Every parent has been there. All green foods have become more terrifying than the monster under the bed, and you start to wonder: can my kiddo really get the nutrients he needs subsisting off of peanut butter and crackers alone? And then you hatch a brilliant plan: hiding the veggies! If they can't see them, they'll eat them and there will be no fighting! #winning??? But hiding veggies in kids' food actually prevents kids from developing a genuine love for all things vegetable.
Jessica Seinfeld wrote a popular cookbook in 2008 called "Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food." (Do you remember this book?) The recipes largely call for parents to puree vegetables and fruits and then "hide" the purees in kid favorites like brownies or mac and cheese.
But, it turns out that hiding carrot purees in brownies is actually not the best way to help your little in the long term. In the short term, it may help ensure that your child is ingesting more diverse nutrients, which of course is great.
Unfortunately, though, healthy eating habits are learned and take work to acquire. Research shows that kids have real, biological challenges that keep them from loving veggies.
3 reasons kids don't like eating vegetables:
- Kids are born with a fear of trying new foods
- Kids are born liking carbs and sugars more than other kinds of foods
- Kids are born disliking bitter tastes (ahem veggies, we're looking at you)
And in order to overcome pesky human nature, kids have to be exposed to a new food many times in order to like it (as many as 20 times, according to some experts). When you "hide" a veggie or fruit, that's one less chance your mini will have to try and gain a genuine love for a new food. Also, if they ever figure out your sneaky ways, they'll think that veggies are SO BAD that you have to pretend they're not there in order to eat them.
It's not that adding veggies to mac and cheese is a bad thing, in fact it's delicious! You just want to make sure that kids have some visual evidence of the vegetable they're eating so that they can start to make the connection that veggies = delicious and not something to fear.
3 Tips to boost nutrition without "hiding" veggies:
- Serve a pureed ingredient alongside its whole version. If the scrambled eggs have pureed cauliflower in them, also serve some raw, roasted, or sautéed cauliflower. And tell your kiddo that there's cauliflower in the eggs too.
- Make a veggie toppings bar. For tacos, pasta, baked potatoes, grain bowls, pizza, and other easily modified meals, serve several veggie toppings your child can choose from. Your child is more likely to try a new veggie if they've chosen to add it themselves.
- Cook the meal with your child. Let them see what ingredients go into the meal. A great example of this tactic is smoothies- it's fun for kids to add ingredients, and they can get instant feedback that spinach does not make something gross. For bonus points, taste each raw ingredient before you add it to the smoothie.
For some real-life inspiration, here's one mom's take on how she stopped hiding veggies and started cooking with her son instead.
What do you think? Still tempted to sneak in some extra greens? Willing to make veggies the star of the meal? Any other strategies that work for your family? Let us know in the comments!