Stop sneaking veggies into your kids’ food

Have you ever resorted to sneaking vegetables into your kids’ food? In this blog, you’ll learn why sneaking veggies into your kid’s food is a bad idea, and what you should do instead.

We all know that vegetables are an important part of a nutritious diet. Veggies contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, and they are also a source of dietary fibre. In Australia, the majority of children do not consume the recommended servings of vegetables each day.

It is understandable that parents and caregivers – in an attempt to help their kids eat more vegetables – resort to sneaking or hiding vegetables in their kids’ food. A Google search for ‘sneaking vegetables into your children’s food will return a plethora of website articles and recipes describing ways to pulverise and disguise vegetables in casseroles, soups, stews, sauces, smoothies, and an assortment of baked goods.

Studies have found that sneaking vegetables into kids’ food does help them to consume more vegetables, and in turn, more nutrients. Whilst these outcomes are beneficial, this strategy can do more harm than good.

Why you shouldn’t sneak veggies into your kids’ food

It undermines trust

Your role as parent or caregiver is to take leadership with feeding whilst also giving your kids autonomy with eating. You are your child’s trusted person at mealtimes. If your kids discover that you’ve been sneaking veggies into their meals, they will learn that you are not always honest and upfront, and they will feel like they have been tricked and betrayed. This loss of trust can damage both the relationship you have with your child and the feeding and/or mealtime experience.

It creates negative associations

If your kids discover that you’ve been sneaking vegetables into their meals they may develop negative associations with vegetables and other foods. Sneaking vegetables into your kids’ food implies that there is something inherently bad about veggies. This can lead children to dislike vegetables, even those that they previously enjoyed eating. Children may also form negative associations with the meals and snacks you snuck vegetables into, resulting in them being hesitant or resistant, to eating similar dishes in the future.

It limits exposure

In creating confident eaters, our goal should be for children to learn to like a wide variety of foods, not just get nutrients into them. For children to learn to like a wide variety of foods, they must be frequently and repeatedly exposed to them.

If you are constantly employing methods to sneak vegetables into your children’s food, your kids aren’t given the chance to get to know veggies in a recognisable state – either as a whole vegetable, or one that has been chopped, sliced, grated, steamed, sauteed, roasted, mashed, etc. Children miss out on the opportunity to explore how vegetables look, feel, smell and taste. This lack of exposure will hinder children’s ability to learn to like and eat veggies.

It encourages fussy eating

The loss of trust, negative associations, and limited exposure to vegetables in recognisable forms can cause your child to develop fussy or picky eating behaviours.

What to do instead

Be open and honest

Be open and honest about what is in your kids’ food. This does not mean you need to make a special announcement declaring what is in each meal or snack you’ve prepared, or that you need to make a big deal about the presence of vegetables. Instead, it means that you shouldn’t hide away in your kitchen trying to conceal what you are cooking from your kids. Or, when your children ask questions about the food you’re preparing or the food they are eating, you answer them honestly and matter-of-factly. Do not lie to your kids about what is (or isn’t) in their food – this is likely to backfire on you someday!

Incorporate veggies into your kids’ food

Bulk up a bolognese sauce with a variety of vegetables. Roast an assortment of root vegetables to serve alongside a main. Throw a handful of baby spinach into a fruit smoothie. Serve a platter of vegetable crudités with a selection of dips. Get creative and add veggies or legumes into cakes and other baked goods. By routinely incorporating vegetables into meals and snacks, children learn to accept their inclusion as “normal”, negating the need for sneaking.

Offer veggies frequently and repeatedly

Offer vegetables to your children every day. Aim to include vegetables across several meals and snacks each day. Include veggies that your children have tried and usually like, those they’re still learning to like, and ones they haven’t yet tried. Use different preparation and cooking techniques to keep it interesting!

Involve your kids in food preparation and cooking

Involving your kids in food preparation and cooking is another great way to expose them to vegetables. Kids can simply watch you preparing their meals or snacks, or they can get in on the action as well. Kids can chop, slice, grate, measure, blend, stir, etc.

References:

Caton, S. J., et al. (2011). Vegetables by stealth. An exploratory study investigating the introduction of vegetables in the weaning period.Appetite. 57(3), 816-825. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2011.05.319

Jønsson, S. R., et al. (2019). Repeated exposure to vegetable-enriched snack bars may increase children’s liking for the bars – but not for the vegetables. Appetite. 140, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2019.05.002

Nekitsing, C., et al. (2018). Systematic review and meta-analysis of strategies to increase vegetable consumption in preschool children aged 2–5 years. Appetite. 127, 138-154. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2018.04.019

Pescud, M. and Pettigrew, S. (2014). Parents’ experiences with hiding vegetables as a strategy for improving children’s diets. British Food Journal. 116(12), 1853-1863. https://doi/org/10.1108/BFJ-06-2012-0155

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