It's tempting: Just slip some pureed spinach into the spaghetti sauce and watch with glee while your kids gobble it up. They just ate a whole serving of spinach—the same veggie they wouldn't even touch on their plates last week. They didn't notice, and you totally got away with it. It seems too good to be true!
I think it is.
Hiding vegetables in kids' food definitely has immediate, short-term benefits: Your kids will get some vegetable servings and a few more nutrients at mealtime. You'll get some peace of mind that they got something green at dinner, even if they didn't know it was there.
But what about the long term? Your child isn't learning to actually like vegetables—and you can be sure your kids won't be pureeing cauliflower into mac-n-cheese in their college dorm rooms! Children need to learn to enjoy the taste and texture of the real deal, even if that takes a while (and by "a while" I mean months or even years for some kids). Even worse, when your kids discover what you're doing (and they eventually will!) they may feel tricked and angry. You want your kids to trust you with their food—not be eyeing everything you serve them, wondering what you've done to it.
Believe me, we have challenges around here when it comes to veggies. But I'd rather see my son take just one or two bites of broccoli at dinner because he wants to, than eat cookies with pureed broccoli snuck inside.
So here's my advice: If you want to make black bean brownies, zucchini cake, spinach smoothies, or pasta sauce with pureed vegetables, go for it! Just let your kids know what's inside—or enlist them to help you make it. They just might enjoy seeing how veggies can be transformed in different ways. But no matter what, keep offering whole vegetables at meals and snacks too.
And be wary of processed foods boasting hidden veggies inside, like pasta sauce, noodles, and even crackers. After all, there's a big trade-off to getting your veggie servings this way: These foods often contain added sodium, sugar, and artificial ingredients. And not only do these stealth vegetables lack the fiber of the real deal, but they've also likely lost most of their nutrient content during processing too.
How do YOU feel about hiding vegetables in kids' food?
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.