Jessica Hale, Single Mom of 2
I am a single mother of two children ages, 14 and 11. They are wonderful human beings most of the time. However, meal time pleasantry still seems to elude me. Even with an arsenal of tried and true recipes, I find I am making deals all the time to get my kids to eat one meal or another. While one child tries most anything, the other eats from a very limited menu. Trying to make sure he gets balanced nutrition is really tough. He simply eats to live; so when he is hungry, he prefers carbohydrates in the form of pizza, pasta, rice, and bread.
All parents go through this, but as a single parent, the challenge becomes magnified since I don’t have that additional adult voice encouraging his cooperation. Although I’m not above threats and coercion, I find that I get a lot of balance into one pot meals by cleverly hiding the more nutritious elements. I sneak them.
Now, you may be thinking that I’m misleading my children or doing them a disservice by hiding the fact they are eating healthy vegetables. But, there is a science that explains why we prefer the taste of certain foods, like sweet-tasting fruits over bitter-tasting vegetables. Evolution, genetics, and environment all play a role in how children are wired for food.
We are born preferring sweets. During the evolutionary process, when our ancestors ate something bitter or sour tasting, it generally lead to sickness or death. Eating foods that were sweet meant a higher likelihood of survival. This natural desire for sweets has been passed down as a survival mechanism. Children automatically reject anything that tastes bitter, keeping in line with this ancestral trait.
Genetically, some individuals have a more sensitive palate than others. Literally, they have more taste buds. Supertasters, as they are called, have an extremely sensitive ability to detect bitterness, along with other flavors. A child’s reluctance to try new foods is not an act of disobedience; they just need to be taught what is safe to eat.
As parents, we try to set a good example and provide a balanced diet. We try to model eating healthy foods and make sure to provide options. But even with our best intentions, we can’t make our children eat something they don’t like. That’s where being crafty comes in handy. Sauces are a great way to add veggies without notice. The Flavor Blender has a great pasta sauce called, cleverly enough, Marinara Sauce with Hidden Vegetables. It can be used as is over pasta, or you can add meat for some protein. Additionally, it can be used as a pizza sauce or a dipping sauce for bread sticks.
Smoothies are another great way to sneak in veggies. Other than the green color, I can hide spinach in most smoothies I make. I have tried kale, but it has high water content; and I find it doesn’t blend as well, so I prefer the spinach. Easyhealthysmoothie.com has several options for creating tasty smoothies with vegetables that your children will love. I generally prefer to use vanilla almond milk or vanilla soy milk over regular milk because it adds more flavor and hides the veggie taste a bit better.
The best recipe I have for sneaking vegetables into a meal is Hidden Veggie Meatloaf. Even my pickiest eater loves this meatloaf full of carrots, celery, and bell pepper. I also like that this recipe uses oatmeal, rather than crackers, another sneaky way to add nutrition. I serve the meatloaf with homemade mashed potatoes and call it a day.
Parenting is tough and challenging and rewarding all at the same time. One of the greatest lessons I have learned thus far is to pick my battles. The vegetable battle is not one worth having when there are easier ways to solve the problem. Get the nutrition in and save the lecture for eating healthy when they have a more focused attitude towards health. Like when they are 30!