Dinner ideas for very fussy eaters – Vegetables
Dinner is traditionally the place we serve vegetables and hope we have children who happily tuck into them. The reality is often quite different, with the greens producing a reaction that ranges from ‘totally ignore’ to ‘passionate hatred’.
When I work with families I always say that dinner is NOT the place to teach your child to eat. Role model eating well and pleasurably, yes, but focusing on ‘getting them to eat something’ nope!
There is nothing that turns a meal into a misery for everyone faster than a mission to make sure the broccoli gets eaten or the peas get tried. Which is not to say we do not want our child to eat widely and well, just that there are usually better ways to do this.
One of the best long-term strategies for supporting children to eat more veggies is serving them more frequently. Passive learning is slow and takes consistency and frequently a long time, but it is how our children learn most things – like reading.
However, like reading, the more immersed in the experience we are, the more likely we are to do well at it.
I also know that giving up often resolves any conflict around meals but does not lead to long term success.
Let us look at some ideas that may reinvigorate efforts and offer some inspiration. As parents we’re often tired and low on energy and time so we do get stuck thinking of the same things over and over.
Veggie ideas for dinner for very fussy eaters
- Raw veggies – starting with the basics! Many children are far more comfortable with raw rather than cooked veggies. This is in large part due to the texture. A raw carrot is fairly dry and crunchy, whereas a steamed one can feel ‘mushy’.
Moving from raw to cooked can often be done in stages where we ever so slightly cook a raw carrot or bean, for example, so our child gets used to a slightly cooked version.
Many veggies are okay raw. I will not list the obvious but will talk a little about some lesser offered options:
- Raw orange sweet potato (kumara) – yes, this is okay to eat and has a very mild flavour.
- Green beans – there are quite a few picky eaters who are okay eating green beans. A fun exercise is picking out the seeds inside.
- Sweet peas – these can be easier than cooked peas.
- Broccoli – the florets are okay but can be a little challenging texturally. The stalks are great raw as they are crunchy and have a neutral flavour.
- Cauliflower – is nice raw, although I would advise in small amounts as it can be a little harsh on the stomach. Again, the stalks can be easier from a textural point of view to start.
- Parsnips – these are crunchy like carrot and when raw have a more neutral flavour.
- Beets – beetroot is far less full-on when raw. My brother loved it when he was little, especially as it turned his wee red!
- Zucchini – grated or in ribbons courgettes can be great as they have no seeds and are fairly dry and crunchy.
- Daikon/Chinese radish/mooli – this veg of many names is milder than a regular radish and is crunchy. I find a surprising number of children enjoy it.
- Cabbage – it can be so crispy and is usually fairly neutral tasting.
- Mushrooms – the texture and mouth feel – especially for the white part of the caps of button mushrooms are often easier than when cooked.
Remember, with all of these veg you can either dip – if that’s something your child enjoys – or marry with other favourites like cheese or bacon to help scaffold acceptance and enjoyment.
Serving them a little differently is also a plus. Perhaps it’s grated or in wheels instead of batons, or tiny discs instead of chunks. We can also put onto skewers or into silicon cups to change things up.
- Steamed veggies – when I was younger I disliked steamed veg as they were mushy and flavourless. Then I realised it was primarily because my mother cooked the bejeebus out of them.
If our child prefers crunchy, we can make most veggies fit that by very lightly steaming them. Working to preferences is always a good idea.
If there is something that will help our child enjoy veggies more, it’s always worth a whirl. Personally, anything slathered in butter is more appealing for me. But perhaps it’s adding a little honey for sweetness or salt, cheese, or bacon for flavour.
Or, adding the veg to something else!
- Cooked veggies – many veg taste and feel very different in the mouth when we cook them in new ways. I’m not a big fan of steamed carrots but love them roasted so all the sweetness comes out.
I roast a lot of veggies that are not traditionally done that way. For example, broccoli which I lightly steam and then slice and roast.
I also find that many veggies can be very ‘chip-like’ when roasted. Purple sweet potato (kumara), pumpkin and parsnip can all be lovely and crispy and dry (in a good way) when sliced thinly and roasted in a little oil.
Cauliflower is also great sliced and roasted until it goes a little brown.
We can fry many veggies to give them a different texture and change them up so they are more appealing. Lightly steamed, thinly sliced and fried broccoli is very different to just steamed.
Again, I love to fry veg in a little butter, garlic, salt, or oil to give it a different flavour and increase consumption as it really does make it taste great. Even if you currently have a non-veggie eater, taste is still important. The better it tastes, the more likely to be accepted.
If your child is a fan of crumbing or tempura batter, using these on veg is definitely worth a whirl.
- Salad – lettuce can be quite a challenge as it goes limp and mushy in the mouth. Both my boys ate baby spinach before lettuce, and the same is true of many selective eaters. You can also cut spinach into shapes with scissors (just saying!).
Lettuce can though also be crispy and crunchy or better accepted when it’s used as a wrap or a holder in San Choy Bau, for example.
Adding sauces, dressings or favourite foods like grated cheese or chopped bacon can also help bridge to acceptance.
- Beans/lentils – these are one of our Five A Day so it’s great if we can add them into the diet. Baked beans can be a good place to start, especially if you have a child who enjoys canned spaghetti etc. as it’s a very similar flavour.
I grind lentils and dried beans in my spice grinder so they become a powder and then I use as a thickener or binder in sauces, mince etc. doing this gives us all the nutrient punch but without the texture.
- Fritters/burgers – sometimes incorporating beans or veg into a burger can make them less confronting. Ditto combining veg into a fritter. It can be super simple, just egg, cheese, and a little grated carrot, for example.
- Dips/sauces – dips and sauces are a great way to increase the quantity of veg eaten, if these are things that your child will accept.
There are a lot of options and it’s always about finding the ones that tick boxes. Remember ketchup is perhaps not top of the nutritional tree, but it’s base is tomatoes, and we can often move gently to one that contains more oomph!
Home-made tomato sauce, pesto (you’d be surprised how often this is okay for picky eaters), salsa, hummus and guacamole are all made of veg/beans. Sometimes, mixing with favourites really helps. We ‘sold’ my boys on avocado by mixing it with cream cheese (lots of it).
- Spring rolls/sausage rolls – for some children out of sight is out of mind, so putting veg inside crispy fried shells or pastry makes it an easier proposition.
Buying spring roll sheets and wrapping them yourself is surprisingly simple and it means you can make the ingredients a win for your child’s specific tastes.
- Rice paper rolls – adding veg to noodles and wrapping inside rice paper can be a great fun experience. They are super easy to make and again, can be as simple or as complicated as you wish.
- Random ideas – there are 1,000 different ways to serve veg but some winners for fussy eaters are:
- Frozen peas – texturally, these are usually easier than the cooked version. The flavour is also more muted.
- Chickpeas – roasted these are quite chip-like.
- Nori – seaweed sheets are surprisingly popular among picky eaters probably because they are dry, salty and crunchy.
- Smoothies – incorporating veggies into a milky/yoghurt mix, often makes them easier to accept.
This is not an exhaustive list but hopefully has given you a little inspiration or a new way to try a vegetable. Even if your child does eat some veg, it is good to change up the ways we serve so they do not become bored!
Please share this with other parents you know who may be finding feeding their child a challenge. You can also sign up to the newsletter to receive tips on how to encourage children to eat more widely: https://theconfidenteater.com/contact/
Judith, MA Cantab, is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/