Well April Fool’s day got me to thinking. I tried to be the fun mom and though I rarely use food coloring or dyes I have some on hand from the last birthday party. I decided to try the cereal trick – you know I added a couple drops of green coloring to the bottom of Little Miss Mixture’s cereal bowl before she came down. I poured her milk and nothing happened so I went about my morning routine. About the third spoon she took into her bowl, the tears began falling. The green coloring was beginning to seep to the top and as with most pranks it was not accepted as I envisioned.
As a mother and a dietitian I have mixed views on this whole idea of hiding food for our children. We all remember Jessica Seinfeld and how she brought the spotlight to herself with her cookbook Deceptively Delicious and last week Healthy Kids twitted on this topic. But who are we really fooling? Do we think that just because we hide food and get our kids to eat the spinach, carrots, or other healthy foods that we are helping them? Is it just for moms to feel good that their children are eating a more balanced diet? Do we think that hiding food and telling them at a later time what they ate will expand their food preferences?
I understand we cannot all be as lucky as I have been. Little Miss Mixture is a great eater. In fact she is often more openminded than Mr. Mixture, but if the only way we can get vegetables and other foods into anyone than we are not building healthy eating habits. I often make foods that are on the line of being deceptive, such as this delicious Deep Dish Chocolate Chip Cookie or Chocolate Avocado Pudding, but if anyone asks what is in it, I tell them. I am not hiding it because I have to, when it comes to these types of foods I am making them out of pure curiosity on my own part. I have a sweet tooth, so if I can satisfy that with some healthier items I am going to give it a try. I want to trick my mind problem is I know the ingredients. But hiding veggies and other items just to ensure a balanced diet I do not think I agree with this practice.
I can still recall my little sister was pickier than I. One particular occasion I remember she did not want to eat her peas. My parents asked her to eat one for everyone she loved. Yup you guessed it she not only ate what was on her plate, but wanted more to ensure she ate one for everyone. Was this deceptive, maybe in a a way but at least a parent can feel honest about this and say “look you seemed to enjoy your peas.” Do we want our children to grow up and need their veggies hidden in order to eat a balanced meal? I get it we all have this desire to do what is best for our kids. To give them everything they need to compete in our ever more demanding society, but is this really give them an edge? Sure for 18 years or so you can ensure they eat their veggies because you are determined to get them in, but what happens when they make their own food choices. Will never eating a vegetable after they move out of your house be okay? Will they become the individual who is closed minded about trying new foods.
I have a father in law whom eats less variety than his grandchildren. Take away that he has a nut allergy and avoids spicy foods, there are a lot of foods in this world. He is your cheese pizza and vanilla ice cream guy, and not even Vanilla Bean ice cream that would be too much. I think each time he has eaten at my house or I have brought food to a family get together he is introduced to something new. At times with reluctance he will try, and I believe I have even taught him to eat some new foods in the past ten years. In his defense there was less variety in foods during his upbringing and we all know change is hard for some people. The are a multitude of sayings that we all know regarding just this… “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” So maybe we will go easy on our prior generations.
However I think the idea of hiding food is a newer one and we have not yet seen the effects it will have. In an ideal world we offer vegetables, they are accepted. Recently I have heard of lots of people who take the non accepted food and bury it in a kid friendly recipe and hope it gets accepted. Fast forward 20 years and we could end up with an individual who has a broad spectrum of consumable foods or we could have a very picky eater.
So the next time you go to “hide” food consider the audience. Let’s teach our children to expand their repertoire with hands on experiences. Take your child to the farmers market, let them taste. Plant some vegetables yourself or have them plant something and watch it grow. Chances are they will be fascinated and want to try. Mix up a smoothie or something creative and show how things can taste good. There is nothing wrong with trying to sneak some extra healthy food in from time to time, but please consider who is truly benefiting from “hiding” food.
“. . . and a child cannot afford to be fooled” James Baldwin