In a 2010 post, “To Sneak or Not to Sneak: Hiding Healthful Ingredients in Kids’ Food,” I expressed my ambivalence this way:
Maybe it’s just a sense that I’m violating the basic trust that ought to exist between any cook and any diner: if you know I have an aversion to a certain food (rightly or wrongly), is it fair to nonetheless slip it into my meal?
But three years later, in “Learn From My Mistakes: A Story of Food Sneaking Gone Horribly Awry,” I described how, after buying a Vitamix blender, I just couldn’t resist slipping some carrots into my veggie-avoiding son’s smoothie. Here’s what happened:
… my carrot-hating son took a sip and actually said, “This is the BEST juice ever! You can make this for me every day if you want.”
Wow! The script was playing out just like the movie in my head, only better! All I had to do was keep my mouth shut and start planning tomorrow’s kale and spinach – oops, I mean “green apple” — smoothie.
But, dear readers, I just couldn’t do it. One look at that sweet, trusting face and I felt utterly wracked with guilt. If you have an aversion to eating snails but I just know you’d love escargots if only you’d try them, do I have the right pass them off to you as mushrooms? Even if you’re my own child, I think I do not. And as hard as it is for me to understand it, the feeling many people have about eating snails — utter disgust — is exactly how my son feels about eating carrots.
So I took a deep breath and confessed. It told him I’d added “a little bit” of carrot, hoping he’d remember it was the “BEST juice ever” and just move on.
Well, he did not move on. He looked totally distressed – almost to he point of tears – and then quite angrily reminded me that I’d once told him I was not the kind of mom who would ever sneak things into his food. And what could I say? He was absolutely right. I’d been a complete hypocrite. And of course he wouldn’t take another sip of the juice.
Since then, I’ve never again engaged in true sneaking, which I define as secretly adding a vegetable pureé to a recipe that otherwise would never call for it, like putting spinach in brownies. (I do, however, continue to work as many veggies as I can into our meals, such as using a heavy hand with fresh herbs, onions and mushrooms in a pasta dish.)
I was thinking about all of this when I read in the School Nutrition Association‘s latest Smart Brief newsletter about a pilot study in which schools added a pureé of beans, tomato paste and carrots to school food entreés in order to boost their nutritional content. The results of the study won’t surprise any parent who’s engaged in veggie-sneaking at home: up to a point, kids didn’t detect the recipe change but once the amount of added pureé passed a certain threshold, kids started rejecting the entreé. The study authors concluded that “adding puréed vegetables to lunch entrées may be an effective strategy to increase vegetable consumption and reduce energy intake of elementary school children. School nutrition programs can benefit by helping meet vegetable and nutrient requirements and reducing plate waste.”
Putting aside the difficulties some schools would face in adding pureés — specifically, a lack of equipment and labor — I decided that I’m actually OK — I think?? — with veggie-sneaking in the school context. To my mind, it’s somehow different to slip carrots past my son at home when I know he hates carrots, but if he took a carrot-filled entreé off an impersonal lunch line, then no one is knowingly breaching his trust. The school is just serving a dish as it chooses — and it chooses to include carrot pureé.
That said, I do have one big caveat. Whether at home or at school, food sneaking should never be a substitute for also serving vegetables in their whole state, or else children will never grow to like these critically important foods in their own right. So while I’d be fine with sneaking carrot puree into school pizza sauce, I would be very troubled if districts used that practice to meet their federal “red/orange vegetable” requirement, rather than serving items like baby carrots or roasted sweet potatoes. Given the budgetary constraints schools are under, maybe that caveat alone would make veggie-sneaking unattractive to schools.
So what do you think of all this? Are my views about veggie-sneaking as muddled and illogical as ever? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.
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