Hiding Healthy Foods

The following is an archived post

Recently, while en route to one of our schools, I was listening to the radio and heard about an interesting study published in the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition, conducted by Dr. Barbara Rolls of Penn State University and colleagues. With the rationale that obesity rates are rising amongst children and that children are not eating enough vegetables, the team modified the standard recipes for three familiar foods (zucchini bread for breakfast, pasta with a tomato-based sauce for lunch and chicken noodle casserole for dinner) to see whether or not they could increase vegetable intake/reduce caloric intake without being noticed by the child participants. On three separate days (for 39 children ages 3-6), they added a variety of puréed vegetables to reduce the calories in those entrées by 15 percent and 25 percent. Puréed items included broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes and squash.

The findings?

The children consumed nearly twice as many vegetables and 11% fewer calories over the course of a day. Researchers feel that these methods may really help to address the childhood obesity crisis as well as enhance overall diet.

Some have criticized this as hiding food along the lines of the Sneaky Chef or akin to the recipes in cookbooks like Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. Many nutrition professionals have often spoken out against hiding food, not only because it prevents direct exposure to new foods to increase familiarity, but also because it accepts the idea that vegetables/healthy foods are generally unappealing.

Dr. Rolls calls this recipe enhancement and feels that “a little mealtime deception is not a problem as long as parents continue to employ a variety of methods to increase kids’ exposure to veggies through snacks and side dishes.”

I have to agree with her. I was never one for say, hiding broccoli in brownies, because it doesn’t make sense to me. First, broccoli and brownies don’t go together. Second, why hide the healthy food in a dessert or “treat” item that will likely have higher amounts of fat and sugar and lower amounts of quality nutrients? But including vegetables unnoticed where it makes sense, like sauces, casseroles, or other baked goods certainly seems to more good than harm, as long as there is consistent focus on healthy eating and trying different foods.


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