Ranch dressing revisited


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 A small and decidedly unscientific survey, to be sure. But the results are in keeping with ranch dressing's huge popularity: The vast majority like it well enough to use it at least once in a while. As I write in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, ranch is the most popular salad dressing in America.

 Ranch is often offered to children along with cut-up vegetables or baby carrots. Like the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down, the ranch dip makes vegetables more palatable to kids who might otherwise shun them.

 But full-fat ranch is high in fat and calories, and reduced-fat versions are packed with sodium. Is it really such a great idea to induce kids to eat vegetables by loading those carrot sticks with such nutrition-unfriendly glop?

 The dietitians I interviewed for the column acknowledged that it's a trade-off, but they felt it was more important to get kids eating vegetables in the first place (using light ranch dressing) than to worry about the sodium, at least until they develop a taste for vegetables.

 But will that ever happen? Or are we raising a generation of kids who think vegetables come plucked from the earth with a dollop of ranch on the side?

 The issue reminded me of the controversy that erupted in 2007 when Jessica Seinfeld (wife of comedian Jerry) published her Deceptively Delicious cookbook, which encouraged sneaking vegetables into kids' meals in such a way that the kids would never know they were there. Seinfeld reported great success with adding pureed squash to macaroni and cheese, pureed beets to chocolate cake and pureed carrots to deviled eggs. While some agreed with Seinfeld's approach, others felt it was wrong to deceive children in that manner and that children should be taught from an early age to appreciate vegetables' natural deliciousness.

 The argument recently took a new twist with the publication in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of a study showing that study participants who ate food to which pureed vegetables had secretly been added consumed far fewer calories than did those whose food was made from normal, no-veggies-added recipes. They also substantially increased their daily vegetable consumption — without ever realizing they were doing so.

 That sounds like a good outcome — until you stop and think about it. Wouldn't you rather your kids learn to enjoy a nice,  big, filling and fiber-rich but low-in-fat-and-calories plate full of brilliant-hued fresh or perfectly cooked vegetables than have to be sneaking cauliflower puree into their food till they go off to college?

 I've got two teenagers who have on-again, off-again relationships with vegetables. I'd like to see them eat way more than they do. Readers, how do you get your kids (and teens) to eat their veggies? Do you follow the ranch/stealth approach, or do you have a scheme that works better for your family?

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