Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sneaky Veggies

Do your children eat vegetables?

I don't have kids, but I know a lot of 'em and they all eat some veggies.  A 4-year-old I know loves baby tomatoes, carrots, snap peas, and bell peppers.  Another little boy of the same age is obsessed with salad.  These kids developed a taste for veggies by sitting at the table with their parents and grandparents and eating the same food that adults eat.  Sometimes it took awhile to try a particular vegetable, and sometimes they didn't like it when they tried it, but these kids eat veggies!

So when did it become normal to start sneaking pureed veggies into our kids' food?

A new study done at Penn State (discussed here in the NY Times) fed kids "veggie-enhanced" foods and then asked them to rate the taste.  Turns out most of them found the food palatable and increased their daily vegetable intake as a result of the hidden ingredients.  Does this mean ambitious moms should make pureed sweet potatoes a regular part of their kids' mac n' cheese?

Do you remember when Deceptively Delicious (by Jessica Seinfeld) came out a few years ago, followed by a rush on food processors and blenders?  Since Ms. Seinfeld's chef debut, there have been numerous other books and cooking shows dedicated to deceiving your kids in exchange for the perceived heath benefits of two tablespoons of zucchini.

But here's the thing: when you sneak vegetables into your kids' food, you're teaching them that others are responsible for their food choices, and that lesson has real consequences.  There won't always be a dedicated parent around to blanch and puree hated greens, and in your absence, what guidelines will they have to go on?

Instead, teach your children to enjoy spinach (or any other vegetable) in its own right, then separately help them learn to enjoy a moderate portion of brownie as a treat.  These are both key elements of learning to eat wisely, and that's a skill that will serve them well the rest of their lives.

An estimated 20% of American children are overweight or obese. We absolutely must teach our children to enjoy fruit, veggies, and whole grains, and to take part in their own health and well-being--only then will we start to decrease our soaring rates of adult obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Don't hobble your children by lying to them about their food.  Instead, help them learn how to apply good judgment when they eat, whether it's edamame and jicama or brownies and hot dogs.