I am typically up front with my kids about what ingredients comprise our green smoothies, muffins or brownies. On occasion, I have left out the fact that the apple muffins have pureed spinach or the dipping sauce has cauliflower.
Opinions on this topic are divided. Some feeding experts propose that hiding vegetables in food exacerbates the problem; it could promote the idea that vegetables are not “good enough” to eat on their own, and potentially cause a child not to trust the food he is looking at. Others propose that hiding food is a great way to ensure all the food groups are consumed with as little head-butting as possible.
You can find some type of literature to support both sides of the argument.
In my mind, it is about the established relationship you and your child already have at the table. Is your child already wary of foods you present? Is your child confident or nervous at the table?
Say your child thought the pancakes in front of him were his usual, favourite pancakes. He takes a bite and they taste different because you’ve added chia seeds. Now he starts to refuse them all together. You’ve lost those favourite pancakes from his food repertoire, EVEN IF YOU MAKE THEM THE OLD WAY. He may not trust they really are the “old” pancakes. If this is your child’s temperament or tendency, try making his usual pancakes but add flax meal, pureed spinach or whatever it is you are trying to increase, only to the last few pancakes. You can just add a very tiny bit of the new ingredient, with the goal to increase the ratio next time. Tell him that the last pancake is different and introduce them side by side. Even if he doesn’t eat it, consider looking at it, cutting it up, ripping it apart by hand, or licking it a successful introduction. To make life more manageable, freeze a whole batch of the “different” pancakes and whenever you make your usual batch, pull the different one from the freezer.
A wary eater may do okay with hidden foods in the short term (i.e. they may have a bite of a squash muffin at one meal). Over the long term, discerning, sensitive eaters will not increase their vegetable intake with the hidden food strategy and may in fact, end up deleting previously accepted foods from their repertoire.
More flexible eaters may do just fine with their accepted foods tasting slightly different due to something “hidden”. You can still start with a very small amount of the new ingredient and increase incrementally with each introduction.
If you have a picky eater and aren’t sure how he will do with the hidden food strategy, try it on something that isn’t a staple in your daily menu. Afterward, consider talking about how the food was slightly different, with the goal in mind of empowering your child’s eating confidence.
Bottom line: Think hard about it before you hide things on your kids and don’t tell them.