Hiding Kids’ Veggies for Stealth Health: Good Idea?

deceptively-delicious.jpgRecipe for media firepower: Blend Seinfeld spousal celebrity, add a dash of Oprah media hype, stir in some star scandal, cute kids and a solid nutritional cause, and rocket to the top tier of the New York Times Bestseller list before you can say zucchini.

Shaping Youth is always trying to find new ways to get kids to eat greens, live green and curb the cues to spend green, so we’ve turned to our nutrition correspondent to deconstruct the “vegetable shell game” controversy brewing among children’s health advocates.

In this holiday season of sweet stuff, is it wise to ‘dupe’ the kids and sneak in some veggies? Is there even a need to? If you do, does it work? What does this set up from a dietary/behavioral conditioning standpoint?

There’s evidence setting up food as a reward system can lead to eating disorders later in life, so what are the pros and cons of the veggie dodge for ardent ‘turn up the nose’ kidlets? Any harm or no?

Shaping Youth Correspondent Rebecca Scritchfield recently focused on this topic in her own blog, Balanced Health and Nutrition, and also wrote a guest editorial for Health Commentary, which Shaping Youth is proud to republish with permission for you here.

Meanwhile, since we use all kinds of marketing tactics at Shaping Youth, from ‘hiding’ to ‘revealing’ in Dare to Compare: A Gross Out Game for Good Nutrition, I was more than a little eager to hear what Rebecca and the medical community at large had to say, and invite all of our regular readers and kids’ healthcare foodies to weigh in on this too.

BlogHer food editors and chefs out there, what’s your point of view?

Accidental Hedonist? Expatriate’s Kitchen? By the way, here are some great kids’ food labeling how-tos from our fave ‘Expat Chef’…I should’ve done a visual show-n-tell like this with my own label lingo article for kids’ media literacy w/food marketing. Helpful!

Anyway, I’d love for all of you to share your various perspectives/backgrounds, and I’ll gladly compile them. Or ping me to do a guest editorial, as I sure as heck can use a break…Now, on to Rebecca’s guest commentary…

In keeping with our own code of ethics, I notice Rebecca’s blog now has a Healthcare blogger badge for handy filtration of information/reliability, which sounds like it should be an article in itself.

I’m more than a bit intrigued by these digital sanctioning practices, so this is clearly a “media literacy watchlist item” for me to see how this develops elsewhere! Our site redesign is coming along, and we’ll soon have a place to house all of our accolades and widgets and badges and allies, so let me know which logos seem worthy to ‘go for’ and we’ll apply to see what we’re able to learn and earn!


Hiding Vegetables in Kids’ Foods by Rebecca Scritchfieldr_stritchfield_120.png

Stealth health. It’s a term that has been used for years to describe adopting healthy behaviors without much effort. But it’s been all the rage since Jessica Seinfeld appeared on Oprah with her new book, Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food (HarperCollins, 2007, browse inside here). The book benefited from the “Oprah Factor” and immediately soared to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. It now holds the #2 spot.

The premise of the book is to show parents how they can hide puréed vegetables in foods kids will eat. Think chocolate cake made with beets and quesadillas with butternut squash hidden in the cheese.

The book managed to survive a blip fraud scandal brought on by a USA Today article questioning its originality. Of course, the idea of puréed vegetables is not novel. But author Missy Chase Lapine claimed that Seinfeld copied at least 15 recipes from her book, The Sneaky Chef (Running Press, 2007), which was published just six months earlier and had been rejected by HarperCollins.

All scandals aside, there really is an important question here. Should parents covertly hide vegetables from their kids in other foods? What kind of message does it send? Could parents be hurting their kids in the long run even if they have the best intentions of helping them eat healthier?

Dietitians and culinary professionals have been enthusiastically discussing the pros and cons of this particular stealth health practice. On one side of the argument, there’s a “whatever works” mindset. In other words, if your kids don’t like cooked carrots, hide them in meatloaf and maybe one day they will grow to like them. But some experts believe that this encourages poor lifelong eating habits because kids aren’t learning how to enjoy vegetables at a young age.

“After about age three I think it’s a disservice to hide vegetables. Kids need to have a variety of things to taste and enjoy. They should not automatically be fed “kid food” or catered to like they don’t have tastebuds like the rest of us”, said Kitty Broihier, a registered dietitian.

Some experts believe we’re better off shifting the focus of eating vegetables from deception, which carries negative connotations, to encouragement.

Mary Abbott Hess, a Chicago-based author, educator and nutrition consultant said, “Sure, we all want kids to eat and enjoy vegetables. But I think it’s best to think of vegetables as a good choice, make them taste delicious and engage kids in growing, selecting, and preparing them.

But what if your kids outright refuse to eat vegetables? Isn’t some vegetables, albeit spinach purée added to hamburgers, better than none at all? There’s nothing wrong with doing it, but don’t expect a huge nutritional bang for your buck. After you go through all the trouble of making purées in advance, you may only be adding ¼ cup to a recipe that serves eight.

Chances are you’d see greater returns if you involved your kids in preparing meals on a regular basis. Not only will you be bonding, but you’ll be shaping lifelong positive health habits at a time when home-cooked meals are a dying breed and this fast food nation would rather order takeout.

Now, I’ll add a few of the comments from the M.S., R.D. duo at MealMakeoverMoms, who responded with their headline, “Kids CAN love veggies” as follows:

“Hiding is not the answer. Instead, entice kids with great tasting vegetables. “Stealth” nutrition is a smart thing but in our opinion, should not be used as a substitute for overall good nutrition.

For example, in creating recipes for the public (our audience at MealMakeoverTV is mostly parents with kids) we look for clever ways to incorporate ingredients that boost the nutritional benefits of the dish.

Yes, vegetables are certainly one of those ingredients — we rely on things like shredded carrot, finely diced red/orange/yellow bell peppers, and canned pumpkin — but unlike most of the recipes in Deceptively Delicious we certainly don’t stop there. We often use fruits, whole wheat flour (in addition to white), healthy oils such as canola and olive, ground flaxseed, nuts, beans, and omega-3 eggs, yolks and all…”

So there ya have it…we’ve gotten the ball rolling, now read the rest of their response on Health Commentary, and add your own thoughts, like Rebecca just did in her latest entry about cooking with kids, by including the Simply in Season Children’s Cookbook as a ‘recipe for fun.’

Enjoy the season…and share what works with the kids in your lives to embrace healthy eating…(I just got nailed for bringing Costco cupcakes to a caroling fest as the ultimate irony, so…um…let’s just say yours truly is the poster child for moderation in motherhood)

Never said I was one for absolutes…this blog is about centrist moderation, n’est ce pas? Pardon me while I go snarf a sweet or two…just to be ornery.



  1. No sooner had I blogged this than I discovered this little amazon reviewer spat between the readers of both of these two books…my, my, which to choose? Um…being that my family loves vegetables (and sweets too, as you can see) I’m going to stay ‘Switzerland’ and avoid both of them…But just to give you a flavor for the content in the books

    Here’s a snapshot from Amazon’s ‘deceptive dining duel’ between the two media mavens:

    Headline: “We dont care who did it first, the Sneaky Chef is the one that works” October 8, 2007 By Sleep Doctor “Dr. Mom, MD” (Los Angeles, CA) – Amazon: This weekend 7 friends and I got together to compare recipes from The Sneaky Chef(TSC) and Deceptively Delicious(DD). Our primary loyalty is to our kids and getting good food into them. We don’t really care who did it first, just what works. We’ve been successfully sneaking for months and need more recipes now, so we were eagerly awaiting the release of Deceptively Delicious…

    We chose six duplicate recipes from each book (12 total) and did double-blind (where neither the server nor the child knows which is which-only the cook keeps track) side by side taste tests. The whole process took all day Sunday. We chose to make mashed potatoes, mac n cheese, peanut butter & jelly muffins, brownies, chicken nuggets and meat loaf.

    Summary: For one reason or another, kids clearly preferred the recipes from TSC. The main reasons seemed to be that DD’s were too sophisticated in flavors and the textures were off. The cooks felt that TSC was more geared towards kids’ tastes, especially where picky eaters are concerned, and addressed the needs of the cook better. Roughly half of the recipes in Deceptively Delicious are the same as in The Sneaky Chef, which was disappointing since we’re starved ; ) for new recipes at this point.

    The following are the detailed results:

    Mashed Potatoes: Kids’ preference: TSC. Main reason: “Creamier.” DD was called “watery” by most kids. Cooks found both recipes easy to make and would do so regularly.

    Mac n cheese: Kids’ unanimous preference: TSC. Main reason: “the same as they’re used to.” Kids rejected DD version as “adult food” and would not eat it. Cooks’ also preferred TSC. Reasons: DD has too many ingredients, is too expensive and time consuming to make regularly.

    Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins: Kids’ preference: none. A clear tie. This was probably due to the dominating peanut butter flavor in both recipes. Kids did prefer the appearance of DD, though, as the jelly was visible on top of the muffin and TSC is hidden inside.

    Brownies: Kids’ unanimous preference: TSC. Main reason: DD had a slightly bitter to some kids but all found the texture “too pasty.” Cooks found both recipes easy to make and would do so regularly.

    Chicken Nuggets: Kids preferred TSC overall. Main objection to DD: “too spicy and mushy.” Cooks’ also preferred TSC. Reasons: DD has too many ingredients and the flax meal contributed to the too-soft texture.

    Meat Loaf: Kids unanimously preferred TSC. Unanimous objection to DD: “too spicy and mushy.” Cooks’ unanimously preferred TSC for texture and flavor.

    Note: The layout in DD is more clear and concise, and having the photos next to the recipes is also very helpful. TSC would take a lesson here.

    Finally, we hope that many more authors get on this sneaky bandwagon-we need more recipes!
    Comments (37) 554 of 620 people found the following review helpful

    Headline: “Which To Choose: This One Or The Sneaky Chef?” October 6, 2007 By P. Gould (Colorado)

    “Choose Deceptively Delicious! In a lot of ways the two books are similar. But Deceptively Delicious has significantly healthier, easier-to-make recipes. Of course, this book does seem to be imitating the Sneaky Chef idea for pureeing fruits and veggies to add to kids’ favorite foods. (Though, realistically, this book must have been in production long before the Sneaky Chef was released to the public.) And the Sneaky Chef does contain some good ideas and recipes.

    However, the Deceptively Delicious recipes are lower in saturated fats, higher in whole grains and use less sugar and artificial items (like colored sprinkles and packaged mac-n-cheese.) Plus, this book’s purees are an improvement over those in the Sneaky Chef.

    Many parents are very concerned with adding more vegetables, and Deceptively Delicious includes 11 very simple whole veggie purees. In contrast, although 4 of the 5 Sneaky Chef veggie purees do contain whole vegetables, they are more complicated since each one contains multiple ingredients.

    For fruit, the Sneaky Chef recipes rely on homemade juices that are made by boiling fruit, straining it and adding sugar. The fruit purees in Deceptively Delicious are made from whole fruits. They are not only easier to make, they also include more of the fiber and nutrients since nothing is strained out. My conclusion? Even if you, like me, would rather help your kids learn to love vegetables and fruit without trickery, this book may still be of use to you.

    It’s full of healthy, kid-friendly recipe ideas– just tell your kids what is in the food they are eating. On the other hand, if you have a child who is going through a picky stage and you feel that you need to sneak in some veggies and fruits, I’d go with Deceptively Delicious.

    P. Gould, author of Feeding the Kids: The Flexible, No-Battles, Healthy Eating System for the Whole Family
    Comment Comments (17)”

    Anyway, you get the drill…there’s a celebrity food fight and reader media hypefest here, DUCK kiddies!

  2. The concept isn’t new, nor are these the first cookbooks out about it. I think it points VERY well to how the mainstream media has the power to brainwash/manipulate WAY too many people (kids and parents alike).

  3. Yep!! Precisely! That’s EXACTLY my point…

    Media/marketing can ‘create’ the pop culture zeitgeist in a heartbeat…so why not create content that’s powerfully POSITIVE rather than wallow in the muck of the Bratz dolls-n-posh-Paris mindmush…

    If it’s about ‘selling’ then why can’t we sell health, well-being, eco-savvy worldviews instead of toxic negativity? (though I see your point…brandwashing/brainwashing would be nice to ditch altogether, but that only happens via media literacy and free-thinking far removed from fads, which eventually, comes with time) Or not. 😉

  4. When you consider, how we have gotten kids and adults to drink bottled water. We should be able to do the same with veggies. My daughter, bless her, has her two youngest eating, raisins, nuts, veggies, cheese and a lot of healthy food. When I had my four year old grandson overnight (and I’m embarrassed to share this) Noah asked me why I served him junk food at McDonald’s…? I was mortified, and mumbled something which got me through the question.. However, it also got me thinking about my responsibility as his gram… Many of us have a lot to learn about food.

    remember to call your gram

  5. Yeah, well…I won’t go into the bottled water/marketing-eco conundrum, but see your point. Personally, I’m a tap water gal, and just don’t see the marketing nuances/hype of adding extra plastics to the landfill for no particular reason…But hey, sure beats soda cans and the alternatives, I s’pose.

    Anyway, thanks, Dorothy, for your candor and wit as always…cheers, A.

  6. What a great post around this Christmas-onslaught of candy canes and sugary snacks!

    Both of my boys (now ages 11 and 13) eat things like salad, green beans (one of their favorites!), and even broccoli at times. We always ask them to at least try the veggies we cook up, and we keep re-offering in the future. We have been doing this since they were little-bitty guys.

    I also think that if families are having meals together and see their parents enjoying veggies and other healthier food (like fruit, which most kids love!!), it will have as much, if not more impact than the commercial media.

    We teach our kids to be skeptical of marketing and commercials, anyway and to think for themselves. Will eating that candy bar really “satisfy”? Or will it just put you into a sugar-induced rant for awhile. 😉

    Keep up the good work, Amy. You rock!

  7. Marilyn says:

    I have an autistic three year old who eats a very limited diet. I have always done everything “right” (offer lots of veggies and fruits, plant a veggie garden together, no watching TV with commercials, etc) but hey, what can I say? Many autistic kids are very picky eaters with wills of steel. If I can hide carrots and sweet potatoes in her mac and cheese, I’m gonna do it. Of course, I will also be serving her broccoli and strawberries, but I won’t be quite as frustrated when she doesn’t eat them. I don’t think being sneaky is a replacement for serving vegetables and fruits, but I think it can be a good supplement.

  8. Yep, sounds like you’re trying all forms, and have a challenging situation to boot. Might as well add another one into the mix that I just read about, called California “Squisine” making vegetables ‘fun’ for kids…healthy, squeezable dips, spreads, sauces, blender concoctions that drizzle over food and add that “get kids involved” with their food. Book blurb says, “Each of the 100 squeezable recipes is: – nutritious – pediatrician-approved – kid-tested – quick and easy to make – fun to eat And best of all no cooking is required—a simple formula for fun and healthy eating: Squisine = squeeze + cuisine.”


    Worth a shot anyway! 😉 –a.

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