Hiding Veggies In Food: Benefit Or Betrayal?

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Parents rarely need to coax their kids to have ice cream. But they frequently cajole, plead, bargain, bribe and even threaten to get them to eat more vegetables, fruit and other nutritious fare.

Then there's the other approach: Sneak it in.

And although that's certainly an appealing tactic for anxious parents, many experts don't think it's such a great idea.

"Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food" (Collins, $24.95) by Jessica Seinfeld, wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, is the latest tome to advocate stealth nutrition for kids. As the mother of three young children -- two of them picky eaters -- Seinfeld writes that frequent family fights over food led her to resort to "loving deception."

Her culinary epiphany occurred when she realized that the orange hue of the macaroni and cheese she was cooking for her two older children matched the color of the butternut squash she was pureeing for her baby. She stirred a little puree into the macaroni.

"The texture was perfect, so I stirred in a little more, testing to make sure that the flavor didn't overpower the macaroni," Seinfeld writes. "Feeling only a little guilty that I was tricking my children, I stirred in enough of the squash to feel satisfied that I was giving them a respectable portion of vegetables."

Her kids didn't catch on, eating every bite without a word of complaint. They were "totally innocent of my deceit," notes Seinfeld, who says that meal marked the end of telling her kids to "eat your vegetables."

From there, she experimented with slipping in other nutritional "mickeys." "I have become an expert at hiding vegetable purees and other healthful additions -- foods my kids wouldn't touch otherwise -- in all of their favorite dishes," she writes.

Among her commando nutritional tactics: cauliflower hidden in mozzarella sticks, butternut squash in quesadillas, zucchini and banana in oatmeal raisin cookies, carrots in deviled eggs and beets in chocolate cake. "The whole family is happier," Seinfeld writes, "and we can finally enjoy mealtimes again."

This stealth approach also works for Missy Chase Lapine, author of "The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals" (Running Press, $17.95). Lapine's first child, Emily, began life as an adventurous eater, gobbling caviar as a toddler. Not so for her second daughter, Samantha, a picky eater who also had a strong gag reflex.

Soon, Emily balked at the same foods that her sister refused. To keep the peace at family dinners, Lapine resorted to short-order cooking, preparing one meal for herself and her husband, another for her daughters.

This strategy fell apart during a disastrous dinner with her brother. So Lapine looked for new ways to sneak healthier ingredients into her daughters' meals. Those guerrilla chef tactics also work for adults, Lapine notes in her forthcoming "The Sneaky Chef, How to Cheat on Your Man (in the Kitchen!): Hiding Healthy Foods in Hearty Meals Any Guy Will Love" (Running Press, $19.95). The whole family can now eat Covert Quesadillas, Tricky Taco Soup, No Sin Potato Skins and other secretly healthful fare, thanks to her sneaky chef bag of tricks.

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