Dirty Tricks for Clean Eating

Article at a Glance

  • Be and creative in how you introduce new flavors, using purees and other tricks.
  • Keep an open mind and allow kids some autonomy to choose and adapt to new foods over time.
  • Make subtle changes to keep family favorites, but with less sugar and more fun.

Getting our kids to eat a wider variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins can be a challenge. Sometimes that challenge escalates into a full-scale battle, but take heart. Cleaning up the family diet just requires a bit of creativity, an open mind, and maybe a little sleight of hand.

Get sneaky with purees and swaps

“My preschooler would eat anything if I separated the ingredients into a muffin tin. I had a small one with six spots and could usually get him to eat a well-rounded lunch every day with that trick.”
Holly B.
Pleasant Grove, Utah

Grated zucchini dissolves almost entirely into any baked chocolate goodies like brownies and cake. The added moisture often means you can dial back the oil content as well. Fruit and vegetable purees in cooked dishes can add a boost of nutrients. Pureed butternut squash blends into the flavor and color palette of macaroni & cheese. Pureed white beans disappear in quick bread recipes. Pureed carrots, spinach, and peppers compliment marinara sauces. Check out our Pinterest board below for lots of puree ideas.

Adjust your attitude

To encourage our kids to try a variety of foods, it’s often best not to let negativity creep into mealtimes. Pushing foods onto kids can backfire and lead to stronger resistance. Instead of insisting kids eat certain foods, consider one or more of these time-tested strategies used by veteran parents.

  1. Let kids choose one food for their “never” list. Then, offer new foods when you’re also serving a “never” food. Many kids are so thrilled to be able to refuse mushrooms that they’ll happily eat carrots.
  2. Introduce new flavors gradually: first as a puree, then as a diced element of a favorite dish, then chopped, and finally whole.
  3. Try unveiling new foods the first few times as “mom and dad only” foods. Highly curious kids won’t be able to stand being left out.
  4. Some kids don’t object to new foods as much as they object to the “mystery” of blended foods. Serving taco salad? Offer young children all the same meat, beans, veggies, and chips, but separately, on a plate or in a muffin tin.

Think like a junk food marketer

“My kids would eat anything they could stab, be it with a toothpick or kabob skewer. It takes guts to let them handle pointy objects, but the payoff was worth the risk to me.”
Wendy K.
Provo, Utah

Kids gravitate toward junk food for the same reasons we do. Less healthy choices are usually more convenient to grab and eat. They can be eaten on the go, come packaged in colorful wrappers, taste good, and pack a satisfying crunch or chewiness. In short, they tick all our boxes for texture, flavor, convenience, and aesthetics.

To up your family’s food game, think more like a food marketer. Make the healthy choices convenient, colorful, and pre-portioned. Use disposable take-out containers to create take-and-go lunches for busy days and summer break. A hard-boiled egg, grapes, carrot sticks, crackers, and a whole-grain cookie offer a variety of textures, flavors, and nutrients.
Use a small bin on the lowest shelf of your fridge to stock low-sugar yogurts, cheese sticks, and baggies filled with chopped veggies or sliced fruits. Instead of cookies and chips, stock your pantry with lunchbox staples like air-popped popcorn, no-sugar-added fruit cups, jerky, nuts, and dried fruits.

Elevate the treat experience

“While I’m cooking dinner, I line up cut veggies on the edge of the counter. They’ll eat most anything while I’m cooking — things they would never eat if I put them on their plates. Hunger is the best spice.”
Jocelyn B.

What we enjoy about treats is more complicated than simple sugars. We savor the colors, textures, novelty, and time spent with loved ones. A few tweaks can make treats a healthier part of your routine. Try making treat preparation a family affair. The time spent together will become a fun part of the experience. Even toddlers can help stir puddings and chop soft fruits, while older kids may enjoy inventing smoothies or perfecting a frozen yogurt recipe.

Prioritize presentation: Many kids are happy with a cup of yogurt if it features a dash of sprinkles on top or a colorful drizzle of berry sauce. Likewise, sliced fruit on toast can be a delight if it is arranged to form an animal face. Chopped fruit makes a fun and colorful dessert when it’s arranged rainbow-style in a clear glass.

Get creative: Smear peanut butter on a banana and roll it in chopped nuts or sprinkles. Then, slice it up and serve with chopsticks for “dessert sushi.”

“My kids will eat anything out of the garden that they help grow. Also, I let them try any fruit or vegetable they pick out at the store.”
Michelle T.

Change just one thing: Instead of frosting, top cakes with a sauce made from sweetened, stewed fruit. Skip the syrup and top waffles with fresh fruit, cream cheese, homemade berry sauce, or whipped cream.

For dozens of great puree recipes, food swap ideas, and creative presentation examples, check out our Pinterest board.

We highly recommend the frozen yogurt bites for those hot Utah summers.


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