How do you like my sensationalist Yahoo! News style headline? 🙂
Semi-related to the subject of baby-led weaning, I want to discuss a popular technique for getting fussy eaters to consume their vegetables: hiding them.
Cookbooks abound for the desperate parents of picky tots, providing recipes that cleverly camouflage puréed veggies into such kid-friendly fare as chocolate cake, breads, brownies and smoothies. The mom-turned-dietician authors of these books reassure parents that the fortified junk food is in fact healthy, due to some minute quantity of the latest celebrated micronutrient skillfully secreted inside a kid-approved bounty of processed carbohydrates.
One book, which I won’t name for fear of giving it more Google power, boasts being “chock full of proven strategies for ingeniously disguising ‘superfoods’ in kids’ favorite meals. Like blueberries hidden in burgers, broccoli in meatballs, cauliflower in mac ‘n cheese, and wheat germ in cookies.”
(You can probably tell by now that I’m not a fan of this concept.)
Here is why I find this approach short-sighted:
1. Children need repeated exposure to new foods — that is, exposure to the foods’ tastes, textures, smells and appearances — in order to accept them. You may succeed at getting a quarter cup of puréed carrots down your child’s gullet in the short term, but you have done nothing to increase the child’s familiarity with and acceptance of the food in question. You cannot teach your child to like carrots by hiding them in a brownie!
2. You will, however, teach your child to like brownies.
3. Adding healthy ingredients to junk food does not neutralize the adverse effects of the junk food. Read that again. Repeat it out loud. Do you really want to stuff your child with white flour and sugar just for the sake of a couple of ounces of zucchini? I didn’t think so.
4. Hidden vegetables send mixed messages. Children do not know the difference between your “healthy” cookies and the cookies that would normally only be served as an occasional treat. Enthusiastically encouraging them to eat “health-ified” junk food tells them that junk food is perfectly okay to eat on a regular basis.
5. This approach only continues to cater to the child’s fussiness, rather than encouraging better eating habits. “But my child won’t eat anything other than pasta, bread and junk food,” you protest. Oh, but they will. Children will not starve themselves. In the absence of more appealing options, they will soon cave.
Most nutritionists will recoil in horror at what I’m going to say next (and please keep in mind that this constitutes my opinion only; not professional advice). I do not believe it is imperative for children to eat vegetables. A child eating a diet of high-quality meats, essential fats and a variety of different coloured fruits is probably getting all of the micronutrients he or she needs. Unlike adults, children can tolerate higher levels of (unprocessed) carbohydrate in their diets without becoming metabolically damaged, and fructose is not a huge concern, providing it is being consumed in the context of whole fruit; not as an isolated ingredient or additive.
I would far sooner see my child eat an otherwise balanced diet of whole foods that is completely devoid of vegetables, than to see him eat a diet of refined and processed “beige foods” with small quantities of undetectable vegetables snuck in for good measure. I think that the known adverse effects of eating junk food far outweigh the potential adverse effects of not eating vegetables.
And although I hope that Oliver grows up loving his veggies, I refuse to engage in Battle Vegetable.
What is the strangest strategy or recipe you have encountered for trying to trick kids into eating their vegetables?