HealthCommentary

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Hiding Vegetables in Kids’ Food

Posted on | November 30, 2007 | No Comments

Stealth health. It’s a term that has been used for years to describe adopting healthy behaviors without much effort. But it’s been all the rage since Jessica Seinfeld appeared on Oprah with her new book, Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food (HarperCollins, 2007). The book benefited from the “Oprah Factor” and immediately soared to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. It now holds the #2 spot.

The premise of the book is to show parents how they can hide puréed vegetables in foods kids will eat. Think chocolate cake made with beets and quesadillas with butternut squash hidden in the cheese.

The book managed to survive a blip fraud scandal brought on by a USA Today article questioning its originality. Of course, the idea of puréed vegetables is not novel. But author Missy Chase Lapine claimed that Seinfeld copied at least 15 recipes from her book, The Sneaky Chef (Running Press, 2007), which was published just six months earlier and had been rejected by HarperCollins.

All scandals aside, there really is an important question here. Should parents covertly hide vegetables from their kids in other foods? What kind of message does it send? Could parents be hurting their kids in the long run even if they have the best intentions of helping them eat healthier?

Dietitians and culinary professionals have been enthusiastically discussing the pros and cons of this particular stealth health practice. On one side of the argument, there’s a  “whatever works” mindset. In other words, if your kids don’t like cooked carrots, hide them in meatloaf and maybe one day they will grow to like them. But some experts believe that this encourages poor lifelong eating habits because kids aren’t learning how to enjoy vegetables at a young age.

“After about age three I think it’s a disservice to hide vegetables. Kids need to have a variety of things to taste and enjoy. They should not automatically be fed "kid food" or catered to like they don’t have tastebuds like the rest of us”, said Kitty Broihier, a registered dietitian.

Some experts believe we’re better off shifting the focus of eating vegetables from deception, which carries negative connotations, to encouragement.

Mary Abbott Hess, a Chicago-based author, educator and nutrition consultant said, “Sure, we all want kids to eat and enjoy vegetables. But I think it’s best to think of vegetables as a good choice, make them taste delicious and engage kids in growing, selecting, and preparing them.

But what if your kids outright refuse to eat vegetables? Isn’t some vegetables, albeit spinach purée added to hamburgers, better than none at all? There’s nothing wrong with doing it, but don’t expect a huge nutritional bang for your buck. After you go through all the trouble of making purées in advance, you may only be adding ¼ cup to a recipe that serves eight.

Chances are you’d see greater returns if you involved your kids in preparing meals on a regular basis. Not only will you be bonding, but you’ll be shaping lifelong positive health habits at a time when home-cooked meals are a dying breed and this fast food nation would rather order takeout.

(Rebecca Scritchfield is an exercise and nutrtion writer, speaker and consultant. Opinions expressed by Health Commentary guest bloggers do not necessarily represent the views of Health Commentary.)

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