It's Time to Stop Sneaking Vegetables Into Your Children's Desserts

You've probably heard of this whole cooking genre that's sprung up around parents sneaking vegetables into otherwise delicious sounding things like cakes and cookies. Well, a new study has looked into how accepting of these sneakily nutritious snacks kids were, and it's beginning to seem like going to the trouble of studding your famous oatmeal cookie recipe with lima beans might not be worth it.

The study, done by researchers Lizzy Pope and Randi L. Wolf at Columbia University, set out to see just how kids reacted when presented with these so-called sneaky foods. You might assume that the kids would just reject anything with a vegetable in it, but in fact they didn't. In the end, their acceptance of the snacks had more to do with how familiar they were with the vegetable in it than whether it had veggies in it at all.

They tested this by gathering 68 kids of elementary and middle school age and giving them a few rounds of snacks. In each round, they were given two labeled snacks. One was labeled so that it was clear it had a vegetable in it—broccoli gingerbread spice cake, for instance. And the other was labeled without a vegetable, just plain old gingerbread spice cake. They were asked to taste both and report whether they tasted the same to them or if one tasted better than the other. But the research tricked all the little suckers by giving them two samples of the exact same snack. So everything they ate had those sneaky veggies in it.

So did the mere fact of reading a label that something had a disgustingly healthy vegetable in it make them gag and spit out the snack? Not exactly. They found that the kids didn't have a taste preference between the labeled and unlabeled versions of zucchini chocolate chip bread and broccoli gingerbread spice cake. But they preferred the unlabeled chocolate chip cookies to those labeled chickpea chocolate chip cookies.

When they analyzed how often the kids had eaten the vegetables in question (broccoli, zucchini, and chickpeas), it turned out that 81 percent of them hadn't had chickpeas in the past year, whereas the majority of kids had eaten zucchini and broccoli. There has been other research that's shown that kids aren't as likely to like foods they aren't familiar with, and that certainly lines up with the chickpeas here. So it might just be as simple as them being put off by the strange sound of chickpeas—which, let's face it, do sound kind of strange, even though they're quite delicious.

Since the kids liked the snacks with veggies they were familiar with equally as much as whether they were labeled or unlabeled, maybe it doesn't make so much emphasis on the "sneaking vegetables in" factor. Instead, the researchers said, it seems more important to focus on introducing them to lots of different vegetables. That way they won't be as likely to shy away from them whether they're coming on a dinner plate or in cookie form. So stop trying to sneak spinach into brownies and set it free instead! Let them be out in the open and proud of their high fiber and many essential vitamins and minerals, and your children will accept them for who they truly are. Unless, of course, you have one of those children who is not buying any of that "broccoli is like a tiny little tree you can eat" crap, in which case, good luck to you!

Should we play hide-and-go-seek with our children's vegetables? [EurekAlert!]

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