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Nov 8, 2010 10:28 AM

Do you have to sneak vegetables into your kids?

I see more and more of this in TV and magazine ads - mom is cleverly hiding vegetables in the dinner.
What I don't get is, why do people think kids should hate all vegetables? I would love for someone to give me a viewpoint on this that I can understand. My two sons, who are in college and are both creative and adventurous cooks, always had certain likes and dislikes (one loves Brussels sprouts, the other hates them, one loves corn, the other is so-so about corn...etc), but we all have those opinions about lots of foods. So why is the TV mom so clever for sneaking spinach into the lasagna?

I grew up in the 60's, and had more than my share of canned peas, but it never occurred to me that one entire food group should be shunned.
Once I had my own family, I cooked every day, and all different kinds of veggies were part of the meals, just as we had an assortment of meats, pasta, rice, spices.. I didn't have to try and get them to 'eat their veggies', and I didn't think they were unusual in their eating habits.

Help me understand this!

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  1. I have two sons too: Why can't they ever like the same things?!

    I'm not a fan of "sneaking" veggies either. I think some parents do it because it's easier than arguing with kids who balk at veggies, they don't like veggies themselves and so don't present them as something yummy, and/or they want to be sure their kids are getting adequate nutrition.

    A scientist pal tells me that one benefit is that kids' bodies are being exposed to these hidden veggies and so they're more likely to tolerate/enjoy them when they're older. She doesn't think it's all bad.

    I know some people hate the idea of deceiving kids, but I understand why parents might go that route. After four nights in a row of my kids howling about dinner, I'm ready to throw in the towel.

    I did not grow up a veggie fan, and they're still too often an afterthought for me. My young kids like only a few veggies, so I try to make them a routine part of the meal, and fun. We do a lot of taste-testing, to find out if we like some preparations better than others (cooked vs. raw onions, different seasonings, etc.). My boys are fussier than I'd like, but they're usually open to trying foods and experimenting with different approaches to veggies. And they're more likely to eat what they can help with: picking veggies from the garden, snipping herbs for dressing, cutting up lettuce with kid-safe scissors, choosing what goes into their salads. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

    We sometimes make the sneaky-veggie dishes, but with full disclosure. My 6-year-old hates spinach, but loves to make spinach-puree brownies -- he thinks it's cool that they are made with spinach and don't taste at all of spinach. I'm hoping they develop an appreciation for the magic that can happen in the kitchen, which I think is a decent foundation.

    Sorry if this veered into sanctimommy territory!

    3 Replies
    1. re: MamaCooks

      I have never understood any of this. Growing up in my house, we had out dinner, sometimes with a cooked veggie and a huge bowl of salad afterward. And by salad, I don't mean lettuce and tomatoes only. We had tons of things in it. I would usually pass on the cooked veggies, because I had texture issues (I still dislike, but can tolerate cooke carrots) but on the nights we were salad free (which was almost never) I was made to eat them.

      I remember not liking spinach or mushrooms, but never really giving it a try. Then my cousin made a spinach and mushroom casserole and put bacon in it. I've eaten spinach and mushrooms ever since. If kids are shown enough foods, you'll find something they like that is still good for them

      1. re: jhopp217

        Oh! I forgot. I always loved spinach dip and creamed spinach ever since I first tried them. My mom didn't really do spinach as a side. Most of our sides were Jolly Green Giant or a salad. I also always loved sauteed mushrooms. Still do but prefer cooked over raw.

      2. re: MamaCooks

        Love the name "sanctimommy"! That is too good!

        After reading Mama and jhopp's replies, I am getting the idea that this may be all due to the boring vegetable dishes some of us had as kids, so we "don't grow up a veggie fan". I do recall that my mom made lots of different kinds of vegetables, but they were pretty much steamed and salted/buttered, not often made with sauces, spices, mixtures of different kinds of vegetables like I do myself.
        They are always an integral part of the meals I prepare - I could probably lose the meat entree and not care a whit, but I like color and texture in my meals. In fact, I had read years ago that meals that are mostly 'brown and white' are not the healthiest for you. So I cook for color, really, and that gets me the balance that I like.
        I am one of those totally non-picky eaters. Put anything in front of me and I will try it - and usually like it. (Except some of the things Bourdain or Zimmerman eat!) So my perspective is skewed, compared to more selective eaters.
        Jhopp, I bet most kids would be more adventurous if we put bacon in everything! That's too funny. And a useful tip for parents who struggle with the veggie issue.

      3. I agree with you. I have 3 kids, and was pretty relaxed in my approach. We usually tried to get them to take a "no thank you" bite if it was something they hadn't tried, but I always felt that it was almost insulting to assume they wouldn't eat them and "hide" them cleverly. I think the TV wife is kinda capitalizing on something almost mythical about kids and food hysteria. Everyone has their own set of tastebuds; what's repugnant to one is good stuff to another. And all my kids grew up to be very relaxed and creative eaters, but I bet TV wife's kids won't, though I hope otherwise. My youngest son lived very well and thrived for a year on a diet of boiled eggs, cheerios, tofu dogs, cottage cheese, milk and orange juice for a solid year. I will say I hauled him off to the pediatrician after a month or so, and what she asked me was, "is he gaining? is he smart? does he have energy? To which all the questions the answer was yes. She told me to give him a vitamin daily and keep him on that regime until he got naturally curious, which he did do.

        1. In general, I don't, but both of my boys are adventuresome eaters, and I used to carry broccoli with me to the playground. (I'd let them run around and get hungry, then on the walk back home if they wanted a snack I'd say well, all I have is this broccoli, you can eat it now or wait until we get home to have something else).

          I do think I'm lucky that my kdis will eat most everything. I used to think that food preferences/pickiness had a lot to do with what the moms ate while they were pregnant & what the family meals were like in general. But, I know lots of moms who are fabulous cooks but their kids are incredibly picky. (I'd also thought that my kids' adventuresome palates came from their birthmoms and the kids' exposure to Korean foods while living with their foster families. But, I know plenty of kids in the same situation who will only eat mac & cheese, lol).

          I also think that kids should know what vegetables taste like. But I will put non-preferred veggies into a dish that i know the kids will eat. For example, neither boy will touch zucchini on its own, but they will eat Korean pancakes and porridge that have zucchini in it (and when they ask, I tell them truthfully what veggies I put in there).

          1 Reply
          1. re: gimlis1mum

            Totally. And as a person with texture issues (which I've mostly gotten over as an adult -- they were BAAAAAD as a kid) I thank you for your graciousness to your boys! :)

          2. If I had ever discovered that my mother was trying to trick me into eating something, I never would have trusted her food again. She cooked what she cooked (a surprising range of foods for the 50's/60's) and we were expected to eat it. Somethings did not become favorites (boiled okra), but we always tried whatever was on our plates. I've not had a great deal of success in getting my (now-grown) kids to eat crucifers, but they gave them a try. Their father is not a fan, either, but I'm not about to sneak cauliflower into the mac and cheese.

            5 Replies
            1. re: pikawicca

              "I'm not about to sneak cauliflower into the mac and cheese." Besides the fact that, with the squash puree in the brownies (!!) or the cauliflower puree in the mac and cheese or whatever, they're getting, what, a tablespoon or two of the stuff, max? That seems like an awful lot of work for a negligible amount of veggies.

              Now, I have made a sort of mac and cheese/cauliflower gratin combo, and it was wicked good. But there was no "hiding" the cauliflower, for sure.

              1. re: LauraGrace

                "Besides the fact that, with the squash puree in the brownies (!!) or the cauliflower puree in the mac and cheese or whatever, they're getting, what, a tablespoon or two of the stuff, max? That seems like an awful lot of work for a negligible amount of veggies."

                My feelings exactly.

                "Getting" kids to eat can be a control issue for the parents/caregiver. Some feel the need to assert their authority over smaller people. Some are legitimately ignorant about child development and how kids go through phases of being experiment vs. running back to their comfort foods. Kids also learn from example so if the parents are putting variety on th table, kids will learn to try different things.

                I do realize there are extreme cases due to sensory issues so in those cases I could see a little trickery might be the best option but for the most part, I think the "sneaking" recipes are a trend thought up to sell books.

                1. re: cleobeach

                  This is a control issue for kids too. They don't have much power but they can make themselves the center of attention by refusing their carrots or whatever. Mommy and Daddy stop talking to one another or the other kids. They are rewarded for a very small and virtually effortless act of will.
                  This is why we tried hard not to make an issue of the food-funnies.
                  Just put the food out there and, if everyone else is eating it, sooner or later, they will too. Your kid is not going to starve to death.
                  This behavior starts at an earlier age than you might think and endure well into adulthood if it is reinforced,
                  Even negative attention is still attention. Don't make a deal out of your child's power play. Even if he/she is pretty much grown up.
                  Once you recognize this, it gets easier.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Yep, you are exactly right.

                    One rule in our house is no one is allowed to make a fuss/pull a face when a disliked item is put on the table. Say no thanks and move on, no drama, no whining allowed and certainly no saying something is "gross" or "yucky". So far, so good.

                    For anyone how is interested, the book Child of Mine, Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellen Slatty (I may have her name spelled wrong) is an excellent book about feeding babies and small children.

                    I can from a dysfuncational food/mealtime family and thank goodness, I read her book prior to my son starting solids. It completely educated me on kids/diet/eating/feeding and I regularly give it as a new baby gift.

                    1. re: cleobeach

                      "Say no thanks and move on"

                      YES! Thank you for teaching your kids this, cleobeach. As a junior high/high school teacher, I am absolutely amazed at the number of kids who will flip out and say something is disgusting or compare it to... let's just say bodily excrescence. I've given them two instructions: if you're not eating it, I don't want to hear what you think about it. If you ARE eating it, you may say, "I don't care for this," or, "It's not my favorite," or just, "No, thanks." But you may not say, "Eeeeeew, gross" or any variation thereof. ;)

            2. Aren't you admitting that vegetables are undesirable if you're sneaking them into stuff?
              Kids learn by example. Although it's natural to have some likes/dislikes, it seems to me that picky parents beget picky kids. If you pretty much eat everything, so will your kids.
              We put dinner on the table. No questions. That's your dinner. We ate it.They ate it. Maybe they didn't know any better, but they grew up to eat pretty much everything.

              3 Replies
              1. re: MakingSense

                Agreed. Kids are so quick to pick up on other people's prejudices for no reason other than fitting in. My son liked a lot of vegetables at an early age because he got a wide variety. and I didn't peel his fruit and vegetables for him, either. Cut up in age appropriate sizes, sure, but kids need all the fiber and nutrients they can get.
                If parents truly like veggies and don't cook them into grossness, most kids will grow up to appreciate them rather than seeing them as a necessary evil or something to avoid whenever possible. I also happen to think that severely limiting sweets and damn near banning sodas helps a lot, too.

                1. re: EWSflash

                  We were willing to recognize that some kids just truly don't like some foods. They'll probably grow to appreciate or at least tolerate them but why make a deal out of it?
                  We like a lot of stews and other dishes with onions/peppers/celery/etc, things that aren't on the favorites list for most kids. When they were little, I chopped the veggies larger and they had permission to pick out what they didn't like (with forks, not fingers!) and put it to the side of the plate. After a while, it got to be too much trouble and they started to just eat the stuff. They were already used to the flavors anyway since they were cooked into the food. Problem solved. Thank God for lazy kids!

                  1. re: EWSflash

                    I remember being horribly shocked when (when my son was a baby and I was paying attention to such things) I saw bottles with 7-up and Coke logos on them for sale. Even worse when I saw people actually giving their infants pop and koolaid in bottles.

                    Severely limiting sweets and a TOTAL ban on pop and soft drinks resulted in a child who does not have a sweet tooth and to this day still does not drink pop, a substance with absolutely nothing to recommend it.

                    It did, however, have unexpected consequences. It sort of backfired on me in that I could not bribe the child. "I'll give you ice cream if . . . " was usually met with "That's ok, I don't want any ice cream"

                    LOL! Just as well - there are better ways to relate to one's child than bribery.