To hide or not to hide – the million dollar question for many parents. Today I share why you might consider ‘hiding’ foods, but how to avoid having to do it forever. There are (short term) advantages and (long term) disadvantages to ‘hiding’ food – here are my thoughts on the great debate.
Hiding to correct nutritional deficiency
Nutritional deficiency affects a child’s desire and palate for food, this I know. So when a child is fussy because they have developed a nutritional deficiency (because they eat poor quality or a poor variety of foods), hiding as much nourishment as possible can go a long way to correcting the deficiency and reinstating a desire to eat whole foods. Many adults recognise that the better they eat, the more they want to eat better. The same goes for children. So this is the overwhelming advantage of hiding foods, but it is NOT a long term solution.
Not a total solution
‘Hiding’ food is all well and good when they are little, however, you won’t be hiding avocado in their smoothie or zucchini in their pasta sauce when they are 20! Whilst ‘hiding’ food can promote better nutrition and, therefore, more desire for healthier foods, you are teaching your kids nothing about the importance of eating ‘whole’ real foods.
I tend to look at including (for example) grated or pureed vegetables in a meal as ‘boosting’ the nutritional potential, flavour and texture of a meal rather than ‘hiding’ it. But for arguments sake in this post, we’ll call it ‘hiding.’
How to hide and at the same time, develop a love of whole foods
So as well as ‘hiding’ food, there are a few important things I’d strongly encourage you to consider:
- Firstly, you might have a number of vegetables ‘hidden’ in that Bolognese, but I’d strongly encourage you to also present them (or other veggies) on the same plate in their ‘whole’ or a recognisable form. The purpose of this is if you don’t serve ‘obvious’ veggies, you are ultimately saying that it’s okay to eat a meal without vegetables and this definitely doesn’t serve them well in creating healthy eating habits for the future.
- Hiding food is good for establishing peace of mind that they are deriving more goodness than they realise from what you have served. So that even if they don’t touch the whole forms, you can let it go without stress or fuss or feeling like you need to offer them something else to eat. Replacing a refused meal, or part thereof is a big no-no in my book. Rather than getting upset or angry if they reject the obvious veggies, why not put them on your own plate and pass a positive comment like “yum, I’m having these if you won’t eat them, I want to make sure I’m really strong.” If you have an older child you could also ask for their help and get them to tuck into anything your younger child is rejecting (kids love to feel grown up and helping).
- So always hedge your bets if dealing with a fussy kid by hiding and serving veggies on the first plate you serve. If they do eat some or all of the whole form you can congratulate them, reward them if you like and feel satisfied that they have had a really great meal and you are building a fantastic food appreciation and healthy future.
- Depending upon your child and their personality, at some stage, you should consider sharing what they are actually eating. If you choose to reveal the hidden ingredients, you do so to demonstrate that the vegetables can taste great in this form, not to prove you have the one-up on them. You don’t want to create any mistrust with food, so choose how you do this wisely. It needs to be presented in a really positive way. I always confirm that my kids really enjoyed their dinner before I share hidden ingredients. Once they say how good it is I might say something like ‘do you know you had three extra serves of vegetables in your dinner tonight – imagine how much stronger/ faster/ smarter (whatever will appeal) that will make you’? Even though you might be feeling very smug – sharing your ‘nutritional’ win in a ‘ha ha I tricked you’ way, will only build resentment and work against you in the long run.
So that’s it on hiding it. Do so to ‘boost’ the nutritional value of the meal but present ‘obvious’ food also and keep chipping away with all of the other tips I’ve shared for fixing food fussiness (you can catch up on some of my past ideas here).