The other day a nutrition client and I were talking about how to add veggies to classic dinner meals like casseroles, pastas, etc and I thought I would share a few suggestions here.
In recent years, swapping grains for veggies in the form of cauliflower rice, zucchini noodles, etc has been a popular way to amp up the produce content of a meal. However, that just might not fly with the kids in your family, nor is it practical for feeding a big family.
Another option is to “hide the veggies” in the dish, but, if your kids or family isn’t used to that you run the risk of them rejecting the entire meal, a scary thought for any busy mom. Besides, recently some Dietitians have pushed back against the concept of “sneaking” veggies in because this decreases your child’s overall exposure to the veggie and makes it less likely they will accept it on its own.
So, what should you do? Below are a few of my favorite ways to Have A Plant with some classic dinner dishes. But first, just remember this one important point. If you chose to serve a veggie that someone in your family doesn’t like, you aren’t a bad parent because that kid or family member didn’t eat any veggies.
If you provided a well-rounded meal, then that’s great! It’s their choice whether they eat or not, and research shows it can take from 6-20 times to expose a kid to food before they will accept it. So the more often you put it on their plate without making a big deal about the more likely they are to accept it next time. Offer, offer, offer. Just maybe start with only offering a little bit so you are minimizing food waste until they start devouring it!
Mexican Food (Casseroles, Tacos, Etc.)
Mexican food is great because you can make huge batches for your family and eat off it for a couple of days (depending on the size of your family.) However, it can be hard to figure out what to serve with it since the typical side dishes are rice and beans. Here are some of my favorite things to cook up and add to the side of Mexican Food.
- Try swapping regular rice for cauliflower rice as a side dish. I like to cook my cauliflower rice on a frying pan with taco seasoning for an easy delicious dish!
- Raw bell pepper strips are also another great side dish, great for dipping in guacamole.
- Half sliced cherry tomatoes are another delicious side dish.
- Add cabbage or shredded green lettuce to tacos.
Pasta Dishes (Mac and Cheese, Spaghetti, Etc.)
- Any steam or roasted veggie goes great with mac and cheese and other pasta dishes. I love to serve broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, or green beans.
- Mix in chopped mushrooms or zucchini as they have mild flavors and are less likely to be rejected.
- Serve a salad on the side and let your family pick their own dressing.
Burgers, Hot Dogs, Sausages
- These are easy to pair with just about any veggie, but I love raw veggies that require minimal work such as carrots, celery sticks, or cherry tomatoes on the side.
Serving muffins or another baked good for breakfast? I don’t worry too much about getting veggies in here (although I do love my oat flour zucchini bread) and instead, try to focus on providing a variety of fruits. I also like to make sure the baked goods I’m serving are full of produce, I love to bake with pumpkin, banana, and blueberries.
- Okay so I do still sneak veggies in sometimes, and if you aren’t throwing a little bit of frozen cauliflower or fresh spinach into your smoothies you definitely need to start now!
In my house, if we aren’t careful, we can fall into a snack rut where we are eating a ton of “healthier” cookies, crackers, etc. Adding veggies to snacks can be a way to make up for a potential meal deficit.
- Serve cooked artichoke with dipping sauces for a steady dose of fiber.
- Serve raw cucumber, celery, carrots, bell pepper, and snap peas with dipping sauce.
What are some easy ways you like to add veggies to classic meals? What are your go-to veggie side dishes?