I hope my family doesn’t read this….
I’m going to come clean about a few things I’ve been sneaking into their food. Most of the time, I admit to it after they’ve tried it but there’s a few things I still keep under my hat.
In my 20+ years of dealing with a wide range of pickiness, I’ve learned a lot of tips and techniques for getting your fussy eaters to try something new. Or at least to let you feel like you’ve gotten SOMETHING healthy into them that day whether you fess up or not! Here are a few suggestions that have helped me:
- Make small changes and don’t get too crazy. Trying to get someone to eat a new food, whether they are aware of it or not, is always easier if you make minor changes to something they are already familiar with. Spaghetti sauce is one of the most forgiving and versatile foods out there. My sauce has everything from carrots to red bell peppers; I just go through the veggie drawer and use whatever I find. I started out with them pureed but now that everyone is used to it, I just dice them up fine and let them simmer in the sauce for hours. I even snuck shredded brussel sprouts in there once! Nobody noticed. Keep it simple and work your way up to more exotic fare.
- Take it slow. I’ve been trying to switch our pasta at home to whole wheat so I started substituting about ¼ of the regular pasta for whole wheat in our usual dishes. I slowly ramped up the ratio until I found the point that the family objected. In our case, a 50/50 ratio is needed for delicate sauces but I can go with all whole wheat for a heavier sauce.
- Don’t be afraid to deceive. I’ve been known to put low-fat sour cream in a regular sour cream container (no one has figured that out) and switch the sticks in the butter dish to a heart-healthy substitute (they caught on to that just by the way it looked.) In my book, it’s all fair game if it’s in the best interest of my family’s health!
- Remember texture. Sometimes it’s not the taste but the texture that people object to. One member of the family can’t stand the texture of beans so when I make chili, I say that it’s without beans. But what I really mean is that it’s without whole beans. I puree them before adding so they are getting the fiber and other benefits without even knowing it.
- Don’t do it too often or everything you serve will be met with suspicion. I’ve gone overboard and had to watch as they dissect each bite and give me the third degree on what every ingredient is. If you are truly trying to sneak something in, do it sporadically. Or at least don’t admit to it each time!
- Sometimes people don’t like something and no matter how you dress it up, they never will. I know this first hand. I grew up in a family of hunters and I can’t stand the gamey taste of any wild meat. It was a family sport to try to sneak it into foods without me knowing. I always knew. Even now, I still hear “Oh, but you’ve never tried my venison steak.” Yes, I have. And I’m sorry, I don’t like it. So I try to respect this with others. If someone tries something of mine and doesn’t care for it, I don’t take it personally. Not everyone likes everything so accept that your food sneakiness is not always going to work.
- Make them accomplices to the deception. I substituted turkey sausage in a Bolognese sauce last night and my daughter thought it was great fun to help “pull one over” on the rest of the family. After everyone enjoyed dinner, we owned up to the switch. Another success! Having a picky eater help with the preparation can make them more adventurous. One great way to get kids to eat more vegetables is to get them involved in growing them. Trying a veggie raw, right from the garden, is often the first step to liking the vegetable in any form. It’s incredibly . Or you and the kids can volunteer at harvest time for the Food Bank Garden at the Wilkinson Farm Community Garden.
- Talk to other people who have tried experimenting and see what worked, or didn’t work, for them. My sister recently made chicken parmigiana but with extra-firm tofu instead of chicken. Her “meat and potatoes” family was unaware of the switch and LOVED it. They now prefer it to the traditional chicken version. My boyfriend Rick refuses to try it so I’m waiting until he’s forgotten about it, then I’m doing the same thing. It’s not just the kids that I pull fast ones on…
So have you been a “sneaky cook” and have any tips? Share your successes (or failures) in the Comments below!