One of the hottest books on children's nutrition to come along in recent years has been Jessica Seinfeld's "Deceptively Delicious."
Written by the wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, the book explains how to grind up and hide vegetables in food — without children knowing about it.
It includes recipes for chicken nuggets doused in a broccoli puree before being breaded and fried, mac and cheese spiked with cauliflower puree, brownies with pureed spinach and other supposedly kid-friendly foods with vegetables smuggled inside.
The book soared to the top of best-seller lists, but it's been embroiled in controversy virtually from the start.
Most of the debate has been over the originality of the recipes, because a strikingly similar cookbook by Missy Chase Lapine titled "The Sneaky Chef," was published six months earlier (and was proposed to Seinfeld's publisher the previous year).
As the authors argue over potential "vegetable plagiarism," nutritionists have focused on the bigger picture. Is the advice being dispensed really good for kids?
Some nutrition experts applaud the concept, encouraging parents to do whatever it takes. Others are grateful that the buzz over the book has at least drawn attention to children's nutrition.
But many nutritionists think the stealth approach sends several wrong messages.
Mary Abbott Hess, a registered dietitian and culinary consultant in Chicago, is worried that the covert strategies reinforce the notion that vegetables are so bad they have to be hidden. She thinks the approach also validates "deception."
Ellyn Satter, a childhood feeding expert and author of "Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming," believes this type of trickery erodes trust.
"Sooner or later, children catch on that they're being tricked," she said. "When this happens, they feel hurt and angry and are set back in their ability to learn and grow."
Satter said the goal of parents should not be to get certain foods into children, but to trust them to push themselves along in learning to enjoy those foods for a lifetime.
Early childhood is a critical time of palate development. When vegetables are hidden, children miss out on the opportunity to acquire a taste for these important foods, said Sharon Salomon, a dietitian and food writer in Phoenix.
"Kids should know what the naked vegetable looks and tastes like or they'll never learn to eat it," she said.
"What's the point of hiding a carrot? If the child likes it, he won't know he likes carrots," said Napa-based dietitian and children's nutrition expert Sanna Delmonico, founder of Tiny Tummies.
"I want him to know, so he'll be more likely to try carrots prepared a different way the next time."
Delmonico said her objection to Seinfeld's approach goes beyond the deceit. She thinks the time-consuming and complicated recipes make extra work for already busy parents.
"Getting children to eat vegetables just isn't that difficult," she said. "Vegetables are delicious and beautiful. We should be highlighting them, not hiding them."
Boston dietitians Liz Weiss and Janice Bissex, co-authors of "The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers," agree. They're worried the book will encourage parents to throw in the towel and give up on offering "real" vegetables to kids.