Vegetables: To hide or not to hide?

by Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Posted on Sep 19, 08:35 AM in . Comments [3].

Young girl holding up a pepper

Frustrated by trying to get your kids to eat their vegetables? Tried everything?
What about hiding them in other foods, sneaking them into muffins and purees or blending them into pasta sauces? How do you feel about that?

It’s quite a contentious issue. Many believe that we shouldn’t hide vegetables. There are suggestions that this method is deceitful, that it won’t teach children to try, get a taste for and like vegetables at all if the “easy” and “out of sight” route is taken, that it will introduce a false sense of understanding of a healthy diet and that the nutrient quality won’t be the same. Maybe hiding vegetables in children’s foods will result in a large amount of adults who just don’t eat them at all.

I recently saw a recipe for chocolate brownies which contained spinach and blueberries as well as oat and wheat bran. I must admit this made me question the issue of hiding vegetables but it all comes down to how parents use these foods. Is it open slather on the chocolate brownies because they have spinach in them? How is that going to teach healthy eating habits?

Hiding vegetables has, actually, been shown to be useful. A recent American study looking at preschool children’s food intakes after hiding vegetables in meals found that the children consumed almost twice as many vegetables over the course of the day with these vegetable enriched meals. Researchers added a variety of pureed vegetables into three familiar meals and found the children enjoyed the vegetable enhanced meals as much as those without. They also found that adding vegetables reduced the calorie content of each meal and that children consumed 11% fewer calories with the enhanced meals.

So, it has been shown to work. If you have a child who doesn’t seem too keen on his or her vegetables, you may have to make a choice. Or do you?

It could be that you need a different approach to vegetables. A few ways to try to get kids to eat more vegetables:

Revamp your vegetables

Try to present vegetables well and try new ways to cook them. Don’t necessarily get caught up in the old “meat and three veg” style at mealtime. I fell into the trap of being an obsessive steamer until I noticed my family wasn’t enjoying their vegetables as much in their plain and steamed state. I started to look for interesting vegetable side dishes and recipes to revamp the way I was cooking and presenting vegetables. This made a huge difference.

Involve your children.

Allow children to choose which vegetables they are going to have at their meal. Give them a good selection to choose from. Lay out the vegetables and discuss which you might have and how you are going to cook and eat them.

Let your children pitch in with the cooking. Don’t panic about waste at first. Some children will want to add everything but won’t necessarily eat everything they have added at first try. It’s all about gaining a positive attitude to the vegetables in the first few goes.

You could even encourage them to grow their own. I know my son took great delight in growing and eating his own tomatoes and potatoes and the fact that they were “his own” really made him enjoy them all the more.

Be a good example

Children follow our example at the dinner table. We can’t really expect them to eat their vegetables when we don’t do the same. Children need to view vegetables in a positive way and it won’t help if they see you turning your nose up at them.

Vegetables as snacks

Don’t think vegetables should be kept for main meal times. Make sure you add salad to sandwiches and have vegetables as handy snacks. Slices of capsicum or peppers in various colours, cucumber, florets of cauliflower and carrot sticks are good snacks. Dips can make them more fun for kids to try. You could even try bread, muffins and baked goods which contain vegetables. (Mushroom muffins, for example)

Persist

Don’t give up. It may take time and you may have some waste at first but don’t let that put you off. Be patient and don’t get anxious. Don’t make it a battleground. If your child doesn’t eat his broccoli today, try again tomorrow. Small steps.

When all else fails – are you hiding or enriching?

The best way to combat any of the perceived negative aspects of hiding vegetables in foods is to make sure you aren’t just hiding but that you are enriching foods in combination with your attempts to get your child to eat vegetables. It’s fine to enrich foods with vegetables if you are worried your child’s intake is low but this shouldn’t stop you doing all of the above. Vegetables within meals as well as with meals is the best way to increase your child’s intake, to continue to encourage them to try them and to get a taste for vegetable and to learn about what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet.

If you choose to enrich your foods with vegetables, here are some tips:
Start small. Don’t think you have to add a whole lot at once, build a little up over time.

Start with their favourite meals and meals you know they will eat. I add green lentils to bolognaise. No-one‘s complained yet.

Hide vegetables in dishes of the same colour. Experiment with what goes with which meals. Squash goes well with macaroni cheese.

Finely grate vegetables (like courgettes or onions) and add to meat when making mince dishes like meatballs or burgers. (I grated onions into family meals for ages when I was younger as my brother said he didn’t like them).

Use purées. Vegetables can be puréed and made into pasta sauces or added to stews and casseroles. Dice vegetables super small so they blend into soup and casseroles or mix into fried rice dishes. Try blending vegetables and pulses like chickpeas or kidney beans into pasta sauce, bolognaise or chilli dishes.

Mix other root vegetables (like carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips) into mashed potato. Start in small amounts so the colour change isn’t a big issue. Cauliflower can blend nicely with potato. Be careful to avoid lumps.

Use finely grated vegetables in baked goods like muffins, cakes or breads.
Dice cauliflower very small and add to chicken curry dishes. If cooked well, the cauliflower tends not to get noticed.

I will be on the lookout for some good recipes for vegetable enriched meals and will post them on here. Let me know of you have any too!

References

Spill, M, Birch, L, Roes, L & Rolls, B. (2011).Hiding vegetables to reduce energy density: an effective strategy to increase children’s vegetable intake and reduce energy intake. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July.

About the author

Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Anne is a Health Professions Council (HPC) registered dietitian (RD), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD- Australia), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and of The Dietetics Association of Australia.

Comment

  1. Great article. I always say to people that I include vegetables in what I cook partly because that’s what I do for my food (for flavour, to cut calories and to increase my own vegetable intake), also because it’s my ‘insurance policy’. If I don’t have vegetables in a sauce, I might get really keen for my son to eat the accompanying side vegetables. My son is very quick to pick up on things like this and get awkward. So, if I have an insurance policy, I’m not as bothered whether he eats them or not and it encourages me to keep offering them even if they’re refused several times (and normally he gives them a go again later.)

    So, on balance, I do think it’s a good idea but it’s not a good idea if it’s the only way vegetables are offered.

  2. Totally agree…I think thats a great policy.

  3. Fantastic content. I have a daughter who reaches for vegetables and fruit before sweets. My personal belief on this is that yes I too hid vegetables and fruit in meals when she was younger, then at an age where she could partake in meal preparation I allowed her to snack as she prepped!A sniff of a fruit, a lick of a leek, even squeezing the food, were all permitted as it was a lesson for positive pleasure in food not forcing correct table manners. Now whenever she sees a new vegetables or fruit she will eagerly ask to try some. However, I have never forced my daughter to eat all on her plate or eat it all up as she has asked for it. I reflect back to times when I have seen a food that visually entices me, yet the taste is rather repulsive and I certainly don’t want to eat it all up!!!

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