A spate of recent books, including Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious and Missy Chase Lapine's The Sneaky Chef, say we ought to go the sneaky route: Puree vegetables and hide them in kids' favorite foods so they don't notice them.
Deceptively Delicious or Utterly Ridiculous?
It's not the pureeing I have a hard time with -- in fact, many of the recipes in these books are quite good. It's the attitude behind it. If dinner becomes a battle over how many bites of broccoli the kids must eat, the problem isn't the broccoli. It's the battle.
What's Wrong with Sneaking Vegetables
Sneaking perpetuates a cycle of unhealthy control. It robs children of their ability to decide what they want to eat for themselves and hampers their ability to trust their parents to provide foods they like.
Moreover, sneaking stunts kids’ ability to grow to appreciate new foods – foods they may need to be exposed to numerous times before they enjoy them.
Don't Make Getting Kids to Eat Veggies a War
When food becomes the stuff of war, one of two things happens: 1) kids reject the foods parents offer, and meals become a tug of war, with each side trying to one-up the other; or 2) kids acquiesce, then sneak out to get the foods they like when the parents aren't looking.
Either way, the end result is creating food issues, not preventing them.
I'm not making this stuff up. Numerous studies have shown that the more parents restrict kids' foods, the more children seek out the very foods parents are restricting. It seems that the act of restricting blunts kids' natural abilities to listen to what their bodies need and want.
We Can't Control What Our Kids Eat
Some critics have argued that sneaking is bad because the kids will eventually catch on. That's probably true.
But that's not why I have a problem with it. My concern is that sneaking reinforces parents' notion that it is their job to control what goes in their kids' mouths.
We hear all the time that it is our job to offer food and our kids' job to decide whether or not to eat it. So how can we truly let go of controlling what they eat if we're sneaking vegetables into their morning muffins?
Should We Let Them Eat Cake?
So should we just let them eat chips and cookies all day? Should we cater to their limited palates, and serve only hot dogs and chicken fingers?
The point isn't to let kids control our eating habits any more than we control theirs. Nor is it to offer only foods their immature taste buds already like.
The point is to offer a wide variety of good-tasting food, and let the kids decide whether or not to eat it. Serve butternut squash fries and maple glazed asparagus because you like it, not because you think you can get the kids to eat it. Eventually, over the years, they will see you enjoying these foods, and they will want to try them, too.
It won't happen overnight. Kids are born with a taste for sweet. Vegetables with a high sugar content, like carrots, don't take much to get used to. Bitter vegetables, like spinach, take longer. Just keep serving vegetables the way you like them. Eventually, your kids will catch on.
In the meantime, console yourself with the thought that you are doing the right thing by letting them decide for themselves what they want to eat.
The Bottom Line on Sneaking
As for the question of sneaking, ask yourself this: Would I make these recipes for myself if the kids weren't around? For me, the answer is often yes. I make a hidden vegetable macaroni and cheese that I love. And my potato croquettes with pureed peas and carrots are divine.
If that's the case for you, then go ahead. Puree away.
But if you're doing it to get one up on the kids, give it up. You may win this round, but psychologically, you're playing a game you're both destined to lose.