A couple of authors have had bestselling books about sneaking vegetables into kids’ diets. Usually, the book authors purée the vegetables and place them in foods, such as spaghetti sauce, where they are barely noticeable.
Although the books became bestsellers, sneaking vegetables into kids’ diets has been the subject of mixed responses from nutrition experts.
Certainly, vegetables are low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, so encouraging children and adults to eat more veggies makes sense. Eating more vegetables may help with weight management and help prevent chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.
Researchers at Penn State University and Baylor College of Medicine put the “stealth vegetable” concept to the test. They served 61 preschoolers one of two pasta dishes on several separate occasions. One pasta sauce included added broccoli and cauliflower, which had been chopped in a food processor, while the other sauce had no veggies.
The good news: The children liked each pasta dish and ate about the same amount regardless of whether the pasta sauce had added vegetables. The dish with the added vegetables had fewer calories.
The children cut their calorie intake by 17 per cent when they ate the veggie-containing pasta dish compared with the no-veggie pasta dish.
However, should parents always camouflage minced vegetables in a blanket of spaghetti sauce or purée spinach into brownies to help kids meet their veggie recommendations?
Kathleen Leahy, one of the Penn State researchers, recommended that parents eat vegetables with their children and serve plain vegetables regularly so children develop a taste for them.
Sneaking vegetables into a child’s diet has been questioned by some parenting and child feeding experts. Child feeding experts encourage choices for children.
If children do not want to eat the food, do not force the issue. Otherwise, food can become a battle of the wills.
They also encourage patience among parents when introducing vegetables into a child’s diet. Getting a child to try a new food, such as a new vegetable, may take 10 to 15 attempts.
Perhaps the best advice is to be a good role model and provide a variety of vegetables for yourself and others around you. After all, children are not the only ones shortchanging themselves on vegetables. Most adults need to eat more vegetables to meet their daily recommendation, which is about 2.5 to 3.0 cups.
– Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L. R. D., is a North Dakota State
University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
and associate professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.