As a longtime health reporter, I’ve interviewed plenty of nutrition experts who recommend “hiding” extra vegetables in unexpected dishes. It’s a smart way to boost the vitamin, mineral and fiber content of everything from spaghetti sauce and casseroles to cookies and banana bread. But is it the best way to get reluctant young eaters to embrace produce?
The question can spark a food fight. Plenty of children’s health experts say it’s better for kids to be aware of the veggies they’re eating – otherwise how will they ever learn to like broccoli and carrots and even Brussels sprouts and start choosing them on their own? Of course, that can launch its own food fight in your house. “Eat the green beans.” “NO.” “Eat one – come on, just one.”
With less than 30 percent of kids and teens eating the recommended five servings of fruit and veggies a day, the “hide it or show it” question matters. A brand-new Columbia University study of elementary schoolers managed to test the two approaches with some unusual food pairings. The kids sampled gingerbread–broccoli spice cake, chickpea chocolate-chip cookies and zucchini chocolate-chip bread. Half were told about the unusual vegetable addition, half weren’t. After munching, researchers asked them how they liked the treats. The interesting thing was, kids thought the broccoli-laced cake and zucchini-infused bread were just fine. They weren’t too happy about the chickpeas in the cookies – kids who knew they were there gave them much lower ratings than kids who didn’t know there was a legume in their dessert.
The lessons for parents? Kids probably won’t notice hidden veggies. And when they’re familiar with a veggie, they don’t mind knowing they’re eating it. In the study, kids were already at home eating broccoli and zucchini, but most hadn’t had chickpeas very often. The Columbia University say its proof that familiarity makes the palate grow fonder.