Do you ever cook dishes in which you hide nutritious ingredients that your family would usually refuse? Many home cooks have been doing this for decades, but Jessica Seinfeld’s book Deceptively Delicious shows how mainstream it’s become to sneak fruits and vegetables into our children’s food.
My husband is a picky eater. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d need to get him eating better before we had children so he could set an example. I see “sneaking in” some standard vegetables to be a great way to make a comfort food favourite into something with a little more nutritional punch.
I bought the Deceptively Delicious book for my sister at Christmas a number of years ago for her eldest daughter who lived on a beige diet of bread, chicken fingers and milk. I decided to adopt some of the ideas for us adults to get us into the habit of getting a little more nutrition without sacrificing the flavor.
After reading Deceptively Delicious myself I started using some of the fundamentals of the book to get us eating a little bit better. I’d routinely add spinach to casseroles, stews, sauces, eggs, I’d add a cup or two of bananas or blueberries to my muffins or pancakes or I’d make soups that pack a lot of blended vegetables to get us eating a little more green. I sometimes even try some desserts that focus on fruits more, but would make those anyway because they taste so good.
When the minions were born my husband and I had a big talk about integrating food in a way that would get them exposed to a variety of different dishes, spices and so on. Luckily both of our kids are good eaters, my daughter has a bit more of an adventurous palette with a penchant for spicy hummus, dill pickles and curries. My son is a bit more meat and potatoes guy but still regularly chooses sliced vegetables and fruits for his meals.
Sometimes we need a bit of help reaching our fruit and vegetable quota for the day, parents and children included. I think that adding fruits and vegetables into certain dishes has become more of a healthy recipe revolution than a sneak attack. Then again I haven’t resorted to dehydrated kale chips or mixing spinach into chocolate shakes just yet, but I know that my children and their tastes change every day, so never say never.
It took becoming a parent for me to realize that I wasn’t the expert on child-rearing I had always fancied myself to be. One of my most humbling realizations is that my M is an enormously picky child when it comes to food. Despite her willingness to try all sorts of things when we was a young toddler, she is picky, picky, picky today. I walked my talk and exposed my daughters to all sorts of flavours and textures when they were younger. Still, M has turned out to be difficult to feed.
I worried about M’s nutrition. Every time she refused a meal, I pictured her sliding even farther away from the growth chart than she was already. I decided to jump on the hidden food bandwagon. I hid pureed beans in muffins to give her a protein kick. I made my own ketchup from tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and pureed whatever-vegetable-I-had-on-hand. I hid cauliflower in macaroni and cheese only to discover one day that M suddenly hated mac and cheese, with or without cauliflower.
It was during a regular review of my parenting priorities that I began to realize that hiding nutrients wasn’t for us. My first life priority is the girls’ immediate well-being, and hiding sneaky recipes accomplished that. My second priority is their long-term well-being. I realized that by hiding the good food I was providing my daughters, I was standing in the way of their learning how to make good food decisions. I decided that teaching J and M good decision-making was more important than their food intake on any given day. For a while, I tried sneaking vegetables into the girls’ meals and also offering them what I wished they would eat. Before long, I got rid of all my sneaky recipes, and I haven’t looked back.
On occasion, J or M will refuse to eat the meal I’ve prepared. Instead of getting all flustered, I have the
ungrateful picky child prepare a meal for herself. Lunch and dinner at our house must include a grain, a protein and a fruit or vegetable. A tortilla, a fistful of cashews and some apple slices? Sure. Cheerios, deli meats and carrots? Why not? Cinnamon toast, refried beans and mandarin oranges? Whatever, honey. I’m not seeking elegance, just nutrition.
Sneaking ingredients that your family wouldn’t eat into food that your family will eat is a great tool, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re struggling to get your children to eat a balanced diet, it may be worth a shot. Check out some ideas.
What do you think about “sneaky” recipes?