Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shmoo Review: The Sneaky Chef

Not long after I posted my review of Deceptively Delicious a reader brought to my attention the existence of another popular cookbook with an identical mission -- to sneak vegetables into children's food unawares. It's The Sneaky Chef,and the author Missy Chase Lapin has a pending lawsuit against Deceptively's author Jessica Seinfeld for stealing her idea.

It may be true that Seinfeld ripped her off, or it may be a case of two people coming up with the same idea at the same ripe time. The question for me isn’t who thought of it first (scores of parents over the generations have resorted to sneaking a bit of something into the mashed potatoes or muffin batter). The question for me is, which one does it better? If you're going to buy just one sneaking-mashed-vegetables book, which one should it be? After reading them both, I would recommend The Sneaky Chef.

The author has really done her homework and most of her advice is right on: find fruits and veggies your kids like "straight up" and serve them that way (Method Six, page 76); slowly incorporate more whole grains into the diet (Method Two, page 67); avoid frying (Method Seven).

Best of all, her purees actually sound yummy, with a touch of lemon juice and a wide variety of vegetables (the Green Puree, for example, includes broccoli, spinach, and peas). I actually want to whip them up and add them to meals, even in a not-sneaky way.

But still, the initial bewilderment that I had when reading Deceptively still hits me as I look through the recipes here. Are children really so resistant to eating any fruits and vegetables that a tablespoon of orange vegetables hidden in boxed macaroni and cheese is a triumph? Sneaky even excitedly proclaims on its cover, "Blueberries hidden in cupcakes!"

Blueberries? Really? Who needs to hide blueberries? I need to hide the fresh blueberries away from my son so he won't eat them all in one sitting.

But Lapin's personal story of mealtime struggle brought home to me just how hard it is to get some kids to eat healthy foods, and caused me to cheer for her when she finally hit upon stealth techniques that worked and brought her some relief. Hey, whatever it takes sometimes! More power to you, sneaky momma!


JAM said...

I have two daughters, one who will eat almost any fruit and vegetable I give her, would prefer a peach to a cookie, and doesn't need anything sneaky. My other daughter will eat a very limited number of vegetables (carrots, cukes, bok choy and cabbage (surprising, maybe, on those two, but she loves soy sauce so that helps)) and for fruit, really just pears and bananas consistently (occasionally raspberries, blueberries and grapes). I'm trying to avoid the sneaky route, partly because I want her to know she's liking veggies as she eats them, partly because it seems like a lot of trouble to do to fit in 2 tablespoons of something, and partly because she can "sniff out" a change immediately - she can tell the difference between a hunk of velveeta and the squeezy stuff in the foil packets in the box, for pete's sake! A lot of this reluctance I attribute to my weakness, she is my second child and it was so much easier to cave when she was little (did I mention she's really stubborn) to get her to eat ANYTHING, she was underweight as a baby and falling in the percentiles (she went from 25th at birth down to 5th), I had an older child to deal with as well, you name, it, it was my excuse. Now how I wish I had stuck to only offering good choices. We're trying now - most nights we have 2-3 kinds of veggies and she has to eat at least part of them before she can have seconds on what she really wants (the pasta) but it is a struggle. So I guess I can see both sides of things. The other thing that is huge at school is the peer pressure. I make her take a pear or banana for morning snack, but she tells me most kids are eating Oreos and Cheetohs - it's really hard to compete with that. For lunch, same type of thing. We try really hard, but it's an uphill battle (as are most things worth doing, I know). Sorry for the very long comment, but healthy eating for my little one has long been a big issue for me!

The Veg Next Door said...

My daughter has just started school and I applaud the school for sending a note home that children are to bring healthy snacks to school. So no candy bars, soft drinks, etc. There's also a no egg, nut or peanut policy for the whole school so really a parent has no option but to pack pretty good stuff when it's being asked from the top.

My daughter eats like a bird. She eats a variety of food but not very much of it, especially come dinner time when she's tired and may have no appetite. Surprisingly she'll drink whatever smoothie I present to her so I pack it with spinach and whatever goodness is in my fridge. I think parents need to be creative b/c children are exposed to so many different ideas. If being sneaky about it is the only way to get your child to eat veggies then why not. While doing so asking your child to try different foods is a good idea.

Steph said...

Some kids really are that picky.

Here's a book you might find interesting:
Dinner Diaries: Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World by Betsy Block

Amy said...

I have read both as well and agree with your assessment. Funny thing though, neither of my children like blueberries (or many other fruit for that matter), but they will eat vegies. I have been cooking the "sneaky" way for a while, but I always tell my kids what is in a dish. We talk about how cooking something in a different way changes the way it tastes. So now they think it is great that the blueberries make things purple, just don't try to serve traditional blueberry muffins or blueberry pie or fresh blueberries, etc.

Dan said...

And who is going to hide the food for them when they are adults?

The key is to teach the child good eating habits that they will retain for life!!

The book's key idea is actually a very bad idea.

gillian said...

I have tried this book's idea's and failed. I have been vegan over 20 years...and have 2 young sons. I model eating a variety of locally grown, and home cooked foods.....Same with their dad. The 3 year old will only eat saltine crackers (must be name brand original - he can see the multi grain ones a mile away and says NO!), crushed ice, and soy milk. Refuses to let any other foods touch his mouth....I sneak multi vitamin into his soy milk. No smoothies - no oatmeal - not even the non dairy pop tarts!!!!! I extended his nursing years for a while which is why he is as healthy as he is. Happily, my 5 year eats 2 fruts now, and raw carrot. That's it. I am frustrated beyond words, and worry. I got into this blog site originally as I thought obento format might inspire them to open wide. No way. The only thing I have not done is withhold the foods they eat willingly....and wait until they are hungry.
I have even tried and failed with including them in cooking. (They even turned down fruit pies!!!) Toy & cash bribes also did not work. My point is....these sorts of books were written for kids like mine. They strangely enough are both very healthy, and thriving....Doctors tell me not to worry! Ya Right!

Melinda said...

Some kids are picky, I guess. My younger daughter will eat strawberries and raspberries by the bucketful, for example, but won't eat blueberries unless I puree them in a smoothie.

And my older one is a carbaholic. She loves pancakes. I have made the double chocolate pancakes and she gobbled them up - I felt better about knowing she was getting some spinach and blueberries in with the wheat, even if just a little.

carneyqt said...

I just wanted to sya I love your blog and your book is really inspirational for my family.I event bought a bento box from laptop lunches and it works like a charm! Thanks for the great ideas! I read Missy's book and thought it was clever but to create so many purees just to sneak a tbs. into a smoothie? I thought it seemed like a bit too much work! thanks!
p.s. Is Shmoo 10 now? How was your summer together? Have a nice fall!

montanavegan said...

I believe when a child is hungry they will eat what is served. Too many choices at dinner time can lead to a pick and choose attitude of only their favorites.

veganf said...

Oy, a lawsuit? Really? There are 3 similar cookbooks out there actually, and sadly I have my own all but completed when I hears about Deceptively Delicious and the others. But my approach was cooking fruits & veggies so that kids would like them, NOT hiding them so they grow up thinking brownies are health foods. Maybe the market is saturated with these cookbooks now?

Mandy said...

Every time I see that book, I am reminded of how lucky I am that my kids are great eaters. I can't get my son to eat broccoli to save his life but other than that, my kids are pretty open to anything!

MemeGRL said...

So funny; I have one gourmand 4 year old (came downstairs from a nap saying, "do I smell cinnamon?" and he did) who has some likes and some dislikes in the fruit/veg world but generally does ok.
My younger son ate nothing but carbs for his entire two year old year with two exceptions: hummus and smoothies he helped me make. Fruits that made him cry (STRAWBERRIES! really!) if we tried them alone would be cheerfully dropped in the blender and swallowed with a "yum!" So I'm pretty convinced it's not just the sneakyness (he helped me make them so there was no sneaking anything) but the texture. And once I could get him hooked on taste, then we could worry about the other stuff.
And it also led me to make some more breads that I may not normally have done. The zucchini-sweet potato muffins were a huge hit.
It also helped b/c when he would reject something, I could point out that he'd had it before in something he'd liked. Sometimes he'd still refuse but it was one way to get him to at least look at something he was flat out rejecting before.

kristi said...

Some kids are picky because they have Sensory Processing Disorder. Eating (healthy or otherwise) is a challenge for these kids- physically, socially, and emotionally. So yes, these children are resistant to many foods and/or textures, but for reasons out of their control.

Rebecca said...

I started my daughter on very healthful pureed foods. She'd eat anything as long as it was blended with an oat cereal that I made from blending up rolled oats in the food processor. At one point her oat cereal contained flax meal, brown rice protein powder, olive oil, and vegetables. She'd eat anything, and I was trying to fatten her up, so that was good.

Once she started feeding herself (kind of late--15 months or so), she became picky. She just refused to eat certain foods. Now she's 2.5 and doesn't eat very many vegetables at all.

The point of all that is that I agree with the commenters who say that some kids really are that picky. Fifteen months was too young to reason with, so we couldn't entice her to eat vegetables if we tried. Sneaking vegetables into the foods she does like or relying on veggie-based sweets (like pumpkin bread) is the best we can do for now.

I am not that worried about it. I was a somewhat picky eater as a child, and now I eat and enjoy a wide variety of foods. (Except meat!)

I think I will check these books out from the library and see if they have any ideas I might be able to use. Thanks for the review!

For all you Vegan Lunch Box fans, we're still giving away a copy of the book over at! I'll pick a winner tomorrow!

Farrah said...

I have a 4 year old and a 1 year old. I can honestly say i don't understand the concept of "hiding" vege's sneaking them in or anything like that. I've always adopted the concept of "this is your dinner eat it pls." I do not give them a choice, even if the table has a few choices he gets a little bit of everythign on his plate and that is that. his favourite meal is broccoli, plain rice and steamed chicken breast. He may get a treat but generally snacks are fruit and a few crackers. My house is filled with every known biscuit, chocolate but he will say he's had enough. hopefully this method will work with my 1 year old but so far he's doing well. The only thing i've found he doesn't like so far is tzatziki!!! Maybe its not the kids attitude that has to change but our own determination to make sure that they eat well forgetting that they are kids! If we make a big deal out of something they will sense it and they will have fun. Do it once and they'll carry it on forever. Just don't make a big deal and you'll see that eventually they'll get it.

Justin said...

I think that one of the good things my mom did was not discretely hiding the vegetables. Like your cups of freshly cut vegetables on the counter, she made sure that vegetables were visible everywhere and looked appealing and nice. There was always some serving of vegetables with every meal that was presented as close to au naturel as possible - never smothered with sauces or hidden or anything like that.

I think that it created a natural appeal for vegetables that my brother and I took with us. I continue to enjoy eating fresh, natural vegetables. Like the last commenter, I agree that starting with developing good habits in children rather than focusing on winning the vegetable battles on technicalities like hiding them in mac and cheese is much better in the long term.

jsrenn said...

We had a brief issue with my oldest refusing his once beloved veggies, but that was only after he spent a summer with his dad and step mother, they covered all veggies with cheese sauce and said that all veggies needed cheese. Other than that short lived rough patch, he and our 2 year old eat any and every veggie out there. Some days we do have to offer the 2 his veggies first than the other meal components, but I don't hide anything. I shouldn't have to. We should be giving our little people veggies from the get go and whilst BF, we need to consume our fruits and veggies, too.
The Seinfiled book seemed to laborious for me, all that work for next to nothing positive.

And, for many kids, it really is just the texture that turnes them off, so often it is best just to find another way to serve th eoffensive food.

funwithyourfood said...

I don't have any children but I remember loving fruits and veggies growing up. this deceptive thing seems odd to me but if it gets kids eating better than i suppose it's a good thing


Allison said...

I'm all about adding a little extra veggie "kick" to my son's food. Making my own purees was really too much for me so I use gerber babyfood instead. The favorite one in my family is 2 jars of carrots mixed into a jar of spaghetti sauce. Yes, my son will eat some veggies but why not add some as well? Kids are growing and developing so much. Why not give them all the help they can get?!?! Cheers!

Melissa said...

Actually, coming from a picky person, it's not just a matter of being hungry enough to eat it. I have a texture aversion to many vegetables. As in, they literally will make me gag. I've tried and tried and tried the veggies and it still happens every time. Sometimes I love the taste, smell, and look, but the texture makes me feel ill, such as strawberries. I can eat frozen ones, or dehydrated, but not fresh. Any large pieces of food make me gag.
My mom used to do what this book does, and sneak in more veggies into spaghetti sauce.
Honestly it's all in how they are prepared. You just have to keep serving them in different ways until one works. Like I LOVE cooked brocolli, but think it's absolutely disgusting raw. Carrots are the opposite.

holoholo said...

Molly Katzen of the Moosewood cookbook series has created beautiful cookbooks for children "Pretend Soup" and "Salad People". She makes cooking fun for kids, but more than that, she advocates teaching kids food literacy. Food literacy teaches children where food comes from, how it grows, how to cook it and then enjoy eating it! It's the opposite approach of being sneaky, and I've seen kids who are really, really picky eaters, want to touch and taste all the produce at market. Have they ever been shopping before, and if so have they been allowed to touch, taste and prepare different vegetables and fruits?

Check out this interview "Advice from a Chef: Mollie Katzen" from Cookie Magazine: