Veggies: To Hide or Not To Hide? (Zucchini Mint Frittata + Veggie Inspirations for Picky Eaters)

April 15, 2009


yummy-frittata(Oh no--I can't find my camera!!) Photo: Cobalt123

Michelle and I consider ourselves to be flexible. No, really! Even when it comes to eating. But we also realize that our passion for good food and focus on inspiring the same passion in our children may give the impression that we are unwilling to compromise. While that’s true in extreme cases–no McDonald’s for Isaac or Atticus–we compromise and splurge just like every busy parent. How do you not (and stay sane)? And, anyway, what message does it send our kids if we can’t relax and enjoy most foods in moderation without stress?

My most recent compromise? I just took two 3-hour plane rides with Isaac. You better believe my bag was packed with “pecial treats” including a boxed chocolate milk that had almost as much sugar as my can of ginger ale and a bag of super processed mini babybel cheeses. It’s what was available and, plus, can you think of better plane entertainment for a 2-year-old than cheese + wax?

But now that I’ve gone out of my way to demonstrate that Michelle and I are flexible, I’m gonna to draw a very rare line in the sand. We don’t—we won’t—subscribe to the hiding veggies philosophy popularized by Jessica Seinfeld and the Sneaky Chef books. Period.

All right. I’m playing a bit of a semantic game. I said that we don’t subscribe to the philosophy of hiding vegetables. I didn’t say that we refuse to de-emphasize vegetables or serve things that our kids may not realize contain veggies (like sweet potato in oatmeal). Rather, it’s the idea of promoting an ongoing habit of keeping our kids in the dark about how delicious and versatile veggies are that gets our panties in a knot (so to speak).

I understand that this issue is more challenging for some families than it is for others. Some kids will refuse a side of savory carrots, even super flavorful ones like Michelle’s Roasted Cumin Coriander Carrots, but chow down sweet carrot pudding (I’m dying to try this recipe). For these kids, some creative, but honest cookery often does the trick. But other children will inspect their foods like freaking Sherlock Holmes. For them, it’s about a seemingly random, yet remarkably steadfast stand against certain vegetables, colors, and/or textures. Dealing with these kids is hard. And stressful. And while I get how it might push some to consider an ongoing habit of hiding veggies, I can’t help but wonder:

Doesn’t hiding veggies exacerbate and prolong the problem?

While I once experimented with mashed cauliflower florets in Isaac’s chicken salad (which, by the way, totally worked), I’ve decided that I’d rather he refuse to eat vegetables all together than hide them ongoing. This (controversial?) decision was informed by two realizations:

  • I can trust nature. With a better understanding of the evolutionary dimension to picky eating, I was able to trust that the natural evolution of Isaac’s tastes will not put his health at risk, so long as I don’t mess with it. For me, that means continually offering a range of healthy, flavorful foods that expose him to a natural diet that can sustain him over a lifetime. Steady servings of kid-menu staples like mac-n-cheese with hidden veggie purees don’t qualify.
  • Learning theory applies to mealtime, too. Certain principle are critical to effective teaching, including: modeling, clarity of message, repetition, and consistency. If I want to teach Isaac that vegetables are versatile, delicious, and the center of any healthy diet, then it seems I have no choice but to openly feed him a wide variety of vegetables prepared in all different ways. We talk about vegetables, we all eat vegetables, I always serve vegetables. The message is clear and repeated. And I believe that if I’m patient and consistent, Isaac will learn to love veggies as much as his ChowPapa and I do. Eventually.

Some parents will opt for the short term comfort of ensuring that every meal is as maximally nutritious as possible, but Michelle and I have put our money on the long bet. And when a phase keeps us from successfully serving simple, flavorful veggie sides (like this Quick Sauteed Bok Choy or Pineapple Almond Spinach Salad) and mains (like Swiss Chard and Mushroom Enchiladas), we throw in family-friendly dishes that de-emphasize veggies (like these Zucchini Feta Turkey Burgers). The trick (as opposed to trickery!) is to talk to our kids about what’s in their food so that they start to develop an understanding of how versatile veggies are. Sometimes we tell them upfront, other times we wait until after the fact. But the message is always strong and clear: WE LOVE VEGGIES!

Here are some go-to dishes that make subtle use of veggies and will keep you honest, even through pickier phases (and please share your suggestions, too!):

  • Sweet potato spread on toast with butter and cinnamon
  • Edamame or Roasted Beet hummus
  • Saucy dishes like this Chicken, Chickpea, and Cauliflower Korma can carry a bunch of cooked down veggies
  • Veggie chips may not be subtle, but they are fun to eat! Try Kale Chips or experiment with carrots, sweet potatos, squash…
  • Shepherd’s Pie mixes a variety of veggies with smooth mashed potatoes and flavorful meat
  • Squash or sweet potato pancakes or waffles
  • Veggie pestos for pizza, pasta, or soup—mix the following with parmesan, garlic & olive oil: kale & walnuts; arugula & pine nuts; zucchini, basil & pine nuts; or broccoli & hazelnuts
  • The ricotta in calzones or mashed beans in tacos or burritos help veggies blend in and the fold over keeps veggies from being a focus

Isaac loves “eggies,” so veggie scrambles and frittatas are another go-to for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I love zucchini with mint (reminds me of springtime in Rome!) and shredding the zucchini helps it blend in with the eggs, so this is a favorite. You can easily adapt this for other ingredients. We also like potato, asparagus, and fontina; broccoli and cheddar; and ham, peas, and smoked mozzarella. When using heartier veggies like asparagus and potato, saute in olive oil to soften before adding to egg. Also, cubed or crumbled cheese works just as well as grated. And add your favorite herbs for extra zing.

Zucchini Mint Frittata
(can be served to kids 12+ mos)

8 organic eggs
1/2 cup organic grated parmesan or crumbled organic feta (you can add as much as 1 cup if you like your eggs super cheesy)
3 tbsp fresh organic mint, chopped
2 medium organic zucchini, grated, squeezed dry
salt and pepper
organic olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In the meantime, whisk together eggs, cheese, mint, and salt and pepper (unless serving to early eaters, in which case you can salt and pepper individual portions before serving). Fold zucchini into egg mixture.

2. Brush a 9″ pie dish or oven proof skillet with olive oil and pour in egg mixture. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until frittata is set and browned. Insert a toothpick or knife into the center of the frittata—it’s done when it comes out clean.

NOTE: I often half this recipe and divide the frittata mixture between 4 oiled ramekins. They bake for about 2o minutes and make perfect little kid portions.

24 Responses

  1. I completely agree on your anti-sneaking veggies stance. The notion of hiding healthy foods is ridiculous and smacks of ’50s overcooked brussel sprouts.

  2. Rosie says:

    Well said!

  3. Gabrielle says:

    I am baffled by the hiding of veggies. Not sure if folks have looked at the recipes, but my SIL has the seinfeld book, and in most of the recipes there’s something like a 1/4 cup of veggie puree. Is that even the equivalent of one carrot??

    All I know is that while my 4/5 year old wont eat every veggie i put in front of her, she fights me for the naturally sweet caramelized pieces of roasted broccoli (or cauliflower) I make as well as the cucumber and hummus we have for snack. And don’t even get me started on the amount of edamame or celery she can put away.

    Thanks for such a great site!

  4. stacie says:

    That’s a great point about the amount of puree used in the hiding veggie recipes. And when you measure that against the extra work?! And not just the extra work of pureeing, but the extra work of making more than one meal. Some of those recipes work for the whole fam, but I can just imagine the look on Mike’s face (and, honestly, my own) if the two of us sat down to one of those meals ourselves!

  5. Chrissy says:

    OMG! Don’t even get me started on this!! It is all about the difference between making it easy on yourself for now, or seeing the big picture and trying to set your child up for a healthy adult-hood.

  6. Susan says:

    I totally agree with the not hiding but my 17-month old boy will not any veggies (okay, once in a while he will eat some carrots or sweet potatoes or a thin tomato slice, but all of those are very hit or miss), and also goes on fruit strikes, so sometimes I do worry about his nutrition. But so far I’ve resisted the urge to hide. I regularly and routinely offer veggies and give him what we eat at our family dinners, but he just won’t even look at most veggies, let alone even getting to the point of picking one up and feeling it or tasting it. I’d love to see him spit out a pea! At least that would mean he had touched it!

  7. Le bro says:

    A zuccini frittata is just that, itès joining ingredients together. I often put carrots in my mack and cheese, the taste of carrots is there very much like I put jerusalem artichokes in mash potatoes… A winther squash cake is about as classic as you can get… I think about two things here=
    1- People are way too religulous about food
    2- Do you have 4 kids betwen age 12 and age 2 ?

    When you get a farmers drop in late august or the garden is exploding in zuchinis, you bloody shove it everywhere…

  8. Le bro says:

    By the way, we had mushroom risotto, braised cheeks and garden asparagus tonight. Some got it mashed up in their plates… I hope it didn’t hurt their feelings… Everybody knew exactly what they ate and your post is dead on for:
    All right. I’m playing a bit of a semantic game. I said that we don’t subscribe to the philosophy of hiding vegetables. I didn’t say that we refuse to de-emphasize vegetables or serve things that our kids may not realize contain veggies (like sweet potato in oatmeal). Rather, it’s the idea of promoting an ongoing habit of keeping our kids in the dark about how delicious and versatile veggies are that gets our panties in a knot (so to speak).

    I will say this. If the only problem North American families have is too come clean and admit to all the veggie hidding in their kids plates, than you are a minority of america. Last time I checked on a supermarket, the problem was not about hidding the veggies, it had more to do about the massive processed food in the faces of families, day in day out…

  9. stacie says:

    Hi, all. Thanks for your thoughts!

    Chrissy: It’s funny, b/c from one angle, you’re totally right. It’s harder to keep presenting foods that your child refuses, but we do it thinking about the long term. On the other hand, I’ve come to see it as more practical, so long as what I’m making will be eaten by the rest of the family. The thought of cooking one set of veggies for me and Mike and then another set of purees that I can hide in Isaac’s food sounds like way more work. I’ve come to see not hiding veggies as the easy way!

    Susan: Thanks for your story. What you’re dealing with is not easy!! But, as strange as it may sound to some, I relate to letting go of the day-to-day anxieties of nutrient intake, knowing that I consistently present Isaac with a healthy, natural, well-balanced diet. Someone told me an amazing story (which, to be clear, I haven’t looked up myself): a research study found that children with rickets will opt to drink fish oil when presented with a range of drinks (many of which are MUCH more appealing than fish oil). The theory is that they do so because their bodies very much need the oil. I guess you, me, and Michelle are trusting this sort of natural process.

    Le Bro: I think we’re on the same page (though I can’t tell for sure–LOL!) I’m curious about your comment that people are too religious about food. i love provocative statements like that!! Not sure I understand what you’re getting at, but it reminds me of something Pollan has talked about: the American Paradox. Americans are obsessed with food and food’s relationship to weight, agelessness and beauty, yet we are an obese nation that’s more used to processed foods than we are natural foods.

    What I love about working with Michelle, the community here on ChowMama, and the food blog community at large (which perhaps are the people you think are too religious about food? not sure) is that we’re all simply passionate about real food and cooking. To me, that’s the opposite of the American Paradox. It’s a return to understanding natural food, cooking, growing, farming as the center of our physical, emotional, and social livelihood, as it’s been through the ages. And talking about things like refusing to hide vegetables–which I believe perpetuates a fear of veggies and belief that they are an unpleasant health necessity–is, as I see it, directly related to, even at the root of, the problem you point out about our supermarkets.

    Hope this is a helpful conversation that we can all continue!

  10. le bro says:

    Please excuse my french and yes my sarcasm. I couldn’t agree more with you about the statement of food religion. Like many here, I grow my food, am part of a subsidised organic farm coop and expose my kids to the finest foods. I am also a bit of an anarchist with food, I will gladly take my 4 kids to just any fine restaurant in town, yes my 12 year old can have a sip of my white wine with his foie gras and heck I’ll even throw some oysters at them. Whatever may be.

    The part where I beg to differ is when people seem to be more minded about how their kids stick a piece of carrot in their mouth than the actual carrot. Frankly, with 4 kids, this kind of discussion in beyond me. I serve one meal, it is a good meal, the kids will like it. With 4, from the age of 12 to 2, I am going to have the odd issue. There is one thing that I will not permit anywhere, anytime, anyhow: the world does not revolve around the oral stage of my kid. Should I even find myself even remotely guilty of pureeing my food one second because it will make my life simpler… are you kidding me ? I don’t even feel guilty when I start pouring myself a perfect martini on a Friday late afternoon knowing I have absolutely nothing prepared for dinner, because I know that whatever sits on the table won’t be processed. There might be some loud Husker Du playing in the kitchen, but there wll be no process food.

    I do not believe that hidding veggies is what is at the root of the north american ”malbouffe”. I believe its a foddista trend. At worst, finding some guilt in that practice may even disconnect the true relationship of authority we have with our kids. This is good, I say soo, eat it, is what I got.

    You should go see Food Inc, as anyone seen this, it is playing localy so maybe it is the same everywhere.

    I can aprreciate that this is chowmama, and that, well you will likely have a lot of 0-24 montn discussion, but let me tell you, none of them will be the same, they will all be happy and I don’t think that they will turn into gang members because you will hide veggies on them…

    BTW, I do like the expression Organic Mint, don’t get me wrong, I grow all I can as natural as possible, but going all the way out for certified Mint. Of all things, Mint is just so hard to NOT grow…could it be any other than organic ?

  11. Emily says:

    I don’t know, I read through the book and she makes a point of saying that she always presents vegetables on the plate and emphasizes that it is ideal to eat them. I have ended up following a similar philosophy where I try to add extra nutrition into foods that my son likes yet I also present the vegetables on their own on the same plate and talk about them in the same way that you do. Many of the dishes I know my son will eat are things like muffins or pastas so sometimes the “extra veggies” are hidden (muffins, baked goods) and sometimes they are incorporated into pasta dishes much like your frittata where you can see them mixed in.

  12. stacie says:

    Emily, thanks for sharing your approach. Many of my close friends who love food and are raising little people who I believe will grow up to be great eaters are doing the same thing as you. I think it’s a popular approach that works for a lot of families. I have to admit that one main reason I don’t do this is because I’m not convinced it makes that much of a difference for Isaac, especially for what seems like extra work. Also, when Isaac likes something that has veggies in it, I can’t help but open my big mouth to tell him about all the good stuff he just gobbled up without noticing! 🙂

    Thanks for reading and joining the conversation.

  13. stacie says:

    Thanks for chiming in again and also for the Food Inc suggestion. You’re the second person this weekend who mentioned it. Sounds like a must-see.

    I love the sound of your lifestyle and approach to growing, cooking, and eating. I will say, though, that most Americans, for whatever multitude of reasons, don’t–and some can’t–adopt your approach. So, while you’re right that the kinds of discussions we post has to do with welcoming conversation about 0-24 mos issues, it also as to do with our awareness of the many different ways that people live and relate to food. (And hiding veggies–a trend or not–was popularized by powerful media including Oprah, so we thought it worth bringing up). We want ChowMama to be a resource for parents with as many different lifestyles as possible. Because if they’re reading, they’re thinking about how to feed their families in a way that will get children excited about healthy, real, whole foods. And that’s what we hope to inspire. If only food anarchists read our blog, we wouldn’t be doing what we hope to do by writing here everyday. That said, we’re excited to have a voice like yours active on the site and hope that we can get as many different POVs articulated as possible. We love a good debate!

  14. debbie says:

    I love this approach. And I keep hoping it’s going to work with my 2.5yo, who seems to get pickier by the day. We just keep cooking good, healthy, flavorful food and putting it on his plate, and he keeps insisting “I don’t like xx” without even tasting it. Sigh. The “experts” keep telling me it’s just a phase and we should keep on keeping on–here’s hoping they’re right! He eats tons of fruit & protein so I’m not concerned about his nutrition, but oy the veg waste kills me.

    OTOH, I have had some success with things like zucchini bread, and I never know whether or not to feel guilty about that.

  15. stacie says:

    don’t feel guilty! if your chowbaby likes zucchini bread and you like making it (and hopefully eating it, too), then what’s to feel guilty about! it’s all about the attitude and overall approach. we’re all going to differ slightly–presenting some veg hidden, some veg on the plate or refusing to hide veg all together or whatever it might be. we’re all doing our best. to me, not hiding vegetables is about honesty in cooking and communication. it’s not about refusing to make something delicious in which the veggies might not be obvious. so, have a good zucchini bread recipe?! it’s one of my favorites–lol!!

  16. debbie says:

    I’ll make a batch and blog about it soon 😉

  17. Taryn says:

    thank you so much for writing this!! I totally agree! I bought the Seinfeld book not because my daughter doesn’t love veggies, she does, but just to get some ideas for boosting nutrition in some “comfort foods” which, to me, lack much nutition at all. Not worth it!!! Thanks for putting this into words, and for the wonderful recipes, too!

  18. Catherine says:

    I have 3 children (ages 21, 8 and 4) so I have been down the feeding of kids path for many years. It is remarkable to me that the discussion of “getting your kids to eat something” exists at all. There are a number of issues at play here:

    1) Nutrition
    2) Enjoyment and communal aspects of dining
    3) Children doing what they are told

    Our grandmothers were not fretting about their kids eating their veggies because children did what they were told to do (ie eat the food on their plate). There is nothing wrong with having obedient children and in fact we do them a huge disservice if we allow them their own way on this matter. If you put food on your child’s plate and expect them to eat it and let them know that there is nothing coming after so if they are hungry they have to finish, they will. So that is the “stick” part of the experience. But this should rarely if ever be a topic because a) if they have lovely healthy meals and more imprtantly b) they eat their meals at the table with their family so there is never a notion that there is a different meal for a child than there is for an adult, then the concept of not eating their meal is never introduced. I see so many parents who create “special” meals for their kids so that they eat and they are raising little people who will only eat chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. I loved the statement from the person above who said they give their child a sip of wine with their fois gras. Amen sister! My 4 year old helped me prepare rabbit a few days ago accompanied by a spinach soffle and an herb salad with roasted parsnips and he enjoyed all of it (the cooking and the eating). Food should be a joy for all members of the family but the moment we decide that children should be treated differently in what they eat they will latch onto that and never let go.
    I have read the Seinfeld book and I do think that her heart is in the right place and not only that, there are some great recipes out there (not necessarily in her book) in which vegetables really enhance the dish in interesting ways but end up “hidden”. I made some of the Seifeld recipes but I did it WITH MY KIDS and so there is no weird hiding – it is just interesting and we all eat it together. I also really can’t stress enough that when kids grown their own food, they will eat it. So grow a spinach plant today!

  19. stacie says:

    Thanks, Catherine. You bring up a good point about the Seinfeld and other like books: they have some good recipes! As I said in my original post, for me, it’s more about the philosophy (JS actually talks about something like loving deception, which seems bizarre to me) than the recipes. Although, the recipes that go out of the way to hide purees into kid menu staples like mac and cheese make me dubious. Not a big deal if the puree is an enhancement and it creates a new twist on an old comfort recipe–who doesn’t want that every once in a while–but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that children won’t eat anything but mac and cheese and fish fingers. Then there’s a larger issue, I’d say.

    But, anyway, as I mentioned in my conversation with Le Bro, i don’t mean to confuse a great recipe that includes veggies that may not be obvious with an approach to eating that goes out of the way to pander children’s (often, completely natural, at least for a period of time) aversion to vegetables.

    Your comment about children doing what they are told reminds me of how I grew up! At least at my grandmother’s house! And, indeed it worked. She got me to eat octopus (we’re Greek) when I was quite young. It also scarred me and I wasted many years not eating delicious octopus (no worries–I’ve rebounded!). I, personally, don’t subscribe to the eat what your told philosophy. Isaac can eat or not eat what he wants (though, like in your house, there aren’t other options–I figure he’ll eat if he’s hungry and if he doesn’t eat he’s fine!). But I’d say I turned out just fine. So do your thing! With 4 children, you certainly have more experience than me!

  20. stephie says:

    As a picky eater in remission, I can tell you that no amount of offering is going to reverse the trend. It really is something a child (or in my case, an adult) has to grow out of. I sat down to a home cooked meal every day of my childhood (with the exception of the rare, semi-annual trip to McD’s or Pizza Hut if it was someone’s bday)and could not be coaxed, cajoled, or even forced to eat veggies. Unfortunately, this has ruined my parental karma and my little diva is even pickier than I. Which is to say–who cares if they’re hidden? Isn’t it more important that they’re eaten? And seriously, in this day and age, pureeing is not hard work.

  21. stacie says:

    couldn’t agree more that it’s a matter of growing out of it. but, as i already mentioned, michelle and i actually think that it’s more important that we present veggies than what they actually eat. i know. counterintuitive to some. but it’s that whole trust nature thing. either way, i feel like i’m just repeating myself now! lol! i think i’ll step back and let the convo continue without me. but, i love all the different viewpoints. because, at the end of the day, we’re all just doing the best we can and every kid and lifestyle is different (ie, i actually find pureeing separate things hard word at the end of a long day when i’ve been working–i was SO relieved once isaac hit the stage where i felt comfy just giving him what me and mike were eating as opposed to making separate purees for him! we’ll see what that means when there’s a baby number two!)

    thanks for chiming in, stephanie!

  22. lebro says:

    I just dumped a big butternut squash in this buttermilk vanilla cake recipee. You can make some changes, you can use yogurt instead of buttermilk you can also use a really nice fat Tahitian Vanilla instead of the extract. I hardly put any icing on it.

  23. […] know that Stacie and I are all about making our lives as parents easier (see her hiding veggies post, for example). And when our kids have good social skills, our lives become easier. Both in the […]

  24. MsHymanRoth says:

    I just have to comment on this!!! I initially clicked on a link which led me to this post and while I’m not a mother, as a new wife, I often think about my future childs diet.

    While reading this post, I started to think about how I was raised. There was always tons and tons of veggies around. You could often see me walking around with a green onion in one hand and a chunk of cauliflower in the other! My mother never forced me to eat veggies, to clear my plate or else, restrict my diet … food and eating was always about love, being healthy, and having fun with my family.

    I will admit too, that you could sometimes see me with a little bag of chips that I crumbled up … b/c that’s the only way I’d eat them or whoppers – they were a treat =)

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