. Lecturing is dull. Making food all about color and flavor wins hearts. And, well, so does a little subterfuge. It’s not so much that you’re tricking kids — after all they’re probably around when you’re cooking. It’s more like you’re incorporating vegetables with clever cooking techniques that don’t blast that they’re eating what they’re trying to avoid.

Try these approaches:

  • Make it grate. Make pancakes and waffles using summer squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, cauliflower or other vegetables you can grate.
  • Turn salsa into soup. If your kids enjoy salsa, they’ll love gazpacho.
  • Get saucey. Steam veggies and puree them with a little stock, herbs and spices to create a simple sauce. Forget the bottled ranch dressing. Make dips by steaming vegetables and pureeing them with low-fat yogurt and light mayo.
  • Wrap it up. Make healthy burritos and wraps by steaming, sauteeing or roasting veggies. Lay out a burrito bar with beans, brown rice, cheese, chunks of chicken or fish and set the kids loose.
  • Hide veggies in plain sight. Chop and add extra vegetables to prepared tomato sauce. Stir-fry or mix brown rice, whole grains, cooked orzo or other pasta with diced, cooked vegetables. Add vegetables to chili or thick soups.

The most important way to get kids to eat vegetables — and eat more healthfully in general — is to grocery shop and cook with them. Even young kids can help. Also, create a rule that they have to take one big bite before they turn something down. Chances are they will love what they cook.

Related: Packaged Infant and Toddler Foods: What Parents Need to Know

Caron’s Chunky GazpachoGazpacho

(Photo: Caron Golden)

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • 5 - 8 large tomatoes
  • 1 cup or more fresh corn kernels
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • ½ English cucumber
  • 1 or 2 red peppers, seeded
  • 6 – 8 radishes, trimmed
  • ½ medium onion
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded
  • 1 bunch cilantro, major stems removed
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 2 - 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • A few dashes of your favorite hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 can low-sodium V-8 juice

Chop by hand or with a food processor each of the vegetables (except the corn) and combine in a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until mixed. Refrigerate until cold and then adjust seasonings to taste.

To serve, top with sour cream or Mexican crema. You can also add cooked shrimp, chicken or pork. Serve with fresh tortillas, tortilla chips or hearty sourdough bread.

Caron’s Zucchini PancakesZucchini pancakes

(Photo: Caron Golden)

Makes about two dozen, three-inch pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of zucchini, coarsely grated and drained of liquid
  • 1 large yellow onion, coarsely grated and drained of liquid
  • 3 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup of panko or seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Vegetable oil or olive oil for frying

In a large bowl, stir together the vegetables, panko, baking powder, herbs, garlic, salt and pepper.

Add eggs and mix well. The batter should be moist but not runny.

Heat ¼ inch of oil in a hot pan. Place a tiny bit of the batter in the pan. Once it begins to sizzle, the oil is ready for the batter. Using a large spoon, drop the batter into the pan and flatten into a pancake. Don’t crowd the pancakes by putting too many in at one time. Cook for several minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain on paper towels before serving with applesauce or sour cream.

Caron Golden is an award-winning freelance food and lifestyle writer. She’s the author of the blog San Diego Foodstuff.

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