"Eat your broccoli."

It's a phrase that parents find themselves repeating over and over, often on a daily basis. Most children won't list broccoli or any other vegetable when you ask them about their favorite foods. Parents, however, know that fruits and vegetables are important parts of a child's diet, and so we're always looking for new ways to encourage them to eat these healthy, nutrient-dense foods.

How to Encourage Healthy Eating

If you're struggling with a child who doesn't like fruits and vegetables, you're not alone. But there are several strategies you can employ. For example, you can:

  • Plant a garden with your kids. They're more likely to try a vegetable that has grown from a seed they planted themselves.
     
  • Get creative. Young children especially enjoy food that has been crafted into funny faces or animal shapes.
     
  • Model healthy habits. If your children don't see you eating your veggies, how can you expect them to do it?
     
  • Educate them. Teach them how fruits and vegetables help their bodies feel better, and how junk food can make them feel worse.
     
  • Hide the healthy stuff in foods you know they enjoy.

Yes, that last suggestion was to hide the healthy stuff. Now, there's a debate as to whether this is a good thing. Some parents and experts believe that kids need to know where their food comes from and understand how it affects their bodies, and that we can't educate them about food choices if we're sneaking stuff in and not being honest about what we're feeding them.

Other parents are less concerned with their children's understanding of nutrition than they are with finding some way, any way, to get healthy food into their growing bodies. These parents don't care why their children won't eat vegetables, or who is to blame. They just want the vegetables eaten.

If you fall into this category, hiding fruits and veggies in kid-friendly favorites like cupcakes and macaroni and cheese just might be the solution you are looking for.

How to Hide Vegetables in Kid-Friendly Food

If you like the idea of hiding fruits, vegetables, and healthy extras in your kid's favorite meals, there are two resources you need. The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine and Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld were both published in 2007, and have proven remarkably popular with parents ever since. Both cookbooks are based on the premise that you can puree fruits and vegetables in order to hide them in a number of kid-friendly recipes.

In Deceptively Delicious, you'll find recipes like:

  • Scrambled eggs (with cauliflower)
  • Spaghetti and Meatballs (with butternut squash)
  • Chicken Nuggets (with broccoli or spinach)
  • Chocolate Cupcakes (with avocado and cauliflower)

Recipes in The Sneaky Chef include:

  • Maxed Out Meatloaf (with spinach, broccoli, and green peas)
  • Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup (with white beans)
  • Masterful Mac 'n' Cheese (with cauliflower and zucchini)
  • Thumbprint Peanut Butter Cookies (with sweet potato and carrots)

Is It Wrong to Hide the Vegetables?

Personally, I'm not a big fan of the idea of spending my time stocking my freezer with a variety of fruit and vegetable purees, which is what both authors suggest. I made my own baby food exactly once before I decided that it was easier to wait until my baby was a little older and I could just mash up the food on my plate with my fork, and I'm not about to start pureeing wildly now that I don't even have a baby in the house.

That said, I like the idea of boosting the nutrition of meals I make for my family, and it isn't hard to occasionally puree some veggies in the blender for a particular recipe. My kids aren't terrible about eating healthy foods, but they're not great about it either, and everyone in our family (adults included) would benefit from the consumption of extra fruits and vegetables.

In fact, very few Americans of any age actually eat as many servings of fruits and vegetables as we should, so I think we can all benefit from learning new ways to add them to our diet. Sure, you can argue that it's wrong to deceive our kids by putting spinach in brownies instead of teaching them to enjoy it in a salad, but on the other hand, wouldn't most of us benefit from the addition of extra spinach in our diet, no matter how it gets there?

The Sneaky Chef vs. Deceptively Delicious: Which Book Is Better?

In my opinion, the recipes in The Sneaky Chef are more appealing and easier to make than those in Deceptively Delicious, and it's also a more comprehensive resource overall. Lapine includes lots of extra tips and information about how to encourage healthy eating, and also offers many "quick fixes" for how to improve convenient favorites like boxed macaroni and cheese, brownie mix, and even Jello.

Seinfeld's book is good too, though, and in the end I think it's just a matter of personal preference. If you're looking for creative ways to improve your children's meals and encourage healthy eating, check out both The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious.

And if you're lucky, you may never have to remind your kids to eat their broccoli again!

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