What they don't know isn't always helpful

  • Updated: February 1, 2012 - 3:19 PM

Should the cook hide the veggies? This one says no.

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Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

Photo: Meredith Deeds, Special to the Star Tribune

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When cookbooks showing parents how to "hide" veggies in food for their kids hit the bookstores a few years ago, I, like many millions of others, peeked inside to see what all the fuss was about.

Although I didn't buy any of those books, I could see why the idea of finding interesting ways to disguise, sneak, hide or conceal "good for you" foods among other foods that are seemingly not good for you would be appealing. Making them undetectable to any pint-sized diner who would typically turn up a nose at the thought of zucchini in spaghetti and meatballs might make it an easier sell at the dinner table.

It's a clever idea, and one that certainly has resonated with many parents, but my first thought about such books was, "If they don't know there's zucchini in the spaghetti sauce, how will they ever know that they like zucchini?"

So I took another spin at what is generally the same goal -- getting your kids to eat vegetables, and getting them to do it willingly. My thought was that if I simply started tossing in some vegetables to dishes I knew my kids already liked, they might be tempted to try them, and be more accepting of them next time around.

I started adding snap peas to my peanut noodles, asparagus to my creamy chowder, tomatoes atop my garlic bread.

I'd love to report that this high-minded "I'm not going to lie to my kids" approach worked every time, but if I did I'd be lying. Over the years, there were a few things my kids were unwilling to board the veggie train with, including broccoli slaw -- which is so popular with other families that it's a packaged product. But not for my boys.

For every failure, though, there have been many victories. One particularly successful dish has much in common with another recipe -- one for mac and cheese with butternut squash that includes the "hide the veggie" element. For that recipe, puréed squash is added to the cheese sauce.

I prefer to roast cubed butternut squash and mix it right in with the elbow mac. This creates sweet, tender little golden bites mixed in with the savory, cheesy pasta. That dish barely hit the dinner table before it was devoured, veggies and all.

Now I have the added benefit of being able to serve butternut squash in other forms without getting any upturned noses. I wonder how they'll feel about spaghetti, zucchini and meatballs?

Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at meredith@meredithdeeds.com. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.

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