This is about dousing it, drowning it, dipping it, and even hiding those veggies. Do anything to get enough vegetables in front of your children every day.

Recently I had the cutest little boy eat dinner at my house. Part of the meal was raw carrots. His sweet little voice piped up, “Do you have any ranch?” I said, ‘no.” His response, “I don’t like carrots.” I encouraged him with the normal mom stuff. “Everyone likes carrots. Eat one for me! You’ll love it. These are special carrots!” Nope he did the gag thing kids do that makes you feel like a horrible cook.

So the next night dinner included a beautiful salad with baby greens, radicchio, and shredded carrots tossed in balsamic vinaigrette. His sweet little voice piped up again, “Do you have any ranch?” I was baffled because the gorgeous dressing was already coating the greens and carrots. How could he miss it? Then I realized he must normally eat vegetables with ranch. I remember when my kids liked to do that. So working against all things sacred in my culinary mind, I gave him some ranch and guess what? He ate all his vegetables. Turns out he loves carrots as long as they are with ranch.

So is it ok to load on ranch, ketchup, mayonnaise? What about the recipes where purees are hidden inside brownies and macaroni and cheese? Should parents use saucery to trick their kids into eating their vegetables?

My answer is YES, by whatever means necessary, get them to eat their veggies because that’s how important vegetables are to health and wellbeing. Vegetables left on the plate and eventually in the trash don’t have the same effect as vegetables consumed.

I’m not suggesting that you need to give ranch where it isn’t necessary. If your kids are happy to eat raw veggies plain, or broccoli steamed that’s great. Many people struggle with getting kids to eat enough vegetables and on top of that there are many societal judgments made about parents. If it isn’t organic, raw, gluten free you are left feeling like you aren’t doing your best as parents.

Parents ease off the self-loathing and guilt that your kids should effortlessly gobble up vegetables or you have been a bad parent. There are so many legitimate reasons why they don’t like them. Babies are born with taste buds covering their mouths, more taste buds than they will ever have again. As we grow we lose the concentration of taste buds. Little kids have more buds than big kids and tons more than adults. They are telling you the truth when broccoli or another vegetable doesn’t taste good to them. We also have brain receptors that say new things are potentially dangerous. As soon as we can toddle around our brain tells us to be wary of new foods. They are telling you the truth when they say I don’t want to try it.

Adults model the behavior. If you don’t pile on the vegetables why would they? Healthy eating is a lifetime habit that often begins at home. Show them what a plate looks like when it’s half filled with produce.

Get your kids get involved. Growing produce at home, bringing children to a farmers market of even a grocery store includes them in what vegetables are available. Age appropriate tasks like washing items, tearing lettuce, and eventually chopping can start at a very early age.

Hide the vegetables. Non-visible vegetables (NVV) work. Just like muscle memory in athletes we have taste bud memory. Each time your brain is introduced to something, cauliflower in brownies, a message gets sent, “I like this. I like brownies, I like cauliflower.” Sweet potatoes in juice blends, purees in meatloaf, it all adds up to positive taste bud memories.

Last but not least, let them eat ranch! If a dip makes it more fun or more palatable then go for it because it’s not about the ranch it’s about the vegetables.

Sharon Schaefer

Sharon Schaefer is a classically trained chef with more than 18 years professional experience in catering, fine dining, culinary education and school nutrition services. She is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America. During most of her childhood her family practiced healthy eating habits stemming from a macrobiotic diet. Her parents were also investors in a small town health food store. Since childhood she was on a quest to make healthy food taste good and has turned that focus on great tasting food that kids want to eat. She found her passion and inspiration for feeding children healthy meals when she became a mother in 2004. Sharon Schaefer is married and is the mother of 2 boys. She works full time in a local progressive school system feeding children from pre-K through high school. She is also very active in her community and is found regularly volunteering her time and talents.