29 October 2007

Is hiding vegetables in food deceptive?

I've been mildly amused by the debate swirling around Jessica Seinfeld's new cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, which is built on the premise of getting vegetables into kids by hiding them in kid-friendly foods. The book is a popular hit (no doubt helped along by a visit with Oprah), but there's plenty of finger-wagging going on, too. Seems that many folks feel it's dishonest to "sneak" vegie purees into macaroni and cheese or brownies.

Hmm. Hiding vegies has been an accepted parent hack from Day 1. In fact, pureed vegetables, which form the basis of many of the recipes in Deceptively Delicious, are the main ingredient in another hack as well. No one's suggesting that vegetable camouflage should be the only way vegies get presented to picky kids, so they never again see a carrot stick or broccoli floret. True, the book title is a bit provocative, but c'mon -- what's the big deal?

Has anyone tried the recipes in the book? Many bloggers give them the thumbs-up -- I'd love to hear your opinions.

(By the way, the publisher just bought an ad on Parent Hacks, but this post is not connected in any way, except that the appearance of the ad reminded me that I had wanted to write about this topic!).

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The 'deceptiveness' of this hack doesn't bother me. And I'll probably try this occasionally. The problem is in the TEACHING. If kids think they're getting enough nutrition from mac'n'cheese and brownies, they're going to get into trouble when they're on they're grown and on their own.

When one son went through a no-veggies phase, I started adding carrot juice to his morning apple juice sippy cup. Then, when we got past it, I stopped. I also toss them a multivitamin. Is that deceptive? Seems like adding veggies to other foods is a good way to cover the bases, but not a good way to play the game. (Lovely baseball metaphor, don't you think?)

Reminds me the time my mom made spaghetti with spaghetti squash and insisted that the squash part was real noodles. I didn't buy it for a second. Many years since I have learned to love squash and many vegetables. Today for our kids we hide as well as attempt to get them to eat veggies straight. As they get older (and hungrier) they learn to like new foods. When we finally 'fess up when they're grown, I think they'll understand!

I heard about this book on the Jumping Monkeys podcast and had to think that Jessica can't be dealing with seriously picky kids (like the one that I am blessed with).

The example they gave was hiding broccoli in macaroni and cheese to which I wondered out loud "but what do I hide the macaroni and cheese in?"

I feels like I hear more and more stories of parents trying to hide inconvenience of daily life from their children.

In everyday life, there are things we do because we have to for one reason or another. Children too should learn this lesson.

Yes, eating vegetables is a pain in the keyster, but it brings value to your health and it is important to eat healthy whenever you can.

I think kirsten is totally right. When they get into the real world cookies and brownies will have a different effect.

Hiding veggies in their food isn't deceptive, but it doesn't teach them about good food habits.

Given our hectic schedules, anytime you cook a meal and it includes veggies its a good thing.

Jim, I had the same thought.

I have no problem with the 'deception' aspect at all. I'm not sure I'd make cookies for my kids adding what is, in essence, 1 tablespoon of pureed vegetable and tell my kids "Hey! Cookies are GREAT for you!" I'd serve them with the same moderation I serve treats at this point.

However, I absolutely loathed the recipes we tried (three...so far, I'm afraid to try more).

Additionally this is not the silver bullet of nutritious eating Oprah and Seinfeld seem to be claiming. It's still just a tablespoon or so of vegetable. It's not going to change your kid's diet drastically.

I wrote about this, my experience and hatred for the recipes we've made, of course and was offered an ad for $24 from the publisher. Well below my usual rates.

I found that incredibly amusing, and did not accept the ad considering my experience with the book.

I'm the mother of a child who is an incredibly picky eater. Her pedi is concerned about what she does - or rather, does not - eat. She's tiny, and we have little margin for error. So do I hide stuff in her food? You bet your ever-lovin' bippy I do.

This isn't about teaching good nutrition, nor are these tactics meant to replace efforts to introduce new foods. I keep offering, and eventually she'll cave and discover the joys of vegetables and fruits. But until then, I will do whatever I have to in order to keep my child healthy and on the weight charts.

I'm not trying to "hide the inconvenience of daily life" from my child, so spare me that lecture. This isn't some new trend - it's simply that someone was smart enough to write a cookbook about it!

I am wondering if parents who are in vegetarian families have had trouble feeding vegetables?

I have cousins who as very little kids were extremely picky at their parents house but when they came to stay with me and my husband, would eat a ton of vegetables because they saw that we ate and loved them, and because meat wasn't an option we had around. (We thought of cooking it but they were only over for a few days and we didn't really know how to do it as quickly or as well as we would have wanted to.) Perhaps if you have meals that are just veggies, then eating them will seem like a meal, rather than a chore.

My aunt and uncle were always shocked by the things their girls would try at our house and then decide they liked that they couldn't even try at home. I really do attribute it to us being vegetarians.

One example is that when one of the girls was just under 3, she apparently wouldn't touch green vegetables. When she stayed with us, for us we made some pallak paneer which is an Indian spinach-and-cheese dish and a masala dish which is a tomato-based curry. For her and her sister, we made some plain spinach, thinking that the pallak paneer would be too spicy for them, and also plain tomatos. They demanded to try the pallak paneer and have asked for it at our house ever since. They even asked their parents for it.

For a while, they had kids who would only eat buttered noodles, bread, and pallak paneer.

If you change the "base" and it isn't always a starch or meat, maybe they will stretch to eat whatever the "base" is. That's what happened to my cousins (although I am sure the being-on-good-behavior while away from home thing helped, too)

Has anyone see this book?

http://www.thesneakychef.com/

The hiding approach isn't one I'm fond of (but hear me out, I'm not saying don't do it!). Mainly because I know someone who even as an adult will not try things his parents attempted to hide from him in food, because it felt so horrible, disrespectful, dishonorable, underhanded, etc. That said, they were deceptive, dishonorable, disrespectful, underhanded parents in nearly every possible way, so it all tied together into a big mutual disrespect and disregard fest.

I also have a child who was in a feeding clinic for extreme pickiness. Thankfully, they've determined that extreme neophobia (fear of new foods) and pickiness is at least MOSTLY genetic (that was noted here, was it not?). In which case, if you can slip a little extra nutrition into their diet while they're in the worst of the 'avoid putting potentially poisonous things in mouth' phase, go for it. In our case, even a single bad experience with a class of foods equalled total rejection of the class (one 'wrong' bread, and all bread was rejected, one wrong peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and PB&J of any type was rejected, etc.). So it wasn't really on our list to try this - too much risk that he'd reduce more food classes, and since even with the severe pickiness his diet assessed to very close to complete and balanced, it was not necessary (amazing how close they typically get to balanced, even when extremely picky! It seems totally impossible, but the nutritionist assured us that it really WAS okay - he didn't even need a supplement daily, just every-other day).

For anyone dealing with the extremes of pickiness, I highly recommend seeing a pediatric nutritionist/feeding clinic (SPECIALIST!!). Doubly if your child is small and picky - they are used to it, know what is normal with PICKY kids (rather than comparing picky kids to non-picky kids), and because they have so much information, guidance, resources, behavioral tools, and reassurance - more than even the best pediatrician will have. Seriously, we have a fabo doc, but we see the specialist for this - it was SO worth it. We'd never have spotted the silent (symptom-free) reflux (!!!) that was a major contributor without taking a specialist approach.

I'm glad enough that someone wrote a cookbook for it - if it will help, and you can do it without losing classes of foods (because the recipe has been pre-tested for degree of disguise of the flavors and acceptance by many kids), then YES! build that bridge to the age where they'll accept more foods. Just never ever ever tell them that you've been tricking them all this time, and they've really been EATING all that broccoli, ha, MOMMY WINS! Not that any of y'all would be tempted, but the resentment and distrust that can bring out around mealtimes for the rest of their life is worth highlighting. Make it a secret you take to your grave... or take to the day when *their* kids are refusing veggies and they ask you what YOU did.

For many kids, learning to like veggies does qualify as an inconvenience. For others, it is more like a life-and-death struggle. Toss in a growth delay and ... it gets pretty awful, and scary, and yeah, old rules go out the window.

Oh, and if you're having growth issues along with dietary refusals, keep an eye out for intolerances, including carbohydrate intolerances (lactose intol and fructose malabsorption). If they reject certain classes of foods (mainly fruits, plus most veggies except perhaps peas and corn, and maybe cucumber and raw carrot), they may be trying to avoid something that is causing them problems, rather than just 'avoiding healthy foods' - fructose malabsorbers sometimes love fruit, but often avoid even 'nice/pleasant' fruits and veggies (and they may have no digestive symptoms AT ALL from that, just to make it more complicated). Sigh. (Oh, and if your child has toddler diarrhea at all, avoid apple, peach, pear, prune, and any pit fruit like cherry in the things that get added in - it will just make it worse.)

I think one point that is being missed in the disucssion is that for many people (kids and adults alike) vegetables are an acquired taste. When my son turned up his nose at turnip I "hid" turnip in apple sauce. Gradually, over time I increased the amount of turnip and decreased the apple sauce. Now he loves turnip (even raw!)

There is such a broad spectrum of "hiding" foods (from carrots in tomato sauce to hiding peas in brownies) and I expect to employ all of them at one time or another in our house.

I'm vegetarian, who grew up eating everything (and loving it) who cooks and offers a wide range of food, with life-long vegetarian kids...who don't like most vegetables. Or beans. Carrot and celery sticks, cucumber slices, corn, edamame, and broccoli in stir-fry, and that's it. No salad. No mixed stews or chili or curries. Never have (they are now 8 and 4).

I used to think eating was an issue under parental control 100%, but, like so much else, I've had to revise my thinking. For whatever reason, I believe people are born on the spectrum of food willingness, and we have to work with what we've got.

I agree with Sli -- "hiding vegies" isn't about teaching. To me it's about slipping some good stuff in with the stuff they are already eating and STILL offering vegies and other foods in a low-pressure but open environment. My kids and I talk a lot about nutrition, vitamins, fiber, variety, and the importance of "colorful" food, and I trust that someday they'll widen their horizons.

It's just taking a lot longer than I'd like.

Well I put spinach in fruit smoothies to get something green in my veggie hating two year old. Does that count as hiding veggies? If so I have no problem with it. But this isn't the only form she is offered vegetables in. We usually have a salad with dinner that is put on her plate and then ignored by her. Same with any other veggies, and mixing them in with other foods doesn't work either. She is very very good at picking her dinner apart when we have a casserole. I see no problem sneaking in the occasional veggie if it is not the primary form it is offered in. Yes she needs to learn to eat veggies, but in the meantime I will sneak in a little bit here and there so I don't worry so much. I don't think I would buy a whole cookbook to discover new ways to do this though. It seems a little excessive.

Oh, and big ditto on using the veggie as a main dish item - not that this has worked with my kids much, but one of the big factors with my kids is not the flavor ITSELF but the balance of flavors. Lettuce alone is icky, but lettuce dipped in salad dressing is good. Dipping helps, but so does the MIX of flavors. Ever tried lettuce alone? Bitter. The same can be true of other veggies - they're just too much of one flavor all by themselves. Most vegetarians I know have a much more playful approach to veggies - mix them more, add more spices, sauces, etc. It becomes an adventuresome taste to be explored for all its intricacy, rather than a challenging taste that must be overcome in one big leap/hurdle/swallow-without-chewing. In that sense, the 'hide it' approach is to some degree moving toward the more complex experience of flavors, as well - you may be able to take the hide-it approach and gradually move to the 'complex foods that include vegetables' end point, as well. Which is hardly a bad thing at all. :)

Melissa--you are mistaken when you say it is only 1 Tablespoon of vegetable in a pan of brownies. The recipes in Jessica Seinfeld's book call for at LEAST a 1/2 c. puree in each recipe--now initially when I made it that seemed slight compared to the total food...HOWEVER when I made the purees I was amazed how a whole head of steamed cauliflower became maybe a cup and a half of puree...those are concentrated little portions!! ...and hey every little bit or bite counts and again the purpose of the book is not to replace offering kids veggies...it's just to take the fight out of mealtime. Works for me and my family!

I've written about this twice on my blog this week.
I won't write a page long response, but basically I think the whole "controversy" is pretty silly. I am all about wholefoods and healthy eating and I will probably still use this cookbook as an occasional resource.

I am trying out the recipes and posting about them this week. :)
http://www.mamaknj.blogspot.com

Melissa,

I definitely appreciate constructive feedback (I am the "publisher" who has been connecting with bloggers on this title) and certainly people aren't going to take to the book, however, I feel your vitriol towards Jessica, the recipes, and me is a bit off-putting and unwarranted. To be honest, I'm really not sure where all of this anger is coming from in the blog community. To garner perspective, this book is about inserting pureed vegetables into food. We have greater issues in this country to be angry about.

To clarify, all of our advertising for this campaign went through Federated Media & Babble. They connected with blogs individually to book the campaign. For the most part, I've read all of the online reviews of Jessica's book, but as you can imagine, there are so many and one can't possibly read them all (also, in light of the recent contraversy, postings have risen), so there wasn't any natural correlation between Fed Media or another outlet contacting you about an ad after you had posted about the review. It was probably an oversight, not scheming by the publisher (me).

I'm a blogger as well and review a great deal of books (notably cookbooks as I'm a foodie who did sample several of Jessica's recipes and they worked for me), so I apologize for this winded post, however, I felt a bit offended by your assumption that HarperCollins (meaning me) was doing something underhanded with blogs.

As an online marketing professional and a fellow blogger, I try incredibly hard to connect with the community.

Kind Regards,
Felicia Sullivan

Are my kids the only ones out there who don't hate their veggies? One loves asparagus, the other broccoli, and the other, spinach. My husband and I are not picky eaters ourselves, and I'm convinced that just making it a more-than-everyday occurrence to see veggies on their plates, and yes, doing some battle with it - as in, you WILL eat these, at the beginning, has resulted in these 3 kids with such unusual kid-tastebuds. If you let them get away with eating only what they like, of course they'll take full advantage of this and declare they don't like anything that doesn't taste heavily of sugar. BE STRONG! It's part of your job description.

I already posted but I just wanted to respond to you Sarah. I felt like you did at first. My first son eats EVERYTHING, and I attributed it to we offered him a huge variety of foods. If we were eating it so was he. I knew I had this whole feeding my kids thing down. Then my daughter came along, I don't know what genes she got or from where, but they are of the "I hate all vegetables with fervor" variety. We offer her everything and do not feed her junk food, but veggies are her sworn enemy. Each day they sit there on her plate at lunch and dinner looking sad and neglected, while her brother inhales his and asks for more. I am glad that you have three kids who love everything, but some of us are not that lucky and have kids that I believe are genetically predisposed to picky eating. Heaven knows we didn't do anything different with her then we did with her brother. So I will take any opportunity that presents itself to get just a few more veggies in her, as long as it's not hidden in junk food. Brownies counting as veggies just doesn't work for me.

Deception is no problem, but this doesn't seem to be geared for profoundly picky eaters.

Jim heard about the book on a podcast. Apparently you can hide stuff in mac and cheese. And he's thinking "And where exactly do I hide the mac and cheese?"

Well, I too have bought the cookbook and tried some of the recipes. I must say, I have thoroughly enjoyed everything that I have prepared. My husband even likes what I have tried. I am going to try to make the chocolate chip chickpea cookies next!

Personally, I don't think that I am deceiving my daughter with the recipes. I still serve her veggie side dishes with the main course. I still treat the sweets as a treat. Nothing in our routine has changed except for the food itself. This is better for my whole family.

I totally recommend this cookbook to any person (not just a parent) that would like several new recipes for their collection!

The book is very clear about the need to still serve vegetables and fruit with each and every meal and snack. The presence of the purees are to calm the minds of parents who are sick of fighting with kids over eating the vegetables. It means you know your kid is getting some sort of veggie even if they are refusing the broccoli on the plate.

And hearing about it on the podcast where they didn't talk to the author is not indicative of the real message. She hid yellow squash in the mac and cheese - the color is the same and the kids don't know it's there.

I own the book and like several of the recipes. It's a fun new way to cook for me but my kid still gets her veggies as a side dish, too.

I'm not quite sure why anyone would need an entire cookbook for this. I generally hide some pureed veggies in whatever I'm cooking up for the kids. It's not exactly brain surgery, know what I mean?

And as for those who are wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth about (gasp) LYING to our kids... whatever. I'm not about to embrace a policy of full and complete disclosure with my preschoolers. It would drive me crazy, and bore the s**t out of them. Santa does exist, and yeah, sometimes there is spinach in their pizza and zucchini in the lasagna. Big whoopdie. :)

Hedra, would love to hear more about your experience with feeding issues. It is hard to express the anxiety I feel about my daughter's (lack of) eating. She was born at the 90th percentile and is now at the 3rd. I've taken her in several times to be checked out and no problems have been found. All I know is, my child prefers not to eat the vast majority of the time. On a good day, she'll eat a bit of yogourt, cereal and some banana with a bit of milk. On a bad day, a handful of cheerios and milk only.

I have (and continue to) offer her every kind of food. I'm always looking for ways to up the calorie content of her meals (on medical advice). So, in effect, I guess I do much the same thing with fats as the author is doing with vegetables.

I'm interested in this book as well as The Sneaky Chef (anyone tried both?) I doubt my daughter will be enthusiastic about anything, but I'm willing to try anything. No, I'm not worried about "deceiving" her - I'm worried about her health, her growth, her development. I'll use whatever tools I can to encourage that.

We've been lucky in that our daughter really likes vegetables. She's perfectly happy with a bowl of frozen peas (prefers them to being microwave, they actually do taste better cold). This works for frozen corn, sweet potatoes and other veggies, too.

Also, I find that having her "help" prepare a food makes it more likely she'll be willing to try it.

The cynical part of me wonders how much nutritional value is left after cooking the veggies twice - once to puree and then as the hidden food.

Felicia, I will email you privately. I have been very very careful not to attack Jessica Seinfeld, I've been shocked by the personal attacks on her.

I simply found the ad placement amusing compared to the rates my fellow bloggers were offered.

I did not intend my comments as a personal attack. I did not like the recipes. I attacked the book with a joking reference to Jessica.

I'm not really going to pull her hair.

I'm sorry if you took my comments as other.

Melissa,

I've emailed your privately, however, ad rates are something you should discuss with Federated Media, directly. We as the advertiser don't set ad rates, and your comment implied that I as the publisher was operating in an unseemly manner - something I take very seriously.

Felicia

Felicia, I didn't imply anything.

I found it amusing and confusing. Nothing more.

The rate was the same but the inventory your company bought was different. That's all.

Who knows why that is, I have no idea, but it was puzzling to me.

Your reaction is equally as puzzling.

I definitely agree that hiding veggies in meals should not be a child's only exposure to them! We should still continue to put them in their true form on the plate as well! How else is a child to get used to them and learn that they are an essential part to a healthy and balanced diet?

I have the cookbook. I am trying out the recipes and I do have to say that the recipes are "alright". My daughter seems to enjoy most of them, but as for my hubby (and myself)--he's not asking for them again, that's for sure!

The one thing that this book has taught me to do is take a look at how I make meals and think about how I can make them healthier.

Momio's got the right idea - use the sneak tactic as a means of gradually introducing new foods.

But above all, this discussion makes me beg the question, who's in charge at your house?

I overheard some lady on the radio last week saying that her child will only eat McDonald's for breakfast.

Well, no, that's simply not true. Hunger will prevail. Sure, it'll be tough and may even seem a little cruel (although it is NOT) to allow your child to miss a meal because he/she was too picky to eat what was provided. But when the next mealtime comes around and his/her little stomach is growling like mad, do you suppose that child will be more open to eating whatever food you choose to prepare? You betcha!

"Love & Logic" parenting is my mantra!

Take charge. Be the parent. Allow there to be consequences to the choices your child makes while those consequences are still trivial - like a rumbling tummy. You'll be doing yourself and your child the biggest favor in the world by doing so.

I'm in the camp of this only being partly the family's eating style and parenting. My first born is Mr Picky. He eats veggies because I insist, and because I present them regularly in formats I hope he'll like. He added summer squash casserole this summer- with lots of egg and cheese. I hope to decrease the ratio of squash to cheese, but it will take time.

His brother was born wanting hot salsa off our plates. He eats red peppers whole for snacks and wants eggplant and hummus for lunch. I have treated them the same. Neither gets junk foods, sweets are treats and not the norm. I was picky as a kid, so while I enjoy having the adventurous eater, I understand my picky eater too.

I found that growing some veggies made a huge difference. They love picking cherry tomatoes and most never make it indoors. Visiting the farmer's market with me and going to see one of the farms themselves also helped. Then, just repetition, good modeling and consistency. The same as is needed in all aspects of parenting. But my boys started at very different points and may never eat the same.

I saw part of the Oprah episode, and Jessica said, more than once, that she also serves veggies as part of the meal. I have one kid who has a HUGE aversion to anything fruit or veggie related, but she will boggle them up in disguised in other things. While we work on getting her to do more than lick an occasional carrot, it only makes sense - to me - to get some in her (and the rest of us!)any way I can.

I don't understand how this is dishonest? LOL! As the main cook in the family, I get the pleasure of choosing the recipes that I'm going to cook. If I want to add or omit an ingredient, I get to do that. Personally, I like to make "every day recipes" as healthy as I can. Adding healthy ingredients seems like a no brainer to me.

GOBBLE. Not Boggle. LOL

B,

I guess my point was that I have a profoundly picky eater who won't even eat mac and cheese or other "Kid staples" like french fries (any potatoe based item actually... not even most chips).

He doesn't like candy, most cookies, cake, sodas or hot dogs either, so its not like he prefers junk food.

So hiding may work, but hiding in stuff that he won't eat anyway isn't going to be a step in the right direction for us.

I don't have anything against the book. It, like many other tricks that have been suggested would work if we just try them, just probably won't work with our profoundly picky kid.

And that's fine.

We've grown accustomed to how he eats and are making the best of it. He's only a toddler now and we keep trying new things as we can. Hopefully, he'll become more adventurous as he gets older and has more exposure.

When I was a kid I regularly got spinach or tomatoes in my food (how else are you going to get things like Persian or Spanish rice?). Not a big deal.
Hiding it from your kids -not so cool but do what you have to.
I think going vegetarian changes your perspective on veggies and it sounds like a lot people may need a change of perspective.
JetSetBaby
2ciaos

Jim, check into allergies/intolerances - kids who reject potatoes may be allergic to the nightshade family (potato, tomato, peppers, eggplant). It's actually a common group for reactions, and knowing the classification can be a big help for avoiding the resistance - if eating it makes the mouth feel prickly/stingy and the body feel icky, then eating it WILL NOT HAPPEN. I know a family with one child with wheat and nightshade allergy. NO main staples there - not pasta, not bread, not sweet treats (too many have had wheat so the class is rejected now), no potatoes, tomato sauce, ketchup, pancakes, etc., etc., etc.! I'd definitely look into that. Though super-tasters also may reject potato because they can taste the 'bitter' in it. Check into that, too (we have a super-taster, it CAN be turned into a good thing, and as adults they tend to be very good with wine tastings...).

Cynthia, you can email me at halexisp (at) dca (dot) net. The timing of the drop in size is important to understanding if it is a problem, as is the genetic height range (midparental height, you can look up the formulas for that online - just be aware that if there's a larger difference in your vs dad's heights, the ranges of normal can be HUGE) - babies can be born at any size regardless of genetic potentials, and will 'chart correct' to their normal range, generally starting at the one-year point but sometimes sooner. If it happens much after the one-year point, then one starts to wonder very much, and even a normal timing of correction can be unhealthy if there's a drop outside their genetic range by more than two standard deviations (Bren dropped five and is three below his genetic potential range, yours has dropped six, but may still be in their genetic range).

Contact me and let me know what specialists you've seen for this, and I'll see if I can point you in some helpful directions (if even needed, often it isn't!). We did a year and a half of specialists before we found the problem(s), and in that time B lost 4 inches of growth that he may never regain, while half the docs were panicking over his growth (but had no ideas on what was wrong) and the other half were saying 'he's just supposed to be that size, why are you worried?'. ARGH.

I find it amusing how passionate people are getting with their opinions on this subject. Honestly, get over it. Getting more veggies (note I'm not saying 'all') into your kids can never be a bad thing. I do it, and will keep doing it so appreciate creative ideas. ...but I'll keep feeding them actual veggies, too!

I don't see anything wrong with hiding veggies in other dishes. It's no different than letting them believe in Santa or the Tooth Fairy. As they grow up they realize Santa & the Tooth Fairy are not real just like their eating habits change and they start to like stuff they wouldn't eat before.

This is a heated topic! When given the choice between broccoli or pasta, my son will always go for the pasta first. Unfortunately with such a small tummy, there usually isn't room for everything in one sitting. So I offer him a side of broccoli, but if I can throw some veggies into the pasta mix all the better.

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