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Should you hide vegetables in foods?

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There’s nothing new about hiding vegetables in foods, even if the news might convince you otherwise. From a raft of new hidden-vegetable cookbooks to a widely publicized plagiarism case, it now seems like everyone is calling for getting those hard-to-eat items into your kids’ diets the sneaky way. But is subterfuge really the best way to get your kids to eat right?

Let’s start with what you’re aiming for. Are you simply trying to boost the nutritional quotient of the foods you serve? Or is this really your last-ditch effort to get them to eat something, anything that grows on a plant?

If your kid are already fairly good eaters, they are probably getting the nutrition they need from their regular diet anyway. Hiding vegetables won’t hurt, of course, but it’s a lot of work for a somewhat marginal benefit.

On the other hand, if your kids really, truly won’t even look at a vegetable, you may have to be a little more sneaky. And there are plenty of tasty ways to do it (spinach brownies, anyone?). But remember that you don’t want to destroy their trust when they finally learn that, say, you’ve been sliding pureed cauliflower into their macaroni and cheese. Of course you can play innocent (“But I thought you liked it this way!”) but it might not be long before they’re starting to distrust just about anything that comes out of your kitchen.

Some experts go a step further in saying that by sneaking vegetables, you’re denying your kids the ability to take a more mature attitude toward trying new foods. Kids are much more likely to become good eaters over time, the argument goes, if they are allowed to decide for themselves when they are ready to try a new food and grow to like it on their own timetable.

Additionally, you should be judicious about how and where you disguise your vegetables. Putting zucchini into chocolate cake will probably taste good, and your kids will eat it, but two pieces of cake later they’ll have had loads of sugar and not all that much zucchini to show for it.

So if you want to hide vegetables, by all means do it selectively. One good rule of thumb is to decide whether you would eat the recipe simply because it tastes good. If you would cook it for yourself, then go right ahead. But if it sounds like more of a headache than it’s worth, don’t spend hours pureeing broccoli and asparagus. Your time would be much better spent giving your kids a little taste of the regular food that you are eating — and who knows, one of these days they may ask for more.