When children are less than stellar vegetable eaters, mothers tend to worry. And scheme. Moms may plot elaborate strategies of how to incorporate veggies into their children’s diets.
Yet this practice remains controversial. The debate made headlines several years ago when two bestselling books, written by Missy Chase Lapine and Jessica Seinfeld, promoted the concept of stealth nutrition. Both authors advocated adding vegetable purees into such foods as macaroni and cheese, quesadillas, deviled eggs and even chocolate cake.
But this raises questions of trust. If Mom — and let’s face it, it’s nearly always Mom who does this — is doctoring recipes undercover, what else is she doing on the sly?
Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian and Food Network host of “Healthy Appetite,” weighs in on the topic.
“I think a parent should use every tool in their tool box to expose kids to vegetables and to ‘amp up’ the nutritional value of their children’s meals in a way that is delicious,” she says. Krieger, whose latest book, “Comfort Food Fix,” recommends a balanced approach. While she approves of sneaking veggies into kids’ meals, she says “it should not be your main philosophy. Use it as part of your repertoire.”
A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a positive impact in adding pureed vegetables to children’s meals. Researchers from Penn State University served veggie-enhanced entrees to 39 children for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Pureed broccoli, cauliflower, squash, zucchini and tomatoes were added to zucchini bread, pasta with tomato sauce and chicken noodle casserole. The children consumed twice as many vegetables over the course of a day and didn’t seem to notice.
Food companies are starting to pay attention. Over the summer, Kraft introduced a macaroni and cheese with freeze-dried, pulverized cauliflower.
Krieger recommends exposure and education.
“One of the ways to get your child to really develop over the long term is to expose them to all different kinds of foods in all of its different shapes and textures and glories. You want to ultimately raise people who love vegetables and who will go to the store and buy them.” Krieger espouses the concept of “seeing food as a great adventure.”
She enjoys bringing her 9-year-old daughter to the farmers market where she lets her pick anything she wants.
“It gives her carte blanche freedom,” says Krieger. “The control is in her hands. I feel it’s been remarkably successful.” Her daughter also spends time in the kitchen where she’s involved in food prep. “If she saw me cooking a dish by integrating some vegetable puree, I wouldn’t hide it.”
As Barbara Rolls, author and chair of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State Univerity, stated in an interview, “Regarding children, some people argue that hiding vegetables in foods is deceptive and that doing so suggests that whole vegetables are not acceptable. But I don’t agree. Parents modify recipes all the time.” She points to the well-accepted practice of replacing oil with applesauce in cake batter.
My take on this? Until your child’s taste buds mature enough to accept some of the complex flavors of certain vegetables, it’s perfectly acceptable to “improve” recipes on the sly. But keep offering identifiable vegetables with meals and snacks.
As Krieger says, “If you know they love mango, maybe you’ll want to serve a mango carrot salad. Integrate it with familiar tastes. It’s not just a plate of carrots.”
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, practices nutrition in Naperville, Ill. She is looking for ideas to sneak kale into her husband’s diet. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Facebook at Christine Palumbo Nutrition.
Serving mac and cheese in the skillet it’s baked in amps up the homey, comfort factor. The secret ingredient in this bread crumb-topped beauty is the finely chopped cauliflower that blends in subtly with the pasta. Using three different cheeses guarantees maximum flavor and meltability.
(Makes six 1¼ cups servings)
• 2 cups 1-inch wide cauliflower florets
• 1 ¼ cups Light-and-Crisp whole wheat bread crumbs
• 3 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
• 2 tsp. olive oil
• 3 cups cold low-fat (1%) milk
• 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
• 1 ¼ cups shredded, extra-sharp cheddar cheese (5 ounces)
• ¼ cup shredded Gruyere cheese (1 ounce)
• 2 tsp. mustard powder
• ¾ tsp. paprika
• ½ tsp. salt
• ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
• 6 ounces (1 ½ cups) whole-grain elbow macaroni cooked for 3 minutes less than the package directions (about 3 cups cooked)
• Nonstick cooking spray
DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the cauliflower into a steamer basket fitted over the pot, cover and steam until just tender, about 5 minutes. Finely chop the steamed cauliflower. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan and oil. In a large saucepan, whisk together the milk and flour until the flour is dissolved. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a gentle boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until mixture thickens slightly, two to three minutes. Stir in the cheddar, Gruyere, mustard, powder, paprika, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Whisk until the cheeses are melted and the mixture is smooth, one to two minutes. Add the chopped cauliflower and macaroni and stir until well coated.
Spray an ovenproof, 10-inch high-sided skillet with cooking spray. Pour the mixture into the prepared skillet. After sprinkling with the bread crumb mixture, place on a baking sheet and bake until top is browned and the cheese is bubbly, 35 to 40 minutes.
NUTRITION FACTS: 360 calories; 14 g total fat (8 g sat. fat, 4.7 g mono. fat, 0.8 g poly. fat); 20 g protein; 40 g carbs; 5 g fiber; 40 mg cholesterol; 540 mg sodium.
Used with permission from “Comfort Food Fix”
by Ellie Krieger (Wiley, 2011).