Your kid will reliably eat a handful of old favorites (hello, pasta). And there are other foods he’ll only consider on a good day (sorry, hummus). But he’s probably missing out on a whole category of items: the ones you’ve written off as too green, too grown-up, or too risky.
Maybe those foods have been total fails in the past. Or maybe they’re things you’re not crazy about or don’t know a tasty way to prepare. According to researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, not only are moms the biggest influence on which foods are introduced, but they also tend to serve things they like themselves.
Raising a healthy eater, however, means that sometimes you need to go outside your family’s comfort zone. These seven items are ones that many kids—and grown-ups—find particularly challenging to enjoy. But if you start with our recipes that straddle the line between no-brainer kid fave and sophisticated-palate club, you just might raise a little asparagus aficionado or fish fiend.
Let’s get cooking!
If your kid isn’t a fan of straight-up raw florets, know that cauliflower can be totally transformed when it’s riced, mashed, or even pressed into a pizza crust. Roasting also brings out the veggie’s natural sweetness.
FYI: My kids didn’t fall for the “it’s basically white broccoli” line, and yours probably won’t either.
A rich source of immune-boosting vitamin C and fiber, cauliflower packs the same disease-fighting compounds that broccoli does.
Time for parent-sanctioned potty talk at the dinner table—every kid’s dream! Did you know that eating beets can turn your pee and poop red? It’s temporary (and harmless), but that giggle-inducing factoid may entice your kids to try them. This root veggie has an earthy flavor, but beets can also be sweet.
Beets are a stellar source of potassium, a mineral that helps maintain a healthy blood pressure and that most kids don’t get enough of. Beets have vitamin C and a little fiber as well. The red pigment is also being studied for potential cancer-fighting properties.
Making these spears appealing is key: Cook them just until they’re bright green and crisp-tender (overcooked stalks get limp and wimpy). And be sure you snap off the tough, woody ends before prepping them. When all else fails, mention the Stinky Pee Effect. Asparagus creates a sulfur-containing compound when it’s eaten, giving pee a distinctive odor—and it can happen as soon as 15 minutes after asparagus is consumed!
A half-cup serving of asparagus delivers folate, vitamin C, and iron that young kids need, plus half their day’s vitamin K, which helps the body soak up calcium.
In a small study from the University of Idaho, preschoolers who were offered lentils once or twice a week liked them more (and ate more of them) the more they were exposed to them. Sure, you may not serve lentils weekly, but it’s proof that kids can learn to like even a totally unfamiliar food. Still feeling iffy? Start with red lentils, which tend to camouflage more easily than green or brown.
Half a cup of cooked brown or green lentils has the same muscle-building protein as 2 ounces of beef and nearly half the fiber that young kids need in a day. Red lentils have less fiber but are still a great source of nutrients.
We get it: Fungi don’t exactly scream “kid-friendly.” But mushrooms are special because they hit that fabled fifth taste sense called umami, a savory and meaty flavor that your kids might really like. The two most popular varieties, white button and cremini (or “baby bella”), are good gateway mushrooms to funkier-looking types like oyster.
Mushrooms are a source of vitamin D, essential for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles and a nutrient that’s hard to get naturally through food. (Look on the package for varieties that have been treated with UV light to boost levels of D.)
They used to be billed as a dinner-table villain. But, thankfully, our kids’ generation has known these little cabbages as an ultratrendy veggie. You can buy sprouts prewashed and bagged, or find them on their big stalk at the store or the farmers’ market. Let your kid carry the whole thing home in his hand!
A half-cup serving has your kid’s daily vitamin C plus 2 grams each of fiber and protein. Sprouts are in the same family as broccoli and cauliflower, so they have the same cancer-fighting compounds.
Kids should eat fish once or twice a week to nab all the health perks—that’s the advice from the American Heart Association and the FDA. And remember that kid portions are quite small: 1 ounce for toddlers, 2 ounces for kids 4 to 7, and 3 ounces for kids 8 to 10.
Fish is loaded with iron and protein without a lot of saturated fat. Some varieties (like salmon, Atlantic mackerel, anchovies, and sardines) contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for heart health and brain development.