Hiding vegetables in food shown effective against childhood obesity

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A new study suggests parents exercise a little creative trickery for the sake of their children’s health and sneak vegetables in their food.

In a feat of well-intentioned but crafty culinary deception, researchers at Pennsylvania State University managed to get preschool children to consume nearly twice as many vegetables and 11 percent fewer calories over the course of a day after stealthily sneaking puréed vegetables into their favorite foods.

The study, published online July 25 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that despite adding puréed broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes and squash into familiar foods like zucchini bread, pasta and tomato sauce and chicken casserole, the kids ate the same weight of food.

Not only did increasing the vegetable quotient up the nutritional value of the meals, the scheme also reduced the calories in the dishes by 15 to 25 percent.

In the experiment, 39 children between the ages of 3 and 6 were served the vegetable-enhanced dishes on three separate days.

Compared to standard-recipe meals, the vegetable intake nearly doubled while their caloric intake decreased by 11 percent.

Study co-author Barbara Rolls defended what some may call a deceptive practice, saying the end justifies the means.

“Regarding children, some people argue that hiding vegetables in foods is deceptive and that doing so suggests that whole vegetables are not acceptable,” she said. “But I don’t agree. Parents modify recipes all the time. For example, it is well-accepted that applesauce can be used to replace oil in cake batter.”

It’s a ploy used by a few major food manufacturers as well. Food giant Kraft, for instance, created headlines when it rolled out a Macaroni & Cheese Dinner Veggie Pasta across the US (Kraft Dinner Smart in Canada), made with pulverized, freeze-dried cauliflower. The powder replaces some of the flour used to make pasta.

The strategy has even spawned a book, The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals, by Missy Chase Lapine, filled with 75 recipes that cleverly hide fruits and vegetables in classic kids’ meals like blueberries in cupcakes, and eight vegetables in spaghetti and meatballs.

For more meal ideas, visit Lapine’s website, http://www.thesneakychef.com/

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