How to hide foods for fussy eaters
Hiding nutritious ingredients in food for children seems to be a growing trend. Whether it is cauliflower in Mac & Cheese or beans in brownies or spinach in berry smoothies, there are books and websites dedicated to the craft.
I totally get why this is really tempting. Especially if you have a fussy eater, and they are not eating a wide range of foods.
Finding ways you can fuel a child without the battles and the food refusals seems like a no-brainer.
However, I have three pieces of advice around this.
No.1 – don’t
No.2 – don’t
No.3 – still not a good idea!
Why not hide foods for fussy eaters?
I appreciate that as a parent it’s really tough to watch a child plow through a kilo of carbs and ignore anything of colour that’s not straight out of a packet. And how tempting it is to mix in a bit of spinach with the morning smoothie or grated zucchini (no skin of course) into a burger.
But, I still say it’s not a great long-term strategy and I can think of at least 10 reasons why I wouldn’t advocate it.
10 reasons not to hide for fussy eaters
1. We are the most important relationship for our child. I believe that trust between us and our child is critical for a strong bond whether it’s in the eating department or not. If we break that trust, who can they turn to?
2. If our child is at all food anxious then finding something unexpected in their food can be truly distressing. Coming across a piece of zucchini in the muffin for a child who doesn’t like veg is similar to us finding a hair in ours. It would certainly put me off!
3. We will almost always get found out. This makes selling our child on that food, or other foods much more challenging. I have seen children refuse to eat a favourite food – EVER AGAIN – as they have found an ingredient in there they weren’t expecting.
4. If we do get caught it can set us back. This is especially worrying if we have a child who is already existing on limited choices.
5. If we lose trust our child may approach all future offerings hesitantly. It’s really frustrating to watch a child pick through their food at every meal to convince themselves that what’s on their plate is what they’re expecting.
6. It does not teach a child to eat a food. If we only ever mix the cauliflower into the mash, how can they learn to appreciate cauliflower as well, cauliflower!
7. Are we learning to love a food that is hidden? No!
8. It can make cooking and prepping very difficult and secretive. Can you only do the smoothie when your child is out of the room?
9. Your child doesn’t realise that they actually are able to eat a certain food and for it to be okay. Knowing they can eat something that they believed was out of the comfort zone can be really empowering.
10. In my opinion, the short-term boost in nutrition is not worth the potential downsides.
Integrating foods for fussy eaters
This does not mean that I don’t advocate mixing some extra veg into the pizza sauce or adding some grated carrot to meatballs etc. In fact, I think this is an excellent idea.
If veg are a bit of a challenge then adding them to other accepted foods is often an easier way for a child to eat them, especially initially. I am all for ease and if that means pureeing veg into a sauce, for example, then great.
I work with teen clients, and we look for easy ways that they are able to manage new foods. It’s not ‘cheating’ to have capsicum but blitzed into a tomato sauce. If it’s easier, why not mix certain foods into dishes so that they are not ‘noticeable’.
But there is a big difference between adding and consciously hiding.
Long-term we want to create a positive approach to food and feeding and a big part of that revolves around trust. Knowing what we expect is what is going to arrive on the plate is a key part of enjoying food.
If I go to a restaurant and order a soup that is advertised as creamy, that’s what I’m expecting to eat. If it comes with lots of fennel (not my favourite flavour) I would be seriously disappointed.
A child who is anxious around food could be put off a dish for a long period if they suddenly find some unannounced addition.
I have a great story about a tween who had almost a phobia about onions, but every night ate a specific pasta sauce from a jar. It was tomato-based but had pureed onions in the ingredients list. One night she prepared the dish for herself for dinner.
Part way through the meal she was really distressed as she found a chunk of onion on her plate. Accusations flew but then she realised that she had put the meal together.
A quick dash into the kitchen and a read of the ingredients on the jar confirmed for her that the pasta sauce was the source as it had onions listed alongside the tomato.
Luckily, her mum had been working on her food fears for a while, so they were able to talk about the onion rationally. They discussed how even though it wasn’t a food she would willingly eat it was often added to sauces to improve the flavour.
The sauce was also something she had happily been eating for a while.
I know that many children do find foods that are ‘hidden’ from sight while still knowing they are in there easier to contemplate.
But for many picky eaters, particularly if your child is younger or more anxious then finding something in their food when they are not expecting it could be really upsetting.
Instead, building trust is important. If they do trust us, then they know that we would never intentionally try to trick them. For me hiding is really just deception and that doesn’t sit well. However, when that trust is strong then we may be able to rescue a situation like this where a rogue piece of onion is found.
Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear from you. Is hiding something you use as a good way to boost nutrition? Are you reluctant to stop as you feel without it your child’s diet would be far worse?
If this is the case I’d love to have a chat.
Judith, MA Cantab (Cambridge University), Post Grad Dip Psychology (Massey University), is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/