Missy Chase Lapine’s The Speedy Sneaky Chef released this morning full of ideas on how to sneak more fruit and vegetables into family dishes to increase the nutritional quality of their meals. We have to ask though – is sneaking in the good-for-you foods sending the right message to your kids about healthy eating?
In her 2022 book The Sneaky Chef, Lapine inspired parents to “sneak” fruit and vegetables into their children’s meals by adding fruit or vegetable purees into unexpected dishes, like spinach puree to a pan of brownies. Her latest book offers readers 75 all-new healthy recipes that they can prepare, relying on convenience foods like jarred tomato sauce, boxed macaroni and cheese and prepared pancake mixes.
While adding fruits and vegetables to packaged foods will inarguably up their nutritional ante, there are pros and cons to relying on bags, boxes and jars to get dinner on the table. Though Lapine recommends only the highest quality products, even some natural and organic options, the reality of today’s economic times is that many families will opt for lower-priced packaged foods, many of which contain artificial dyes, high-fructose corn syrup and other highly processed ingredients with little to no nutritional value..
“It is more important to celebrate produce and get kids excited about eating different foods,” said Melissa Graham, founder and executive director of Purple Aspargus, a non-profit organization that educates children, families and the community about eating what’s good for the body and the planet. “I think that [the sneaky] approach suggests to kids that produce is something to be ashamed of, something you shouldn’t like.”
Some of Lapine’s recipes and cooking tips encourage parents to get more creative in the kitchen when it comes to eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. For example: adding vegetable purees to marinara sauce or fruit purees to baked goods.
“It’s very important to me that my children like foods for what they are,” said Sarah Caron, food writer at Sarah’s Cucina Bella. “[They eat] produce raw, steamed, roasted and a dozen other ways. For some parents, sneaking nutrients in [to kids’ food] can give them peace of mind, but I think parents should encourage kids to have an open mind about food first and foremost.”
If children are consistently eating fruits and vegetables in disguise, they might never develop a palate for fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. Instead of using deception, opt for some of these tried-and-true tactics from parents who have converted picky eaters into veggie-lovers.
“When babies are just starting to eat solids, you generally introduce a new food every week or two. And as they learn to like foods, you can start doing combinations and whatnot. As children get older, it can be harder to introduce new foods. But I’ve found with my kids that making it fun helps — for instance, my kids were psyched to try starfruits this fall since they are naturally shaped like a star. You can always make veggies into shapes using mini cookie cutters, too.”
Brandi Koskie, Managing Editor, Diets In Review
“With my daughter, if we want her to try something new we put it on our own plate first. She inevitably wants whatever we’re eating and I end up unloading my share on to her plate. I also let her be in the kitchen while I’m prepping, and again, her curiosity kills and she wants a bite. Yesterday while snapping green beans I gave her a whole one.”
Melissa Graham, Executive Director, Purple Asparagus
“Let kids get involved with cooking – especially when there are fun gadgets involved. In our cooking classes, we bring in supplies of kid-sized equipment like tiny whisks, rubber spatulas and bowls. Our measuring cups and spoons are colorful and kid-friendly. Give kids the proper sized tools and you’ll have to shoo them out of the kitchen instead of cajoling them in.”
The bottom line? Use fruit purees to enhance the nutritious foods or to supplement or add more variety to your meals, but don’t rely on them to create your weekly menus. Focus on celebrating fresh fruits and vegetables so that your kids will naturally choose the apple slices instead of brownies – even if they are packed with spinach.