Last week, I whisked cauliflower and zucchini puree into macaroni and cheese. The next day, I hid sweet potatoes, carrots and wheat germ in chicken-finger breading.
The recipes were from "The Sneaky Chef" cookbook, one of several bestsellers based on the premise of "sneaking" vegetables and other nutrients onto the plates of picky eaters like my 6-year-old daughter. Judging from the message boards on the cookbook author's website, moms everywhere are embracing deception in order to get their kids to eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Meanwhile, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is attempting to transform the eating habits of the people in Huntington, W.Va., deemed "America's unhealthiest city," in a six-part reality TV show that started Friday.
And I'm wondering: What has our culture come to, that we must rely on stealth vegetables and reality TV to break our national addiction to junk food?
We need food reform as much as health care reform "" not just because the obesity epidemic is driving up the cost of health care, but because our children's lives depend on it. According to Oliver, if Americans don't change their eating habits soon, today's kids may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
The reasoning behind the "Sneaky Chef" philosophy is simple: By hiding nutrient-rich ingredients in foods kids like, parents can lower the stakes in fights over food. Purees slipped into milkshakes or meatballs are not billed as a replacement for whole fruits and vegetables in plain view, but rather, as a coping tactic to give concerned moms the patience to persevere when their kids clamp their mouths shut and refuse to eat their broccoli. Nutrition experts say kids need to be exposed to a new food several times before they will accept it, and making the dinner table a battleground not only slows the process but sets the stage for eating disorders later in life.