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Last night we had Shepherd’s Pie for dinner. But it was probably a bit different to what a Shepherd would eat.

The leftover Bolognese sauce on the bottom was about one-third meat and the rest was grated zucchini and carrots, diced mushrooms, fresh and canned tomatoes, red capsicum, lentils, red kidney beans and dried herbs. The mash on top was a combination of potatoes, sweet potatoes, swede, broccoli and cauliflower.

Sounds like I’m hiding lots of veggies, huh?!?

I have to admit, the grater is one of my favourite kitchen tools. I grate zucchini into just about anything! But, do I hide veggies so my kids will eat them? I do not.

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Let me answer the question: Is hiding veggies a valuable strategy? The answer is both yes and no.

Here are my 5 top tips for hiding veggies in food.

1. A tool in your belt, but not the only tool!

Hiding veggies is a useful strategy for increasing intake WHILE you are teaching your kids how to eat. Do not use it as your only strategy. If your kids don’t eat a wide variety of foods, sure get those nutrients in. But, ultimately, you need to teach your kids to enjoy a wide variety of foods.

Eventually kids will grow up and make their own meals. If they don’t realise that they eat veggies …. well, they won’t eat veggies!

Kids need to eat and enjoy vegetables WITHOUT being tricked (plus hiding is hard work, kids can spy the tiniest trace of spinach from the other side of the kitchen).

So, on the side of my Shepherd’s Pie, I include a salad so kids get a chance to choose their colours.

2. Get them involved

Cook with your kids. Garden with your kids. Shop with your kids (ahhh…sounds scary, maybe just the greengrocer).That way, there’s nowhere to hide!

Washing veggies, mixing, crumbing fish, shaping meatballs, cutting veggies with kids cooking knives, there is lots that kids of all ages can do in the kitchen.

At the greengrocers I often let my kids choose the salad veggies. I’ll ask them to pick me out some zucchinis or nice looking tomatoes. Let them touch, smell and learn about vegetables. Increase their exposure to foods beyond the dinner table.

3. Serve some on the side

Exposure, exposure, exposure!

Kids need lots of interaction with healthy food before they accept it. They need to try a food anywhere from 10-17 (to infinity) times to accept it. Show them, teach them what’s really in their favourite dishes. If the veggie’s flavour is always hidden they can’t learn about that food. Expose your kids to tasting veggies at the same time as hiding the veg. Try getting kids to lick, kiss or taste veggies in different ways: raw, steamed, roasted, with dips, sauces, stir fried. Serve something familiar and accepted with something new.

4. Unhide it

I tell them it’s in there!!! It’s not hidden, well not from the children anyway, best not to tell my fussy husband. But after 10 years, I think he’s starting to get suspicious… last night he did say to me “you can’t call this mashed potato”.

Once your kids are familiar with veggies, start to break the news. Tell them what’s in there. And you can explain to them that the recipe hasn’t changed. They liked it before they knew. Don’t be scared. Start to believe that your kids will learn to like veggies. We are trying to create healthy eaters for life!

5. See the opportunities

Find opportunities to add veggies to meals, but that’s different to hiding it. Soon you will be free, no longer stressing whether you cut the mushrooms small enough or if tiny fingers will pick them out.

Grated veggies are great in bolognaise sauce, omelettes, pancakes, muffins. Add veggies to stews, fried rice, stir fries. Try blended soups. Try adding a cube of frozen spinach to dishes.

So by all means, grate, dice, mash and chop veggies into everything. But at the same time slowly teach your kids so that they can learn to be healthier adults. How else will they know where to hide the veggies when they grow up?

What dishes do you ‘hide’ or ‘unhide’ veggies in? Tell us in the comments below.

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  • I’m lucky that my kids will eat just about anything. Because there are 4 kids, we use veggies to bulk out and stretch meat dishes as well as provide nutrients for their growing bodies.

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  • Bolognaise is always a great one to put vegies in. I use mushooms, zucchini, carrot, Onion (of course!), celery and lentils. The lentils really bulk out the meal so if you are trying to cut back a little on meat (like David Attenborough says we should do) then this is a great option.

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  • Kids really do love to be included when making things in the kitchen, thanks a great read.

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  • Some great tips. I make a veggie save pasta, red lintels, pumpkin, sweet potato and cheese and blitz it all up and serve with spaghetti pasta, everyone loves it

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  • My kids don’t like to eat veggies as a curry. I just team them and serve with rice.Sometimes i put all of them in a soup. They can’t identify them.

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  • My mixed vegetable soup has all the leftover veggies in the fridge. The family usually eats them except every now & then I need to turn leftovers into fritters.

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  • My Pumpkin soup is no longer pumpkin soup, it’s every vegetable in the house soup as long as it’s still orange soup.
    I have a $7 chopper from Kmart that is my life saver when it comes to spaghetti sauce, risotto, quiche and even the cheeky chocolate cupcake. It’s amazing and and chops everything really well.

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  • Mine know the veggies are there and they just eat them now.

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  • We all love our veggies, so need need to hide them. I do tend to add more to stews and casseroles though as we enjoy them so much!

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  • I don’t hide vegies and never have done. My boys ate lots of different veges and they knew that if they tried something and didn’t like it, then I wouldn’t make them eat it. I’m pleased to say that they now eat a lot more different veges than I do.

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  • I don’t hide veggies because I believe kids should know what they are eating, I told my kids if they don’t eat vegetables they will not eat chicken or meat. So far my kids have eaten okra, egg plant, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower. Carrots cucumber and capsicum are easy for them to eat as they like it.

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  • Pasta bake I grate carrot and zucchini into. This is only because my 18 month old isn’t good with veggies. I just keep offering veggies every night, eventually she will eat them

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  • I don’t hide I’ve always served veggies like it’s the most natural, normal thing. My kids eat the same as I do. I will say that they do get excited to eat things we’ve grown though.

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  • Spag Bol sauce – I add grated carrot and zucchini in the meat and sauce mix.

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  • Wonderful post and so very true. How will people eat vegetables if they have never been introduced to them in the first place. My daughter told me the other day, you’d be proud of me now mum, I love eating mushrooms now. I used to put some veg on my children’s plates and ask them just to keep tasting them – some things they liked immediately but others took a while but I never expected it would take over 20 years before the taste buds kicked in.

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