The childhood obesity rate has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Dietary increases in sugar, processed and fast foods, picky eating and insufficient consumption of fruits and vegetables all have contributed to the obesity crisis – made worse by the rise in screen time and decline in exercise. Diabetes is just one of the diseases that is rising because of our children’s declining health, with one in every three kids now predicted to develop diabetes in their lifetime. Heart disease is now affecting people far younger than ever before. According to the CDC, 70% of obese youth aged 5 – 17 had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Health problems translate into high medical costs as well. People who are obese are faced with medical bills that are 42% higher than normal weight people (The New England Journal of Medicine). It is estimated that our nation’s obesity epidemic’s yearly price tag is already more than $147 billion, over 9% of all U.S. healthcare spending (The CDC.) Annual obesity-related health care costs are projected to rise by nearly $265 billion a year between 2008 and 2018.
According to a new study out of Penn State, hiding vegetables into foods resulted in kids consuming twice as many vegetables, and 11% fewer calories overall. Barbara Rolls, the Helen A. Guthrie Chair in Nutritional Sciences at Penn State hails this method as a good way to get kids to eat more veggies, lower their overall calorie intake, and therefore battle childhood obesity. Considering all of these factors, I was surprised to read a blog posted on Yahoo Shine this weekend entitled, Should You Trick the Kids Into Eating More Veggies? I assumed that the conclusion would be a resounding – “Yes!” Especially if the kids happily eat them, and the taste is not negatively affected. But surprisingly, the author of the blog does not think this is a good approach.
The author had two main concerns with the “sneaky’ method. First up, he felt that hiding veggies does not teach kids anything. I disagree. Repeated exposures to foods helps to “train” or teach our taste buds to develop an affinity for those foods. So in addition to enhancing the nutrition and fiber content of the foods, adding purees to foods allows the taste buds to be exposed to foods that they might not normally be exposed to. After kids eat foods that contain purees in them, when they have the opportunity to try those vegetables on their own, they might have developed their palate for them. I agree that hiding vegetables does not teach kids to eat the actual vegetable, but Deceptively Delicious and the other cookbooks that enhance foods with purees suggest continuing to serve actual veggies on the plate as well.
The other issue that the author has with hiding vegetables in foods – is that he thinks that we are essentially tricking our kids when we “hide” things in their foods. But how often do we actually tell our children all the ingredients that go into a dish anyway? People often change the ingredients on a recipe – whether it is adding a spice, or swapping an ingredient – that doesn’t mean we are lying to our kids. It just means we are improving the recipe. Or in our house, we turned it into a guessing game. “Guess what the secret ingredient is in these buttered noodles or pancakes?” My kids loved to try to figure out the secret ingredient, and were happy that they got to eat a serving a veggies without even knowing it! In many cases, they preferred the version with the purees!
A former picky eater myself, and a parent of a (semi-reformed) picky eater, I am a big fan of the Deceptively Delicious and The Sneaky Chef cookbooks, that popularized foods enhanced with vegetable and fruit purees. It takes a little additional effort to plan, and prepare the purees to add them to the meals. But once you get into the habit of it, and if you can make the purees ahead of time and freeze them, so eventually, it becomes much easier.
Last week I got my hands on and tested out the Baby Bullet, when I saw how easy and fast it was to make beautifully smooth purees, I immediately thought what a cool tool it would be for adding vegetable and fruit purees into kid-friendly foods. When I started to make my own purees a number of years ago – I always used my food processor or blender. The purees in my food processor were not as smooth as the ones made with the Baby Bullet, and the clean up was way more messy. So unless you have a Vitamix blender (which is at least $400), I think the Baby Bullet is a good value at just under $60 (plus shipping). Even if your baby has moved on to finger foods – the Baby Bullet is a great tool. The whole family can benefit from enriching foods with vegetable and fruit purees.
Maybe hiding fruits and veggies in foods won’t solve the obesity crisis, but doubling our vegetable intake and cutting down calorie consumption by 11% certainly can’t hurt. I give it a big thumbs up!
To get more tips for helping transform your picky eater, read 20 Tips for Transforming a Picky Eater.
Friend Sara Vance at Rebalance Life or join Parents of Picky Eaters on Facebook to get and share ideas for helping to transform picky eaters.
If you have a picky eater in your family – you are not alone – most American households have at least one. Picky eaters consume a very narrow range of foods, which tend to be lacking in nutrients and fiber.
Picky eating is very common in toddlers, and as long as parents continue to offer healthy choices and do not cater to their pickiness, many kids will outgrow this stage. But picky kids can become picky adults if allowed to continue eating “kid food.”
Our bodies need antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to support all cellular functions. Picky eaters’ diets tend to be more lacking in vegetables, and contain too many processed foods. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies, lowered immune system, constipation, and even other problems like delayed growth and bone strength/ density problems (read Building Strong Bones in Kids). Eating a highly processed diet also increased the risk for weight gain and all degenerative diseases including heart disease and diabetes later in life.
The younger you can start, the better, because as kids get older – their eating habits get more “set” and difficult to change, and they are more independent – making more decisions on their own. But it is never too late to start improving dietary habits – even picky adults can do it!
Some typical picky eater “profiles”:
20 Tips for Transforming Picky Eaters:
Do not give up!! First of all, realize that transforming a picky eater is no picnic. Some kids can fit more than one of the above “types” of picky eaters, which can make the challenge even more difficult. Don’t expect a picky eater to change overnight – most kids who are picky will need a lot of encouragement, and despite improving, could always be a little on the picky side. But even little improvements in their diet – can add up over time. But realize – it is worth the effort, kids who do not eat a well balanced diet are going to be at an increased risk for diseases later in life. Obesity and diabetes are rising in this country, and changing that starts at home in the kitchen. Keep reminding yourself that it is worth every frustrating minute of your time and energy to help them expand their palate.
If your picky eater does not improve at all after several weeks of trying – it might be worth seeing a specialist. Severe cases of picky eating are called Selective Eating Disorder and can last until adulthood if not treated. The definition of a true eating disorder is defined as abnormal eating habits that cause detriment to health, and can also interfere with social and professional relationships. Read No Age on Picky Eating in the Wall Street Journal to learn more.
Your child’s pediatrician can monitor their growth to make sure they are on track for height and weight. Some picky eaters can be underweight because they do not consume enough foods to maintain their weight, but others can be overweight due to the over-consumption of high calorie, nutrient deficient foods. In both cases, nutrient deficiencies can exist.