Getting your kids to eat ... zucchini

Parents can try different methods to encourage kids to eat mild veggie

August 23, 2011|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Missy Chase Lapine says she came up with the Sneaky Chef cookbook series out of desperation. She advocates "hiding" nutritious foods in foods children love to get them to eat healthfully.
Courtesy of Missy Chase Lapine

Editor's note: Some people love eating vegetables. Others do not. Children can be particularly obstinate. This is the first in a series of monthly articles featuring recipes and ideas for getting kids to eat more vegetables.

This is not an article about why you and your family should eat your vegetables.

This is an article about the pleasure of eating.

No one needs to convince you to eat vegetables. Even children know they should eat their veggies. Everyone knows veggies are nutritious and full of fiber.

But veggies also have flavor. And that often gets lost in dinnertime arguments about eating.

This is the first in a series of articles about eating vegetables. Each month we'll take a vegetable, usually one that's available that month from gardens and farmers markets, and present recipes that include or highlight that vegetable.

This month's vegetable is zucchini. This mild-flavored, green squash is hugely productive at this time of year. It's not a super-nutritious vegetable, but it is very low in sugar and fat and fairly high in fiber, vitamins cup and B6, riboflavin, potassium and manganese.

For a detailed analysis of zucchini's nutrition, an excellent resource is Self magazine's interactive nutrition website at

Expert advice: Let kids choose

So how do you get you kids to eat vegetables?

Ellyn Satter, a nationally recognized nutritionist for more than 40 years based in Wisconsin, is not a fan of hiding vegetables in children's food.

"You don't get children to eat vegetables. They do it for themselves," she wrote in an email. "I definitely do not endorse hiding vegetables in other food. That is trickery ... (and) children are not stupid."

Satter said the solution to disagreements over eating isn't about the food. It is about the feeding relationship, which involves a division of responsibilities. This is how feeding should work, she said: Parents provide food at a certain time and place, and kids decide whether they will eat and how much they will eat.

"If the vegetables are on the table once a week and the parents enjoy the vegetables, the kids get used to seeing the parents enjoy the vegetables, then they start to sneak up on it," Satter said in a phone interview. "In reality, children do this all the time. They get themselves ready for something, and then they do it."

Another view: Be sneaky

New York-based Missy Chase Lapine is author of the popular Sneaky Chef series of cook books. Many of her recipes incorporate pureed vegetables hidden in kid-friendly foods such as spaghetti sauce and brownies.

"First of all, my Sneaky Chef method gets kids to want to try vegetables outright," Lapine said by phone. "But I'm a real mom — just another mom in the trenches. I came up with these recipes out of desperation."

If your child simply refuses to try a vegetable he or she can see, Lapine said, try hiding it in familiar foods.

"You know we eat with our eyes first," she said. "Telltale chunks of carrot they can see. You've got to be more clever. Take that vegetable and put it in the food processor for 30 seconds. It tastes like any other ingredient in your chili or hamburger or whatever."

Plus, if kids don't notice they are eating veggies, there might be less arguing at the table. Parents and children might enjoy the food and each other.

"You're sneaking it in, the pressure is off, and they might eat it," she said. "No one eats under pressure like that."

To hide or not to hide

Jenny Fleming of Mercersburg, Pa., has a 7-year-old son. She said she and her husband eat well and serve vegetables at the table. But her son typically rejects veggies.

"I don't like hiding vegetables from our son, but the only thing that works is sneaking them in," she said. "Zucchini? No. If anything, he's going to eat the basics — green beans. He's not going to eat zucchini."

Suzanne Thackston also resorted to hiding vegetables.

"My kids were confirmed no-greenies, despite the conventional wisdom that says your kids will eat whatever you do," she said in an email.

Thackston lives near Sharpsburg and prepared meals for two sons, now grown, and her husband. Her solution: Buy fresh vegetables in season, cook them, puree them and freeze them in ice cube trays. Then, through the year, she'd have pureed vegetables to add to sauces, gravies, soups and other dishes.

"I don't think any of my men have any idea how many veggies I stealthed into their meals over the years," she said.

Jessica Reehl of Falling Waters, W.Va., said she tried to follow the guideline of preparing nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables for her three children, Jayme, 12, Alicia, 9, and Lincoln, 3. The plan was more successful when the kids were younger.

"They were really picky up to about (age) 5, then not, and now they're picky again," she said. "They're proud of not eating healthy. I want them to eat raw fruits and vegetables, but when they won't, what are you going to do?"

Doing what works

Reehl's mother gave her a copy of "Deceptively Delicious," a collection of veggie-hiding recipes by Jessica Seinfeld. The recipes provided inspiration.

Now she adds vegetable purees to meatloaf and rice. She blends lettuce into fruit smoothies. She purees zucchinis and adds them to pancakes. And the kids eat them. Though sometimes they suspect mom is sneaking vegetables into their food.

"They always ask me, ‘What's in this?' It drives me crazy," Reehl said. "They know I'll tell them. I want them to know they're eating good foods."

Satter goes one step further, and this is a central premise in this eat-your-vegetables series:

"You want your child to eat vegetables because they like them," Satter said. "Emphasize pleasure. If the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers."

Jessica Reehl's zucchini pancakes

3 eggs

1/4 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 cup chopped, unpeeled raw yellow squash or green zucchini (see cook's note)

1 cup blueberries (see cook's note)

1 banana or apple or peach, sliced

1 cup milk

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup whole oat flour

1/2 cup old fashioned oats

2 tablespoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Maple syrup

Into a blender, place eggs, oil, vanilla, almond extract, cinnamon, chopped squash or zucchini, blueberries, fruit and milk. Blend until smooth.

In a large bowl, lightly whisk wheat flour, oat flour, oats, baking powder and salt. Add blender ingredients and whisk until smooth. If too thick, add milk little by little to get correct consistency.

Heat griddle or frying pan over high heat. Pan is hot enough when water droplets "skate" over surface.

Pour batter by tablespoons onto griddle. After a minute or two, pancake edges will look dry. Turn over and cook for another minute or two. Serve immediately with syrup on the side.

Cook's notes: If desired, replace 1 cup raw squash with 1/2 cup pureed, cooked butternut squash, pumpkin or sweet potato. If you prefer blueberries to be whole, add these at the end.

Suz Thackston's Roundup Chili

1 pound ground beef, turkey or tofu

1 medium green pepper, chopped (see cook's note)

1 medium onion, chopped (see cook's note)

1 medium stalk celery (see cook's note)

28-ounce can diced tomatoes (see cook's note)

2 16-ounce cans chili beans

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

1 tablespoon chili powder (see cook's note)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 or 2 cups water, optional

Shredded cheddar cheese, optional topping

Crushed corn chips, optional topping

Sour cream, optional topping

Brown ground beef, turkey or tofu in Dutch oven, stirring frequently to crumble. Drain pan drippings.

If using chopped veggies, add to Dutch oven and cook until fragrant and just starting to brown, then stir in remaining ingredients. If using water, add only enough to attain desired consistency.

Before serving, add toppings.

Cook's note: As an alternate to fresh veggies, Suz Thackston buys fresh produce in season, purees it and freezes it in ice cube trays to use during the year. She uses 4 or 5 cubes of frozen veggie puree for this recipe. Thackston likes Muir Glen Fire-Roasted Chipotle diced tomatoes. If more spiciness is desired, add chipotle powder, honey-mesquite spice mix, barbecue spices or another spice mix.

Missy Chase Lapine's zucchini 'noodles'

1 long zucchini, peeled if desired

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

Spaghetti sauce for topping, optional

Grated Parmesan cheese for topping, optional

Tool needed: julienne peeler

Run the julienne peeler lengthwise along the zucchini. It makes several strands at a time, like spaghetti.

Melt butter in a saute pan over medium heat, and cook the strands for 2 to 5 minutes.

Serve immediately. Top it with spaghetti sauce or grated cheese or both.

Tara Petite's chocolate 'milk' shake

1 small to medium zucchini or yellow summer squash, sliced

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 packed cup of spinach

2 tablespoons hemp seeds

1 cup water

5 to 6 medjool dates, pitted and soaked in warm water

1 frozen banana, or more for thicker consistency (see cook’s note)

1/2 cup raw cacao powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

A pinch of sea salt

Blend together zucchini or squash, carrot, spinach, hemp seeds and water.

Add dates, banana, cacao powder, vanilla and sea salt, and blend again until thoroughly combined.

Serve right away.

Cook’s notes: When using whole, raw foods, flavors might vary, so consider these measurements to be guidelines; adjust ingredient amounts to find the right balance for your palate. Can replace frozen banana with fresh banana and 1 cup of ice.

The Herald-Mail Articles