At war with deception: how to feed kids right

Let me start off by shamelessly telling you that my book just came out: It's Real Food for Healthy Kids, a kind of Joy of Cooking for parents that covers more than 200 wholesome, healthy, delicious recipes that will appeal to every age, from babies to teenagers.

Each recipe was tasted and vetted by kids around the country, from Maine to California, and each has a nutritional analysis so you can decide which foods are perfect for your child. And while we do include cookies and cakes, because my coauthor and I believe in teaching moderation, we have removed as much sugar, fat, and white flour as possible. But my book is not why I am posting today, well, not the only reason.

Two parent cookbooks came out last year touting the philosophy of hiding good-for-you-foods in not-so-good-for-you-foods, like adding spinach puree to brownies. As a mother of twins and a food professional, I was appalled by this deceptive and sneaky idea. Not only are we teaching our kids to "eat your brownies, they're good for you" (in a country where a third of kids are obese or overweight and perhaps the first generation to not outlive their parents), but we are lying to our kids and signaling, either implicitly or explicitly, that vegetables, in particular, are so yucky, they have to be hidden. That's the worst idea I've heard since manufacturers decided to add trans fats to everything edible.

This philosophy is the opposite of the one espoused in Real Foods for Healthy Kids. Instead of being deceptive and sneaking vegetables and fruits into your kid's foods, you should be promoting to them the gloriousness of a buttery edamame, the crispiness of a sugar snap, the sweetness of a carrot. Vegetables and fruit should be a valued, gobbled-up part of meals and snacks.

Naysayers will claim that they can't get their child to eat that way, and once you're way down that road with your child, it can be hard to steer their diet towards healthy eating, but it can be done over time by following some of these steps:

1) Have your kids take no-thank you bites, so they get accustomed to the flavor and texture, and tell them it can take more than a dozen times for their palate to get used to the food.

2) At dinner, serve your kids fresh or cooked veggies first, as an appetizer, as that's when they are hungriest and will be most inclined to eat them, and then fresh fruit before dessert.

3) Make sure to be a role model, eating and enjoying healthy foods in front of your kids.

4) Use teachable moments, like pointing to the U.S. Olympic team, to remind kids how important it is to eat healthy and exercise.

5) Have them try a global pantry of different types of vegetable and fruit recipes; we have tons in the books.

6) Bring them shopping so they can choose their favorite healthy foods, and have them help create the menu, so they feel invested in the meal and thus more likely to eat more.

What side do you stand on? Deception or teaching your kids to embrace their inner spinach lover?

Tanya Wenman Steel is Editor-in-Chief of the award-winning, the premier food Web site. Before joining Epicurious, Steel was an editor at Bon Appétit for ten years, where she won the prestigious James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Magazine Restaurant Review or Critique (2003). Prior to Bon Appétit, she was an editor at Diversion, Food & Wine, and Mademoiselle magazines. She is a member of the American Society of Magazine Editors and a James Beard Restaurant judge. Steel has written extensively for myriad publications, including many articles for The New York Times, as well as New York Magazine, Child, and Travel & Leisure. She appears on television frequently for Epicurious.


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