Does Deception Belong at the Dinner Table?

"These recipes require a huge amount of time and effort," said Weiss. "I'd rather parents channel their energy into making vegetables more appealing to kids than to give up too quickly."

Weiss and Bissex tested some of the recipes in "Deceptively Delicious" to see whether they worked and, more importantly, to see how nutritious they really were. Nutritional analysis of the recipes was not included in the book, which they thought was a "red flag." Several of the recipes they analyzed provided a measly amount of vegetables — some only about one tablespoon per serving. They also didn't think they tasted very good.

"The great irony is that these foods that are attempting to mask the taste of vegetables didn't taste good," said Weiss, who thought many didn't look good either.

"Green chicken nuggets are not exactly kid friendly," she said.

"The recipes seemed to focus mainly on sneaking in small amounts of vegetables and, in many cases, missed the boat on overall good nutrition," said Bissex.

For example, a recipe for chocolate pudding included pureed avocado but surprisingly no milk, so it provided no bone-building calcium. It was also high in sugar (10 teaspoons per half-cup serving) and contained, oddly, uncooked cornstarch that gave it a gritty texture, she said.

Weiss and Bissex agree with the concept of boosting the nutrient density of the foods kids eat — such as adding grated carrots to meat balls or finely diced bell peppers to pasta sauce — but disagree with the "deceptive" approach. They're also concerned that the recipes help fuel the concept of "kid food."

Exposure, Not Entreaties, Make Kids Eat Healthier

Seinfeld readily admits that she resorted to these stealth tactics with her children because she grew tired of "bribing them, begging them, whining at them" to eat their vegetables.

But studies show that pressure like this doesn't work. When you bribe or force children to eat certain foods, they like those foods less.

Nutrition experts recommend giving your kids time and multiple opportunities to enjoy vegetables.

"We should be making vegetables taste good with seasonings and sauces and dips, and not apologizing for them," said Delmonico. "If we do that, children will learn to eat vegetables the same way they learn to eat other foods: by seeing parents eat it, looking, smelling, slowly tasting and learning to enjoy."

Nutritionists say engaging kids in selecting and preparing vegetables are good ways to make veggies more appealing. Trips to farmers markets and even growing your own vegetables help too.

Salomon believes the stealth approach is simply not sustainable.

"Let's face it: Moms may buy the book and cook and puree for a few weeks, but I don't think this is going to change the way America eats," she said. "It's a gimmick and gimmicks don't usually stick around for long."

Janet Helm is a Chicago-based registered dietitian and nutrition/culinary consultant.

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