Hiding veggies: Deceptive or just plain smart?

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.

Skillet Mac and Cheese

Serving mac and cheese in the skillet it’s baked in amps up the
homey comfort factor. The secret ingredient in this bread
crumb-topped beauty is the finely chopped cauliflower that blends
in subtly with the pasta. Using three different cheeses guarantees
maximum flavor and meltability.

Makes six 1¼ cups servings

  • 2 cups 1-inch wide cauliflower florets
  • 1 ¼ cups Light-and-Crisp whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 3 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 3 cups cold low-fat (1%) milk
  • 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese (5 ounces)
  • ¼ cup shredded Gruyere cheese (1 ounce)
  • 2 tsp. mustard powder
  • ¾ tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 6 ounces (1 ½ cups) whole-grain elbow macaroni cooked for 3
    minutes less than the package directions (about 3 cups cooked)
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the cauliflower into a steamer basket fitted over the pot,
cover and steam until just tender, about 5 minutes. Finely chop the
steamed cauliflower.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan and oil.

In a large saucepan, whisk together the milk and flour until the
flour is dissolved. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a
gentle boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and
simmer until mixture thickens slightly, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the
cheddar, Gruyére, mustard, powder, paprika, salt, black pepper and
cayenne pepper. Whisk until the cheeses are melted and the mixture
is smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chopped cauliflower and macaroni
and stir until well coated.

Spray an ovenproof 10-inch high-sided skillet with cooking
spray. Pour the mixture into the prepared skillet. Sprinkling with
the bread crumb mixture, place on a baking sheet and bake until top
is browned and the cheese is bubbly, 35 to 40 minutes.


Nutrition info: 360 calories; 14 g total fat (8 g sat. fat, 4.7 g
mono. fat, 0.8 g poly. fat);
20 g protein; 40 g carbs; 5 g fiber; 40 mg cholesterol; 540 mg
Used with permission from Comfort Food Fix by Ellie Krieger (Wiley,
Nutrition info: 360 calories; 14 g total fat (8 g sat.
fat, 4.7 g mono. fat, 0.8 g poly. fat); 20 g protein; 40 g
carbs; 5 g fiber; 40 mg cholesterol; 540 mg sodium
Used with permission from Comfort Food Fix by Ellie
Krieger (Wiley, 2011).


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.”

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