Top Chefs Share Their Best Kid‑Friendly Veggie Recipes
You have better things to expend your brain power on than figuring out how to get kids to eat vegetables, so allow us to help you. We’ve got some strategies backed by research here. But when all else fails, sometimes you just have to put a pair of glasses and fake beard on a carrot and call it a day. So we asked some of top chefs and food writers for recipes to get kids to eat vegetables, so you can disguise leafy greens and robust roots in a way that keeps everyone happy.
But first, a quick reminder of why many children hate vegetables
It’s not because they’re deviously trying to steal your life force. It’s because evolution has made their taste buds more attuned to tastes that give them the caloric kick they need (growing takes a lot of energy!) — read, sugar — rather than to healthier but calorically less dense options, like veggies. Their taste buds may also be more sensitive to the bitter taste in greens and cruciferous vegetables (caused by calcium, phenols, flavonoids, isoflavones, terpenes and gulocosmolates) that most of us, as adults, grow to enjoy through repeated exposure.
And finally, the associations kids develop with certain foods may be another reason why children hate vegetables. Picture yourself at age four or five, what immediately comes to mind when you think of a cake, pizza or cookies? You probably remember birthday parties, going on a family outing or celebrating some kind of occasion. What about when you think of broccoli or green beans? Nothing as exciting as a birthday party for sure. This psychological response may be responsible for why children view veggies as being something forced upon them during unpleasant meals, whereas foods they enjoy are more strongly associated with positive memories.
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Recipes to get kids to eat vegetables
We asked experts for their best recipes to get kids to eat vegetables, and they came back with dishes that are adult-friendly and calorie-conscious, and also taste great at every age. Just press print, and away you go.
Crispy Avocado Sushi, Shiro
“Sushi is something that is not only fun for a child, but also introduces them to unique flavours and textures,” says Rahul Hajarnavis, executive chef at Shiro in Mumbai. “The culinary team has found that when you mask a vegetable (or fruit in this case) in a playful way, children are less likely to say no.”
- 20 gms Iceberg lettuce
- 20 gms Avocado
- 10 gms Spring onion
- 40 gms Tempura flakes
- 10 gms Mayo (or spicy mayo if your child is okay with mild spice)
- 100 gms Vinegared rice
- 15 ml Kikkoman soy sauce
- 20 gms Pickled ginger
- 5 gms Black sesame seeds
- Nori leaves
- Cut the nori into half and spread the vinegared rice evenly onto the sheet. Flip the nori leaf and cover the rice with tempura flakes to get a crispy layered.
- In a mixing bowl add the tempura flakes, mayo and spring onion.
- Chop the iceberg lettuce and avocado and layer this mixture onto the rice.
- Roll the maki using a rolling mat.
- Cut the roll into eight pieces and top each piece with the tempura flakes mixture.
- Serve with soy sauce, ginger and wasabi if desired.
Blackened Salmon and Broccoli, Olive Bar & Kitchen
“This dish uses broccoli which is notoriously kid unfriendly,” says Rishim Sachdeva, executive chef at Olive Bar & Kitchen in Bandra, Mumbai. “We’ve cooked the broccoli in whey and broccoli juice which lessens the bitterness while keeping it fresher. We’ve also made a broccoli salsa, which you can customize to add flavours that your child likes.”
- 160 gms Scottish Salmon
- 200 gms Broccoli
- 150 gms Whey
- 100 gms Potatoes
- 1 Lemon
- 30 gms Fennel
- 20 gms Dill
Fillet and pin bone the salmon and keep in fridge until required. Sear the salmon in a pan post seasoning and finish in oven if required (skin side down). Once cooked through, turn it upside down and throw in a knob of butter. Once the butter starts to foam and brown, switch off the gas and squeeze fresh lemon. Carefully try to pour the butter and lemon mix on top of the salmon.
Wash and scrub potatoes under cold water. Once nicely clean and free of any dirt, roast them (unpeeled) in the oven at 175c for slightly over 20mins. Once soft in the centre, slice them lengthways and press them down on a drum sieve. This way, the skin will be left on top and you will have a very smooth silky mash. Adjust seasoning and finish with butter and whey if required.
Juice 75gms broccoli in juicer and discard the pulp, reserving the juice. Blanch 75 gms of broccoli with stalk in whey and 10gms of butter. Chill and keep until required. Finely dice the remaining 50 gms of broccoli stalk, add chopped fennel, chopped dill, lemon juice, 5 grms broccoli juice and lemon. Adjust seasoning and keep chilled.
In a pan add remaining broccoli juice and a knob of butter — heat up the blanched broccoli in the same pan. You should be trying to achieve a glaze of butter and reduced juice on the broccoli. At this stage, the taste should be intensified with a very fresh appearance
Finally, scoop the mash onto a plate, place salmon on top, put the glazed broccoli at an angle, sprinkle the broccoli and fennel salsa all over the plate and add the juices from the pan (in which salmon was cooked).
Vietnamese Summer Rolls, Flavour Diaries
“Kids can be super fussy, but this dish is so subtly nuanced that it doesn’t feature any one specific flavour (salt, sweet, spice) too prominently, which makes it a crowd pleaser,” says Anjali Pathak, founder of Flavour Diaries. “It’s also easy to hold and pop into one’s mouth, which makes it a good option for kids on the go. Kids eat with their eyes, so I love to make meals for children colourful and bright, so they can imagine they are eating the rainbow!”
Serves 1, makes 2 rolls
- 3 large prawns, head, tail and shell removed and deveined (optional)
- ½ stick lemongrass, roughly chopped (if using prawns)
- 2 sheets rice paper
- few fresh coriander leaves and mint leaves
- 30g rice vermicelli noodles (cooked according to packet instructions and allowed to cool)
- ½ large carrot, peeled into ribbons and julienned
- 1/3 large cucumber, cut into juliennes
- ¼ red pepper, cut into juliennes
- 2 green lettuce leaves
- 1 spring onion, green stalks only
Before you begin rolling, the rice paper must be hydrated in warm water just enough to soften it so that it is easy to manage. Use a plastic or wooden surface for the rolling as the rice paper can be quite sticky. Place your veggies, herbs, shrimp and lettuce very tightly on to a third of the rice paper. Don’t over stuff these, you can also get your kids to help with this dish as there is no cooking involved.
Roll each piece like a burrito by pulling up the bottom of the roll over the filling. You don’t need a very tight roll but something that will stay in place. Serve this with your favourite dipping sauce! I recommend peanut or sweet chilli.
Rainbow Idlis, from Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal
“I plated up ‘Worms in Monster Blood’ for dinner one night and watched with satisfaction as my son, Aman, slurped the gorily rechristened spaghetti in spinach sauce! With my daughter Natasha, I have sunk to lower depths,” says Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, a food writer, menu consultant and food historian. “I’ve mastered the art of disguise and I began to routinely sneak Monster Blood (spinach purée) into everything and served Dragon Flesh (beetroot salad), Monkey Brains (paneer bhurji) or other revolting but innovatively named stomach-churning dishes regularly. I also started using cookie cutters with a vengeance, creating food pictures of vegetables and roti, fish and starfish swimming through spinach seaweed on blue plates.”
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup diced carrots
- ½ tsp sugar
- A pinch of salt
- 120 gms spinach
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- A pinch of salt
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 cup diced beetroot
- A pinch of salt
- 1 cup husked, split moong beans (moong dal)
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- A pinch of salt
- 1 kg idli batter, home-made or store-bought
- Ghee or oil for greasing moulds
- ¼ cup finely diced green, red and yellow bell peppers
- ¼ cup cooked green peas
- ¼ cup finely diced carrots
- ¼ cup finely diced French beans, blanched
- ¼ cup cooked sweet corn kernels
Put the oil in a pan on medium heat. When hot, sauté the diced carrots for about 5 minutes, till soft. Season with sugar and salt. Process to a smooth purée in the blender. Reserve.
Clean and wash the spinach thoroughly in several changes of water. Drain. Steam the spinach with the onion and garlic for about 2 minutes, till bright green. Season with nutmeg and salt. Process to a smooth purée in the blender. Reserve.
Cook the beetroot in salted water for about 10 minutes, till soft. Drain and add a pinch of salt. Process to a smooth purée in the blender. Reserve.
Wash the moong dal. Put the dal in a pressure cooker with 1 cup of water. Pressure-cook the dal for 10 minutes on low heat, after the cooker reaches full pressure. Remove from heat and set aside, till the pressure subsides. Add the turmeric powder and salt and process to a smooth purée in the blender. Reserve.
Divide the idli batter into four portions. Stir a vegetable purée into each portion of batter and combine well, so that you have an orange, green, red and yellow batter. Taste and check for seasoning. Grease idli moulds with ghee or oil. (Use mini idli moulds for kids; they love them.) Pour the batter into the moulds and arrange a few pieces of the prepared garnishes on top in attractive patterns. Steam the idlis for about 10-15 minutes. When done, remove the idlis from their moulds and serve.