When children are less than stellar vegetable eaters, mothers tend to worry. And scheme. Moms may plot elaborate strategies of how to incorporate veggies in their children's diets.
Yet this practice remains controversial. The debate became front and center several years ago when two bestselling books, written by Missy Chase Lapine and Jessica Seinfeld, promoted the concept of stealth nutrition. Both authors advocated adding vegetable purees into such foods as macaroni and cheese, mozzarella sticks, quesadillas, deviled eggs and even chocolate cake.
But this raises questions of trust. If Mom-and let's face it, it's nearly always Mom who does this-is doctoring recipes undercover, what else is she doing on the sly?
Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian and Food Network host of "Healthy Appetite," weighs in on the topic.
"I think a parent should use every tool in their tool box to expose kids to vegetables and to 'amp up' the nutritional value of their children's meals in a way that is delicious," she says. Krieger, whose latest book is Comfort Food Fix, recommends a balanced approach. While she approves of sneaking veggies into kids' meals, she says "it should not be your main philosophy. Use it as part of your repertoire."
A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a positive impact of adding pureed vegetables to children's meals. Researchers from Penn State University served veggie-enhanced entrées to 39 children for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The children consumed twice as many vegetables and didn't seem to notice.
Food companies are starting to pay attention. Over the summer, Kraft introduced a macaroni and cheese with freeze-dried, pulverized cauliflower.
Krieger recommends exposure and education. "You want to ultimately raise people who love vegetables and who will go to the store and buy them," she says. Krieger espouses the concept of "seeing food as a great adventure." She enjoys bringing her 9-year-old daughter to the farmers market where she lets her pick anything she wants. Krieger's daughter also spends time in the kitchen where she's involved in food prep.
My take on this? Until your child's taste buds mature enough to accept some of the complex flavors of certain vegetables, it's perfectly acceptable to "improve" recipes on the sly. But keep offering identifiable vegetables with meals and snacks. As Krieger says, "If you know they love mango, maybe you'll want to serve a Mango Carrot Salad. Integrate it with familiar tastes. It's not just a plate of carrots."
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist living in Naperville.
See more of Christine's stories here.