Why being a sneaky chef can come back to bite you

I was having coffee with some friends of older kids and the topic of “sneaking” veggies came up. One friend asked if I had tried “fudge cake,” a simple recipe of chocolate fudge cake mix combined with a can of pumpkin. Rest assured, I have nothing against pumpkin-based fudge cake. Or veggie-infused tomato sauce, casseroles, or cookies for that matter.

We each have our pet peeves. As a childhood nutritionist, one of mine is the idea of sneaking vegetables into foods. I love vegetables, and I think one of our jobs as parents is helping kids learn to love them too. Like exposing children to the arts, different parts of the country, and the differences in people, we do best when we take an approach and attitude that is open and curious with food. Helping children learn to love food, especially vegetables, involves exposing kids to them and encouraging curiosity.

I always feel myself getting a little uncomfortable when this sort of topic comes up. The trigger for me is the word “sneaking.”

Were these moms sneaking pumpkin into brownies or were they being upfront about it?

Why were they doing it? So more veggies would be eaten? To boost nutrition in an otherwise sugary dessert?

Ever since Deceptively Delicious hit the bookstores, this sneaky approach to getting kids to eat veggies has become a popular and accepted trend.

But I don’t accept it.

In fact, I think it can cause more harm than good.

Feeding our children is an intimate experience from Day 1, and it reinforces the parent-child bond. This bond occurs through engagement and is reinforced through positive feeding. When we sneak, hide, or lie to our kids about what is in the food they are eating, we undermine trust and we disengage from the relationship.

Little ones rely on the adults in their lives to provide a variety of food. While they may be picky, fear new foods, and get onto food jags, we know that for the most part, food rejection is part of the toddler experience. Even though this is generally known, it still triggers parents to engage in potentially unproductive actions like sneaking veggies into foods already accepted by the child.

As kids get older, they become more aware of these minor differences in the food they are used to eating. They notice the smallest things, and when they find out there has been a modification, they may reject the food. Or mistrust the feeder.

Sneaking is almost always problematic because it is not based on trust. It is based on deception and hiding. Just like when another person lies to you, your trust wavers and may even disappear.

Personally, I like the “honesty is the best policy” approach. If you’re including veggies in an otherwise non-vegetable item, just tell your child the truth. “Hey, sweetie, this is a strawberry banana smoothie with a little bit of spinach thrown in to boost up your iron.”

Or don’t say anything. Your child may not even notice. But if he does, and he asks what’s in his food, tell him the truth.

While it might feel good to sneak some pureed broccoli into Thursday night’s pasta sauce, ultimately it may not feel good to him. Believe it or not, a trusting relationship with your child will carry you through some of the challenging moments down the road.


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About Jill Castle, Bundoo Pediatric Nutritionist

Jill Castle is a Bundoo Pediatric Nutritionist and author of Fearless Feeding.


  1. I think transparency is the most important thing. If your child asks if there is spinach in the smoothie, an honest answer and pointing out how delicious it tastes preserves the trust between both parent and child.

  2. I agree with this article pertaining to older children because they are more aware of what is in their food and can easily determine that it may taste different than it should. However, when my daughter was around 18 months she became a very picky eater so I started making smoothies and adding fruits and vegetables to them and she loved them! At this age I didn’t think it was a big issue because she was young enough not to know exactly what was in them and I was able to maintain a healthy diet. Now that she is four she understands that we eat vegetables every night for dinner and knows that they will make her grow big and strong!

  3. So interesting. I’ve seen the cookbooks for sneaking vegetables and wasn’t a fan for my family because I believe that kids learn by example and sneaking vegetables says that they deserve to be hidden because they aren’t tasty. However, I can see that the technique is useful for children with special needs who sometimes have a difficult time eating certain foods.


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