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Are Starches the Secret to Kid-Friendly Meals?

Mealtimes don’t have to be a battle in which kids’ favorite pasta, rice, and potato dishes go up against the nutrient-filled veggie sides that they push around the plate. Instead of fighting their favorites, embrace them! With just a few easy tweaks, starches can become a gateway to trying-and enjoying-more fresh ingredients.

Use Their Favorite Food as a Springboard

A favorite food is more than a fallback; it’s an opportunity to branch out. If your kid loves mac ’n’ cheese, chicken noodle soup, or pizza, there’s no need to swap those out of the rotation: Upgrade them instead. Adding veggies or new proteins to foods that kids already enjoy encourages them to try something that they might otherwise reject and to see healthier choices as fun by association: Broccoli mac ’n’ cheese, chicken and spinach noodle soup, veggie-lovers pizza.

Hide the Veggies

Of course, if that doesn’t work, there’s always the option to get sneaky. Vegetables don’t have to announce their arrival, so try cubing them and mixing them through rice, pasta, or couscous, or pureeing them in sauces. Kids will get all the nutritional benefits, with only minor changes in texture. After becoming acclimated to the taste, they may even reach for a side of cauliflower themselves.

Make Dessert Count

Veggies aren’t just for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—even dessert is an opportunity. And you don’t have to be a pro baker to whip up simple breads or muffins that pack them in. Sweet potatoes, zucchini, and carrots make excellent bases, while fruity additions like apples, bananas, and berries let you scale back on sugar and keep things naturally sweet.

Play with Color

It’s human nature to find colorful foods attractive, so offset the neutrals of pasta, rice, and potatoes with vibrant produce. The more in-season a fruit or vegetable is, the better it will look, so grab the tomatoes of the moment, lively garnishes, and the lushest leafy greens. Fresh pasta sauces and homemade pestos are delicious, healthy bases for kids’ favorite pasta shapes, and can also double as sandwich spreads.

Get Them Involved

Kids are far more likely to eat what’s on their plate if they are part of the process, so let them help. A simple pasta, baked potato, or sandwich station lets them make guided choices in their meals and see healthy additions like fruit and vegetables as wants rather than musts. It’s all about balance, so make sure to include no-brainers like cheese alongside more challenging ingredients. Not only will kids be more likely to try new things, but they’ll also be less likely to view foods as “good” or “bad,” simply seeing them as all part of a spectrum.

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