Should You Hide the Veggies?

Little boy eats his meal while being entertained by a tablet computer

Lots of parents exhausted by negotiating meals with their children try to make sure their little ones get their daily dose of veggies by sneaking ’em into other foods. What a kid doesn’t know can still help them, right? And recently, snack food makers have jumped on the bandwagon by offering parents kiddie products that masquerade as regular junk food but in fact have a secret veggie ingredient. But if you’ve been hiding peas in your kid’s burgers or buying sneakily healthy snack foods in the supermarket, listen up: A new study says hiding vegetables may be a useless and unnecessary practice.

Critics of the vegetable hiding method say it doesn’t exactly encourage healthy eating habits. If you hide the good stuff, how are kids supposed to learn to choose them for themselves as they grow up?

Now researchers say that hiding veggies might not even be a factor in whether or not the kid eats them.

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers tested children’s preferences for vegetable-laced sweets versus regular sweets. What the kids in the experiment didn’t know was that the sweets they were tasting were both the same – both the chocolate chip cookie and the chickpea chocolate chip cookie actually contained chickpeas, but only one batch was in a labelled package that said clearly “chickpea.” Then they did the same with “broccoli ginger spice cake.”

What the researchers found was that the more familiar the child was with the vegetable (for example, broccoli), the more likely she would like the labeled broccoli ginger spice cake pretty much the same as the one that pretended it was just ginger spice cake. But if the child was unfamiliar with the hidden vegetable (for example, chickpeas), she would prefer the unlabeled “chocolate chip cookie” over the labelled “chickpea chocolate chip cookie.” What does that tell us? It says that children are neophobes – they afraid of new foods. If the food is familiar and tastes pretty much like a sweet, there’s no fear factor and no benefit in hiding it.

Bottom line: Your kid’s going to get over neophobia if you introduce him to a variety of veggies. Once that’s done, you can go ahead and buy the broccoli-cauliflower chocomarshmallow ice cream Sunday and he’ll eat it. Maybe.

Have you ever tried hiding vegetables in you child’s food?