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If there is one struggle that every parent knows at one time or another, it’s a picky eating child (or sometimes spouse). Toddlers are especially notorious for this, but a parent it’s our job to try and give our kids a bigger diet than chicken nuggets and string cheese. Hiding nutrition when you’re on a budget can be tricky but with some of the tips below you can create healthy toddler meals that they love.
When you worry that your kids aren’t getting the right amount of nutrition in their diets, you can turn to dietary supplements, but those can get expensive.
Research has proven that kids need to be introduced to new foods early so that they can develop a taste for it, but there will always be phases where they like one thing one day and hate it the next. [Source]
As the mother of 2 kids, I have found several unique and creative ways to hide vegetables, fiber, protein and more inside of my healthy toddler meals and meals for the family. A majority of the time the kids will eat the dish without ever knowing that there was a little added nutrition.
Through reintroduction, kids can become accustomed to these hidden foods and with time the foods can be brought out of hiding and into the limelight.
What is Nutrition?
Nutrition is a vital part of growing up in a healthy manner. It’s what your body needs to grow and develop, it also helps with fighting off diseases and giving us the energy to do everyday tasks. So you can see why it’s even more important to give good nutrition to our children with healthy toddler meals.
Unfortunately with picky eaters, it can get difficult and as a result- costly. We want so badly to encourage a nutritious lifestyle for our kids that we go to any lengths including dietary supplements to help fill in the gaps where we leave off.
Good nutrition on a budget is possible!
I’m going to share with you 3 of my most favorite tried-and-true ways to sneak nutrition into my kid’s food without costing a fortune to do so.
These methods have worked so well for me in creating healthy toddler meals and I love that my grocery budget can still have room for healthy eating and sometimes even allow for smart impulse buys.
Being able to afford additional fruits and veggies when I see a great sale or throw some discounted meat into my cart when I didn’t plan for it is always the highlight of my shopping experience.
Hide Veggies in Mac and Cheese
One food my kids love and will eat without fail every time is macaroni and cheese. They love everything from Kraft boxed to homemade, and will gladly eat seconds or leftovers.
Homemade mac and cheese is easier to hide veggies in because you can mix them into the cheese sauce roux around the same time that you add the cheese in to melt.
Add orange or yellow colored vegetable puree into the sauce.
For a time-saver, I recommend using baby aisle already prepared jars. Pureed carrots, sweet potatoes, or pumpkin are the closest to cheese colors and can be mixed in without any distinguishable differences. This also makes your healthy grocery list frugal and easier.
Baby food jars are usually $0.50-$1.00 per jar or given to you free thanks to the WIC program. This helps to reduce a lot of costs and can be adjusted to taste. Chances are if you had WIC at any point during that last few months, you may still have unused jars sitting there collecting dust now that your toddler moved on to table food.
If you kids enjoy weird colored foods (mine do!) You can mix a different jar of food such as spinach and give your kids a fun “treat” by presenting them with green mac and cheese.
Using a white cheese in the sauce, like Mozzarella, White American, or Parmesan helps to “pull the look off” and taste great too!
Hide Fiber in Meatloaf
Meatloaf is one of the hit or miss foods with my kids since they go through various stages of liking or disliking ketchup. I always top my meatloaf with ketchup but have learned to simply not put any on my kid’s portions. I’m fine with this simply because ketchup is mostly sugar anyway.
Meatloaf is one of those comfort food recipes that everyone has a “family recipe” for. It isn’t made exactly the same in two houses and I honestly find that fascinating. Some people use Ritz crackers, others use stuffing mix, and some use oats as the binder agent.
In making the meatloaf mixture, I toss rolled oats into the mix. This is a super simple, yet effective way to add fiber into the meal. When cooked, the oats practically blend into the ground beef and are impossible to pick out.
Note that this is also one of my tips for stretching ground beef in my article about saving money on meat.
Hide Nutrition in Enchiladas
Making enchiladas is a fun way to not only hide veggies but also stretch smaller portions of meat to save money. You don’t have to make it the same way twice.
I personally enjoy enchiladas that are made with either ground beef, ground turkey, shredded pork, or chicken. I also like to use leftover meat from other dishes to create the filling for my enchiladas.
To help stretch the filling and add in extra nutrition, I add in budget-friendly filler items.
Things I have used in my enchiladas (often using multiple options in one dish)
- Whole kernel corn
- Cooked white or brown rice
- Black beans
- Shredded carrot
- Shredded zucchini
- Bell peppers
- Diced tomatoes
My personal philosophy is that you can hide anything in food if you cover it in enough sauce and cheese.Nicole Durham
Owner of StruggleTodayStrengthTomorrow.com
I also use thinly chopped or minced veggies in homemade burger patties and layered lasagnas.
The Trouble With Hiding Fruit
It’s not impossible to hide fruit, but it is much easier to get a toddler to drink fruit juice and get their servings that way. Fruit contains a certain “notice me” presence that is hard to ignore. So when introducing a fruit that isn’t your child’s favorite, try pairing it with one that is liked.
A cheap way to do this is to take a baby food jar of any fruit puree and mix it into banana bread. I have yet to meet a toddler (or child) that didn’t like banana bread).
- Apple banana bread with cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top before baking.
- Blueberry banana bread with or without a lemon glaze at the end. Yum!
- Pumpkin banana bread.
- The list goes on and creativity helps!
Smoothies are a great way to hide fruits and vegetables as well! Plus if the mix turns out to be a real winner, you can freeze it in Popsicle molds for a summertime treat.
Smoothies can be a hit or miss with kids, but popsicles and ice cream are almost always winners.
You can make fresh fruit into Popsicles too!
Fresh fruit can be cheap when bought in season. Cube or slice some kiwi or strawberries and then place them into a mold with sprite or lemonade, freeze and enjoy.
A few tips to help when hiding these fruits and vegetables in dishes:
- Never inform your kids (or picky eaters) that the hidden ingredient is there before they try it.
- If they ask about it, discreetly redirect the conversation.
- After they’ve finished eating, ask for their opinions and only tell them about the nutrition if they can agree that they liked the meal.
- This way their opinions aren’t biased.
This is also good advice when you’re eating at a foreign restaurant and don’t know the meat you’re eating. Assume its chicken until your opinion is formed and double-check with yourself that you’re actually okay with the truth. If not, don’t ruin a good thing.
The thought process behind this is that it helps to make sure your kids realize that the “icky” ingredient can taste good. It also helps to make them more adjusted to the idea of the ingredient.
After a while, you may not even need to hide nutrition in your healthy toddler meals and you can stick with other budget-friendly ways to keep the whole foods on your plates and in their bellies.
With a little creative ingenuity, you can hide nutrition in healthy toddler meals while on a budget and still letting your kid eat the foods that they enjoy.
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