It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Eating Green, the Devious Way

Very few parents of toddlers manage to avoid the struggle over Green Things. Food fads are very common and idiosyncratic at this age, but the suspicion of vegetables is almost universal.

What’s a parent to do?

There are a number of ways to get vegetables into your children. We can classify these into two approaches: the Devious, and the Direct. This post deals with the Devious.

Under the Devious, first and foremost: GOOD MODELLING.

1. Good Modelling. This one is of critical importance. You will be far less likely to get your tot to eat healthful meals if you don’t. So, suck it up and eat your beans! For the sake of your child’s long-term good health, you can make this change in your patterns. And hey, it’ll be good for you, too!

I know a mother who hates vegetables, and who, quite literally, never eats them. Her two daughters – surprise! – never do, either. I am appalled, and predict a life of constipation followed by colon cancer for the entire lot of them.

2. When the kids cluster round your feet as you prepare dinner, claiming to be STARRRRVING!, give them vegetables. Take the cooked sprig of cauliflower from the pot, run it under cold water to cool it, and hand it to your child. So what if that means they’ve eaten all their cauliflower before dinner starts? They’ve eaten all their cauliflower!!

3. Vary the presentation. Make cucumber flowers by dragging a fork down the outside to make grooves, then slicing it. Put peanut butter or cheese in the celery. Make roses from the radishes, little people from mushrooms. Be imaginative.

4. Dip them. Some kids would eat styrofoam if they could dip it. Besides the traditional sour cream option, there’s ranch dressing, plain yoghurt, or melted cheese.

5. Frozen veggies. Many toddlers LOVE frozen peas, corn niblets, and tiny cubes of frozen carrots. I often give them out for snacks.

6. Hide them. I’ve been known to put smooshed peas or flattened cauliflower UNDER the cheese on a grilled cheese sandwich. Really.

7. Camouflage them. Pureed, vegetables can go a lot of places: in the lasagna, in the mac and cheese, in soups. I routinely use pureed squash to thicken and sweeten soups and stews. Pureed squash makes chicken noodle soup taste really good to most kids. Just don’t tell them it’s in there…

(Word to the wise from one who knows: don’t use spinach for this. It turns the broth an unbelievable emerald green, that simply can’t be explained away.)

Those are all options in the Devious category, ways to sneak vegetables into your child without the direct confrontation. But wouldn’t it be nice to just be able to set a meal in front of your child, and have it get eaten without fuss? I bet you get tired of this song-and-dance routine some days, jumping through hoops provided by someone who only reaches mid-thigh! Don’t you look forward to the day when a piece of broccoli is just another item on the plate, not an invitation to bedlam and domestic upheaval?

It can happen! It won’t happen by Devious means, however. To achieve that goal, my friends, you will have to employ the Direct Method.

Next installment (when I finish writing it): The Direct Method.

© 2006, Mary P

January 23, 2006 - Posted by | food, parenting, power struggle


  1. One of my children loves vegetables, its potatoes he has problems with. I already give all kids bits of veg as I prepare food, the problem, in our house, is stopping them eating all the veg before it gets cooked.

    p.s. Do you defrost the frozen veg before you give them out for snacks or do you find they last longer if they suck/chew from frozen 🙂

    Comment by Si | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  2. I figure everyone’s allowed one or two dislikes (everyone, that is, over the age of three – allow them to pick and choose before then and it never stops!).

    You think you’re being funny, but actually, the answer is Yes. When I said frozen, I meant frozen. I pour them out, frozen solid, into their bowls. They suck/chew them back with gusto. Go figure.

    Comment by Mary P. | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  3. Good post! I do find that a combination of direct and indirect is necessary to get them their 5 a day or whatever is considered good these days. And easier for me at times. (Which is easier today – hiding it or fighting the fight? hmmm). I’ve been reading your blog lately from Jenorama and I like the common sense approach. Have fun today.

    Comment by Carolyn R. | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  4. Now youve ruined my joke 🙂

    I will try them with frozen and see what happens. You never know!

    Comment by Si | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  5. Okay, I am loving the smashed peas under cheese on a grilled cheese sandwich. That is BRILLIANT. And pureed veggies in mac and cheese? How does it work – do you just mix them in with the milk and butter (or in place of)? I’m also wondering if my kids would eat the frozen veggies as snacks. My younger one just might.

    Comment by Kristen | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  6. I think I shall make some emerald green chicken noodle soup for St. Patrick’s Day. I’ll tell Lauren that the leprechauns did it.

    Comment by ieatcrayonz | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  7. Thanks, Mary!
    My daughter LOVES many veggies…my son does not love ONE! I’m a vegetarian myself and eat lots of various veggies. The daughter is curious enough to at least try a bite of whatever I’ve got but my son isn’t so adventurous.
    I, too, am LOVING the smashed peas under the grilled cheese. I will try that this week!!!

    Comment by LoryKC | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  8. Mmmm, now I’m hungry . . .

    I have cut up fruit and put it in peanut butter sandwiches; I have also diced chicken and put it in grilled cheese. So far, I have not tried veggies in the grilled cheese. Soon.

    Mmmm. So hungry . . .

    Comment by Susan | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  9. Oh, I love the veggies in the grilled cheese. I routinely toss a bag of frozen veggies into the pasta sauce, but my kids are old enough now that grounding them from privileges works just fine as a motivator.

    Comment by jen-o-rama | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  10. K eats ‘cold peas’ all the time… which is just peas out of the freezer… I was shocked when her mom told me that if I ever need a little time to finish making lunch or whatever, just give K a bowl of cold peas and she’ll be happy! In fact, she had them today for lunch with her corn dog! I don’t know if they’ve ever offered other frozen vegetables, but I might try…

    Comment by Angela | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  11. I’m not much of a veggie eater (maybe because my mother was a terrible cook?), and Aggie doesn’t really do salads, but the day we discovered about Mstr A we agreed that we would eat at least one portion of visable veggies with every meal.

    All our kids eat a selection of veggies happily – often as their first choice. They can also recognise a fair number of different fruit & veg. Mstr A went through a “nothing green” phase soon after starting school, but has got out of it again.

    Although I have to say, I am also very devious & sneak veggies into almost everything I make. Of course it does require you to make the food out of real ingrediants:-) I’ve never tried smashed peas under melted cheese though!

    Comment by Mrs.Aginoth | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  12. Carolyn: Hello, and welcome! After twenty years and umpteen children, if I hadn’t developed some parenting common sense, there’d be no hope for me! Glad to know it’s appreciated.

    Kristen: About the peas under grilled cheese? Be careful you don’t put in too many: I had one kid take one bit, then rear back and lift the cheese and remove the peas!

    As for the mac and cheese. I make my own sauce, which is thicker than the milk and cheese powder you get with the mixes, so it’s simpler. If you were using the packages… Yes, puree it with the milk sounds like a good idea. I’d suggest pureeing something bland and pale, like cauliflowers or cucumbers assuming your child doesn’t already eat those without a fuss!

    Crayonz: Steam large bunch of spinach till limp, puree, add to soup – voila! Emerald soup. She’ll love it, I’m sure. It can go along with your green beer…

    Lorykc: I hope it works for you as well as it did for me – with that one exception I told Kristen about!

    Susan Desperate times call for desperate measure? Me, I kind of like knowing I’ve pulled one over on a particularly stubborn child. HA!

    Jen: My kids prefer their spaghetti sauce that way – they complain if I get lazy and don’t bother!

    Angela: Seems a bit bizarre, I know. I don’t know how I stumbled into this, it was so long ago, but I do know that it’s an easy way to get vegetables into most children. Be aware of the potential choking hazard, though: they should be small vegetables. We use peas, diced carrots and corn niblets routinely. I’ve also fed my tots frozen green beans, but I cut them into little bits first.

    MrsA: Good for you for deciding to be that all-important Good Example. Obviously, it’s paid off! Isn’t it nice to know, once in a while, that you have unequivocably done Something Right.

    Comment by Mary P. | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  13. The girls hang out in the kitchen and eat the veggies before I have a chance to cook them; especially broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and bell peppers.

    Doesn’t bother me a bit.

    I smush leftover veggies like carrots into meat loaf and often use potatoes to stretch it. They eat it.

    They’ll eat cooked veggies but they’d much rather have raw.

    And I agree about being allowed to dislike a couple of things. There are a few things I won’t eat; it’s not unreasonable that they may have a few dislikes as well.

    Comment by Granny | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  14. My mom always divide my plate visually into 4: 1 part of veg, 1 part of meat, 1 part of miscellaneous (eg egg), and 1 big part of staples. To be fair to each part, I have to eat all 4 of them. 🙂

    Comment by Queen Bee | January 23, 2006 | Reply

  15. Almost forgot, one method for getting my kids to eat fruit is to chop it into bite size chunks and put it in a bowl of water with lots of ice cubes. Plce the bowl in the middle of the table and tell them to help theirselves 🙂

    Comment by Si | January 24, 2006 | Reply

  16. QueenBee: This plan works if you have a methodically fair-minded kid. I remember playing a game with myself that involved a similar division of the plate. Each forkful that went in had to have a bit of each item on my plate. It took some jockeying to make sure I didn’t run out of one thing (usually meat) before I ran out of another (usually rice or potatoes). Your mom’s method would have worked really well on me!

    Si: Thankfully, fewer kids dislike fruit – probably the sweet factor! So do they scoop the fruit out with spoons, or do they just freeze their fingers?

    Comment by Mary P. | January 24, 2006 | Reply

  17. Excellent subject matter. I get SO frustrated seeing the kids who refuse to eat anything healthy, and then their parents allow them to eat junk instead. When their little bodies don’t develop properly or they end up with cancer at a young age, the parents will wonder what went wrong.

    When I was growing up, my parents expected us to eat like they did. We were allowed to have a reasonable few dislikes, but they never prepared special meals. I’ve been cooking veggies and serving fruit and whole grains to my son since he could eat “grown up” food. And you know what? At six, asparagus is the only fruit or veggie that he really doesn’t like.

    Comment by Cheryl | January 24, 2006 | Reply

  18. Another devious tactic: LIE, LIE, LIE. Because we lived in Japan, my kids will eat nori (the seaweed). So whenever they ask me, “Eeeeewww, what`s that green stuff?” — it`s always nori, no matter what it is.

    Comment by L. | January 25, 2006 | Reply

  19. Cheryl: If you serve it as if it’s a perfectly normal – even yummy! – thing to have on your plate, then they’ll eat the stuff. Problem is when the negative twos hit, kids often balk at what they’d previously scarfed right back, and parents don’t know how to cope. You can put it in their mouth, but they can spit it right back out – so what next? (There is a way, and I’ll get to it anon.)

    L: You understand just how deliciously funny that is to a North American audience, don’t you?

    But I’m with you on the principle: for a while there, my eldest would eat no meat but chicken. Well, now. I’m not stupid. Suddenly, magically, all meat was chicken. And she ate it.

    Comment by Mary P. | January 25, 2006 | Reply

  20. I love fruits and veggies and eat a lot of them so I hope (I hope, I hope) this will not be too much of an issue with our son when he gets older. I also grow some veggies, as did my parents when I was growing up. I think the taste factor of home-grown helps a lot.

    Thank you for the tips about squash (in soup) and frozen veggies! My husband routinely freezes grapes and plums and eats them. If we run into trouble maybe we can just call them all “popsicles”.

    Comment by the weirdgirl | January 30, 2006 | Reply

  21. […] teach kids to eat their veggies, to use their words, to sleep, to share, not to hit, bite, scream, kick, nor eat their […]

    Pingback by Fun? Wow! « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | July 19, 2011 | Reply

  22. My teens still eat peas frozen. The 16 yo won’t eat them cooked, but my 13 yo will eat them frozen or cooked.

    We used to go through bags of baby carrots like crazy. I would hand my kids and their friends a bag several times a week and routinely 3 or 4 preschool to early elementary age kids would eat well over half a pound of baby carrots in an afternoon. Less worry about how many veggies they ate for dinner those nights, though I still served veggies.

    Comment by Katherine | June 3, 2012 | Reply

  23. […] think I’ve discovered a way to introduce new foods to these little monkeys… Devious for the win!!! Rate this:Share this:StumbleUponDiggTwitterRedditFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first […]

    Pingback by Menu Monday, with a side of Modelling and Reverse Psychology « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | June 4, 2012 | Reply

  24. […] once wrote a post on getting your child to eat their greens “The Devious Way“. In fact, few of the ideas in the post were truly devious. Mostly they were simply indirect: […]

    Pingback by Devious? Changed my mind « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | June 5, 2012 | Reply

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