Cooking School: Veggie Haters

Photo Credit: Nati's Cakes via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Nati’s Cakes via Compfight cc

New Year’s Resolutions – love em or hate em, you’ve got to admit that trying to eat a little healthier (a very common one) is a pretty good goal.  But what if you just don’t like vegetables?  Or if you like them, but you’re trying to cook healthier meals for your family and you’re getting some major push-back from someone else in the house?  It’s time to deal with cooking for the veggie hater.

This post was inspired by a question I got from a friend of mine.  She’s a young wife and her husband hates vegetables.  In her words, he “will eat a kiwi or baby carrots about once a month, but it’s very difficult to get him to eat non-meat/bread/processed things.”  Whether you eat vegan, paleo, or something in between, I think we can all agree that eating baby carrots once a month is not going to cut it in the fruits and veggies department.  Here are my top three strategies for cooking vegetables for the veggie hater.

Hide them.  Stay with me.  I’m not going to go all Jessica Seinfeld on you here, but I do think that hiding veggies has a place in a healthy diet.  I don’t mean hide as in don’t tell the person they’re eating veggies (although you might have to try it), but hide as in make them as unobtrusive as possible.  We could all stand to eat more vegetables in our diets, why not make a few servings really easy?  Shredded or pureed vegetables can be added to many foods with little or change to the flavor of texture.  

Try adding pureed red or orange vegetables like squash, sweet potatoes, or red bell peppers into chili or other creamy soups.  (The really easy approach is to use pureed pumpkin, since you can buy it already pureed.)  Speaking of chili and soups – if you’re making anything soupy, you should be able to substantially increase the vegetables without affecting the flavor much.  Shredded carrots or zucchini can be added to muffins.  It’s pretty hard to sneak spinach into most foods, since the color gives you away, but if you have a willing participant who just doesn’t like the texture of vegetables, you can eat tons of spinach without ever eating a salad — put it in smoothies, meatloaf, baked pastas, and soup. I’ve even heard of people putting spinach in muffins!  (Tip: spinach releases a lot of water when cooked, so frozen spinach that has been thawed and squeezed out works better when extra water would mess up the recipe.)

Minimize them.  I don’t know why, but something about chopping vegetables really small seems to make them more palatable to many people.  Try a chopped salad, or just dicing everything smaller or shredding next time you make a vegetable side dish or something with vegetables in it, and see if your veggie hater will eat it a little better.

Sweeten them.  Have you ever heard of super-tasters?  Basically, they’re a small segment of the population who have really super-charged taste buds.  It sounds awesome, but when it comes to vegetables, it’s curse because super-tasters taste the bitterness in vegetables that many plants have developed to fend off predators.  To combat this, we have to figure out how to sweeten them up.  (The vegetables, not the super tasters.)  Step away from the sugar!  Cooking vegetables at a high heat — like roasting or stir-frying — will caramelize their natural sugars and make them taste sweeter without any added sweeteners.

Good veggies to roast are carrots, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli and bell peppers.  Cauliflower is surprisingly good roasted, especially with a favorite seasoning blend on top.  (Penzey’s Northwoods or curry powder are totally different but equally delicious on cauliflower.) Hard squashes (like butternut and acorn) are good to roast too, but they can be difficult to peel when raw, so try roasting the squash cut in half with the seeds removed, then scoop it out of peel and cut it up afterwards.

Here is my roasted vegetable un-recipe:  turn oven to 400, chop veggies into uniform-sized pieces (smaller will cook faster if you’re in a hurry) and toss in a little olive oil. Put everything on a cookie sheet and sprinkle on a little salt. You can add other spices later — sometimes they burn. Put veggies in the oven to cook and stir them around every 15 minutes or so. Cook until they look browned and are soft on the inside.

Copycat them:  Are there vegetables that your veggie hater will eat in a restaurant?  Other than a Bloomin’ Onion?  What about fajita vegetables at a Mexican restaurant, stir-fried veggies floating in soy sauce at a Chinese restaurant, etc?  You might be able to recreate these as side dishes at home, and even if you do use a heavy hand on the salt, sauce, etc., I can guarantee you it’s probably still healthier than what you get at a restaurant, and YAY they’re eating vegetables.

Normalize, normalize, normalize:  Veggies at every meal, no exceptions.  (Okay, I give you a pass on breakfast.)  Make vegetables a normal part of the food culture at your house, and eventually eating them will become less of a foreign concept.  Yes, it’s frustrating to cook things that you know other people won’t eat, but they’re never going to change unless presented with the opportunity.

I want to encourage you to try, try, try again when it comes to presenting the veggie hater with new foods.  Recommendations for feeding picky children often state that you should present the same food to a kid up to 12 times before you should expect them to eat it without a fight.  I see no reason that a picky adult should be any different — if anything, they will probably be more resistant and set in their ways!
Have you overcome your veggie hating ways?  Tell me how!  What’s a vegetable you hated as a kid that you love now?
Welcome to my Cooking School series, which is designed to share what I’ve learned as an experienced home cook with people who want to learn how to cook healthy, homemade food. If you have a topic you’d like me to address, please leave a comment!
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36 thoughts on “Cooking School: Veggie Haters

  1. We’ve probably talked about this, but I’m a supertaster! I worry that one of my kids will be too because my mom is and I got it from her. Boo!
    Anyway, I love your tips. Luckily I love most veggies. The supertaster in me can’t do onions, strong cheese, cilantro or..alcohol. Yup.
    And I wonder why no one invites me to parties. (kidding..)
    Tamara recently posted…Something So Simple.My Profile

    • Cilantro seems to be the common thread among all supertasters! I’m sure you could find some alcohol that was sweet enough to stand if you really wanted to, but at this point in your life, why? It’s like adults who’ve never taken up drinking coffee. I think you would know by now if either your kids are supertasters… maybe not Des? I can’t really remember what kids that age eat.

  2. i have always been a vegetable lover and i thank the lord that kayla is too. then again, i think it has everything to do with how food is introduced as a kid. in my day, junk food was non-existent in our house so we didn’t have anything sweet to compare veggies to. i did the same with kayla – she didn’t even any junk/sweets/dessert until she was 3! until then, i had managed to convince her that ‘dessert’ was fruit.
    kathy@vodka and soda recently posted…career/job movesMy Profile

    • We have fruit for dessert, too! My son is usually pretty good about eating vegetables, as long as he’s hungry when we get to the dinner table and I haven’t caved and given him snacks to hold him over while I cook. My latest trick is to give him vegetables I’m slicing for dinner while he’s waiting.

  3. I hate vegetables. Isn’t that awful? I make them daily for the family and have to suffer with a smile so that my kids have a healthy outlook on them. But roasting is my favorite method. I can manage to take a few more bites that way! I also had never had fresh/frozen peas in my life until my children were born. Can you believe that? And they are thousands times better than any canned pea. I actually really love them (especially tossed with butter and cheese in pasta…haha).
    Nicole recently posted…Speaking of Moxie…My Profile

    • I have heard do many people say similar things as you about the peas! Fresh peas are amazing. I feel that way about beets… I don’t think I’d ever even eaten one, but I was just adopting my mom’s attitude about the canned beets she’d been served as a kid. But fresh beets roasted or in a stew? Mmm… so good. Good for you to keep serving them to set a good example for your kids even when they’re not your favorite.

    • I can relate — I don’t really like mushrooms all that much either. I try to walk a fine line with everyone in my house that it’s okay to have foods you just don’t like, but it’s important to try new things.

    • I sure hope so! I figure too many grapes is better than a side of Doritos! =) Have you ever made morning glory muffins? My son loves them, and they have shredded carrot, apple, and pineapple in them.

    • Good for you! There must be something about kids’ tastebuds that make them more sensitive. I love pumpkin in my oatmeal, or shredded carrot, apple & pineapple in muffins, too.

  4. I’m so glad to see a Cooking School post. Love these so much. I prefer veggies over fruit any day, but I’m the only one in my family. So I try to get them in using many of the techniques you talk about here. I have a Sloppy Joe recipe that calls for canned pumpkin. Really, no one ever knows it’s in there!
    Shana Norris recently posted…Coffee Date Friday.My Profile

    • No judgment here! We had to do some serious bribing for potty training. (And we’re still not really done with that.) I hope you find something helpful here! I’d love to know if you have any “wins”!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I’m a bit of a picky veggie eater, myself, so I’m trying hard to set a better example for my kids…I actually tried brussels sprouts (roasted) for the first time last week and guess what– they weren’t that bad!!

    I buy big bags of veggie slaw at our grocery store- it’s a good variety of veggies, and even my kids will eat it when I toss it with olive oil and apple cider vinegar (okay, and I throw in a few dried cranberries, too). 🙂
    Lindsey @ Running in Circles recently posted…Back to the Cutting BoardMy Profile

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