Should You Hide Vegetables in Your Child's Food?

Little girl eating vegetables

Some percentage of kids are probably born naturally loving vegetables—but most kids don’t exactly consider veggies a treat. And for many parents, getting kids to eat a daily rainbow of leafy greens, roots, and stems can be a struggle.

Vegetables, of course, provide fiber, antioxidants, and micronutrients that round out your child’s healthy diet. So it’s only natural (and, in fact, great!) to want to help your child reach their daily target of servings.

For this reason, a movement has taken root in recent years to hide vegetables in familiar, kid-friendly packages like muffins, casseroles, or smoothies. Entire cookbooks have been written to help parents find ways to incorporate veggies on the sly.

While this strategy may result in your child taking in more nutrients in the short term, it does come with some significant drawbacks. Here is a look at the pros and cons of concealing veggies in your child’s meals. Plus, we share other strategies to try for better long-term success in getting your kids to eat vegetables.

The Pros

There's no denying that following the route of “deceptively delicious” can make life easier, especially if you have a picky eat. In fact, the following reasons may resonate with you as you consider hiding vegetables in your child’s food. 

Inspires Your Child to Eat More Vegetables

The main advantage of adding a squash puree to muffins or mixing carrots into pasta sauce is clear—this practice simply gets more vegetables into your child’s belly. For healthy development, growing kids require the vitamins and minerals that veggies provide.

By stealthily bundling vegetables in other foods, you may feel less worried about whether your child is meeting their daily nutrient needs. Plus adding applesauce instead of sugar can reduce the sugar content of some foods.

Reduces Mealtime Struggles

Another benefit of veggies in the guise of pizza or mac and cheese? Hiding healthy ingredients may mean less headache for you as the parent at mealtimes.

If you have a child who puts up a fight about disliked foods at every breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it can certainly be draining. To minimize your own stress levels, you may occasionally choose to opt-out of the nightly food fight by hiding their vegetables in other foods.

The Cons

Although hiding vegetables might get your little eater to take in more nutrients (and give you some emotional relief at mealtimes), most nutrition experts don’t advise it. Here’s why.

Neglects Teaching Kids to Like Healthy Foods

Like many quick fixes, the practice of concealing healthy foods in other, well-liked dishes misses an important opportunity. It doesn’t teach your child to actually eat (and like) the veggies themselves.

“Children who only meet vegetables in costumed form won't recognize that they are eating, and enjoying, a vegetable,” says pediatric dietitian Yaffi Lvova, RDN.

The truth is, kids don’t usually just magically develop a taste for vegetables—it takes time, exposure, and (sometimes) various types of preparation. It may be a little more challenging, but in the end may be worth the extra effort.

“When veggies are hidden, the child does not have a chance to get to know their texture, taste, or smell," Lvova says. "That necessary familiarization is missing, so they won't have an opportunity to develop an adventurous perspective when it comes to food.”

May Create Distrust

As well-intentioned as camouflaging veggies may be, it doesn’t tell your child the whole truth about what they’re eating—which may lead to feelings of distrust. Like a game of "Clue," eventually your child may catch you—in the kitchen with the blender. What happens then?

“When the child finds out at some point that vegetables have been hidden in their food, this can put pressure on the trust they feel for their parent,” Lvova notes. “This may make them feel like, ‘If they were hiding this from me, what else are they hiding?’”

Some kids may even feel more resistant to eat veggies when they find out their parent or caregiver has been secreting them into other foods.

“Kids may think, ‘If it's so bad that they have to hide it, I'm really not going to eat it!’" Lvova adds. "This lack of trust can lead to picky tendencies that may last a long time,”.

Makes More Work for Parents

Prepping veggies for insertion into kid-friendly packages can involve some serious culinary gymnastics. Peeling, cooking, and pureeing are often required to get a consistency that will blend in with other foods.

You may find hidden-veggie recipes take significantly longer to prepare than those that feature vegetables in a more straightforward way. Before embarking on such a lengthy process at meals, consider: Do you really want to create this much work for yourself, and if so, for how long?

Better Solutions

There may be a time and place for hidden veggies, but in general, it’s best to help kids learn to enjoy vegetables as-is. So how do you encourage your picky eater to eat more vegetables—or at the very least, try them?

First, remember that it can take time. Research shows that repeated exposure increases food acceptance, especially in infants and toddlers. Some kids require eight to 10 experiences with a vegetable before deciding it deserves a spot on their plate. As you offer veggies multiple times, try prepping them in different ways, such as steamed, grilled, or roasted, and with varying flavor additions.

Offering choice also invites your child to be an active participant in their own food decision-making. This feeds kids’ cravings for independence. When mealtime rolls around, ask for your child's input: “Would you like asparagus or broccoli?” or “On your vegetables, would you like ranch or hummus?” Similarly, getting kids involved in the kitchen can reap major dividends of veggie love.

“Cooking is my favorite way to help kids cultivate a love of a variety of types of food,” says Lvova. “By taking the action into the kitchen, kids can feel more important in the cooking process. This leads to confidence, and that confidence often leads to adventure—like taking a bite of something new, or even just smelling it.”

If gardening is an option, this, too, can lead to a piqued interest in healthy produce. As children watch plants grow, they may take pride in the role they played in the process and want to sample the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor.

Finally, there’s an important distinction between hiding veggies and including them in unexpected places. A red pepper-topped pizza or scrambled eggs with tomatoes, for example, might be a win-win, letting your child feel comfortable while introducing them to something new and healthy.

“What’s the difference between ‘hiding’ and ‘incorporating’? Transparency,” says Lvova. “Invite your children into the kitchen to participate in making that dish.”

1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Spill MK, Johns K, Callahan EH, et al. Repeated exposure to food and food acceptability in infants and toddlers: A systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019;109(Suppl_7):978S-989S. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqy308

By Sarah Garone
 Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a freelance health and wellness writer who runs a food blog.