Adventures in Veggies

parents get creative with veggies to stay ahead of the childhood obesity problem

Trevor Kupfer, photos by Ricci Wagner

The enemy?
The enemy?

With the national childhood obesity problem and the rise of sustainable local eating, parents are increasingly concerned with staying ahead of the curve on their child’s nutrition. But with kids’ natural hatred for vegetables, what is a parent to do? Well it’s by no means a new concept, but “hiding healthy” in kids foods has a lot of recent momentum. (And it’s slightly favored over telling your kids to plug their nose when eating something they don’t like.)

“I’ve been doing it a couple of years. That’s when I started asking myself, ‘Have they had a single vegetable today?’ ” says Eau Claire mom of three, Janelle Solberg. “I heard about Jessica Seinfeld and Sneaky Chef and took a few ideas from them, but otherwise I just tried some things out. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve done it and it works.”

In July the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition printed a study by Penn State University that had kids consuming fewer calories, more vegetables, and reporting no complaints about what they were eating. The researchers added pureed vegetables to the favorite foods of 39 kids between ages 3 and 6. The purees included broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes, and squash, and they added them to foods like pasta, casserole, and bread. Their recipes reduced the calories by as much as 25 percent, and gave the kids twice as many vegetable servings.

Jerry Seinfeld’s wife Jessica got famous for this tactic with the 2007 release of Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food. It became a New York Times bestseller, got featured on Oprah, and reached No. 1 on Amazon. She followed it up with Double Delicious: Good, Simple Food for Busy, Complicated Lives in 2010. Her breed of the puree method includes a recipe for mac’n cheese with butternut squash or cauliflower, brownies with carrot and spinach, grilled cheese with bean spread, and chicken nuggets with broccoli, spinach, sweet potato, or beet. Find recipes and more info at

Another New York Times bestseller in the same vein is The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals, which also employs the puree method, but this time with a color-coded system. Missy Chase Lapine’s more than 300 recipes each contain at least one puree that you can make in bulk batches. The green puree is a combination of baby spinach, broccoli, and sweet peas, while the purple puree is baby spinach, blueberries, and lemon juice. Find recipes and more info at (Other recent books include Sneaky Veggies: How to Get Vegetables Under the Radar and The Art of Hiding Vegetables. There are also loads of blogs on the topic.)

Above: Onions.
Above: Onions.

For Solberg’s 8, 6, and 4 year-olds, she gets particularly sneaky with muffins and smoothies. For muffins she packs in butternut squash and sweet potatoes, while the fruit-and-yogurt smoothies amazingly mix with items like carrots, spinach, and hard-boiled eggs. (She also recommends spinach for burgers and spaghetti.)

Some have argued against the hiding veggies movement, saying it deceives the kids and suggests to them that whole vegetables aren’t cool. So many encourage enhancing this strategy by also serving veggies and fruits as snacks and sides – especially the ones they’re openly happy with. 

“Vegetables need to be a part of our diets every day, and with this method at least kids are getting them, but I always recommend introducing them to vegetables and proteins right away so you don’t have to trick them,” says Jodi Swartz, chiropractor and nutrition educator with Stucky Chiropractic. “If you start with carbs and sugars, they’ll have a taste for them and always expect that. We’ve realized that that’s what’s happened, to the point that now everything – even mustard! – has sugar in it so we like it.”

For parents who are too late for the “start early” method, local mom Shannon Paulus recommends experimenting with how you prepare vegetables, and finding ways your kids like. For her, it’s about helping kids like vegetables, not just consuming them without knowing it.

“My priority is not to see how many veggies I can get into my kids, but to help them develop a good relationship with food, and to be open to trying new things,” says the mother of two and wife of V1’s Mike Paulus. “If they don’t even know they’re eating (and enjoying) turnips, they will never realize that they love them!”