Kids and veggies; should you sneak them in or serve them openly?

Earlier this month the New York Times published an article about a research project in which scientists found that kids who were fed “regular” food that had pureed veggies hidden inside ate more veggies and fewer calories than when they were just consuming their normal diet.

So now those moms that have been dutifully dumping jars of baby food in their spaghetti sauce and reading cookbooks like Deceptively Delicious and Sneaky Chef have scientific evidence that it works!

But are we missing the point?  Are we as parents supposed to be training our children to eat their veggies and like them too?

As a dietitian, I wish people would learn to like veggies and eat them in normal dishes like salads, stir fries, and on the side.  But as a person who has never really been very fond of veggies myself, I see the benefit of the puree and sneak method.  I do it to myself all the time:  spinach in blueberry or chocolate smoothies, extra shredded carrot or zucchini in a casserole or lasagna, even adding beans to meatballs just to increase fiber and minerals while decreasing calories.

As a mom, I approve of both methods.  I firmly believe that offering veggies daily, even the veggies kids say they don’t like, normalizes eating them and will help even the finickiest eater learn to tolerate and sometimes even enjoy their veggies.  Other research shows it can take 17 tastes before a kid decides they like a food.  Serving veggies with a yogurt dip, in a smiley face shape, or serving myself a huge helping first then telling them “Mommy really likes this.  I want you to try one tiny bit and if you like it you can have more, but only if you like it because I want to eat yours if you don’t want more of this yummy ____.”  Then I serve them about a teaspoon of whatever I’m eating.

That said, kids often have texture issues, difficulty chewing foods like broccoli and carrots, and small appetites that make it hard for them to want to eat a whole piece of broccoli or some “slimy” zucchini.  These are the times that it can be helpful to get creative, puree it up, and sneak it in.

I do not believe in lying about it to my kids, and sometimes they’ll even help blend up the veggies to add to our sauces.  Anytime we can fortify a good meal with extra nutrients without sacrificing flavor I am all for it!  I also think it’s important to teach that cookies, brownies, and other dessert foods still have sugar and fat and are fun foods, not health foods, even if they have a quarter cup of cherry juice or apple sauce in them.  Lastly, if my children eat something like sweet potatoes or applesauce or tomatoes without pureeing and hiding, I serve it plain and save the sneaking for the tougher stuff – like spinach, cruciferous veggies, and carrots.

What sneaky recipes and methods do your kids find delicious?

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2 thoughts on “Kids and veggies; should you sneak them in or serve them openly?

  1. My kids love any type of berry smoothie and I add a bunch of spinach with it. It is sometime brownish-green and they know it’s in there, but I guess they just accept it as normal and they always drink theirs right down! I try to make them every afternoon and they’re always a little different.

  2. I agree with your conclusion…do both. I have a very good veggie eater thank goodness, but there may be a time when that changes. I think we should encourage kids to try in hopes they may find foods that they love.

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