Food Hiding – Helpful or Harmful?

When you have or ARE a picky eater, hiding or “sneaking” in foods may sound like a pretty clever way to get in things like fruits and vegetables that might not be the first choice. On one hand, the idea of combining foods for better nutrition can be exciting and worth exploring. On the other hand, if your long-term goal is to genuinely eat and even ENJOY a greater variety of foods, you may consider a different approach. To help figure it out, answer this question: What is the REAL health goal?

If the goal is to simply increase the amount of nutrients in meals without having to eat or drink more, then sneaking in foods may actually be a practical solution.

For example, this might be a good idea for those who are trying to gain or maintain their weight. In this case, adding things like ground nuts and seeds or avocados can pack a healthy punch of calories and nutrients without changing the flavor and texture drastically. Another case is those who have had changes to their appetite or even changes in tolerance of certain foods due to factors such as medications or medical conditions that may limit the ability to eat large amounts of food at one time. In this case, adding chopped or pureed vegetables to casseroles, pastas, and sauces for added vitamin C, fiber, and phytonutrients would be a great idea!

If the goal is to become less picky, more comfortable, and experience more joy with foods over time, consider this:  

Understand and appreciate the role of honesty and trust in the kitchen.

The kitchen is a wonderful place to build healthy relationships with food and one another. This includes being open to learning more about what foods are important and why our body needs them. When trying to help a picky eater, it is important for that person to know and trust that what they THINK is going in their body is actually what it is! This is a critical part of food exploration. If ignored, hiding foods may create distrust with new foods in the future. When we explore foods over time, we learn more about what we do and do not like about certain foods which can help in the long-run. Honesty really is the best policy when it comes to life and food.

Make sure you are fully aware of the reason behind the limited intake in the first place.

If you or your loved one had a scary experience with food like choking, there may be a fear of this happening again. In this case, foods with a lot of different textures or sizes might feel hard to control. For example, soup with a lot of different shapes and textures or chicken casserole with stringy chicken where you can’t tell if it is chicken or cheese. Basically, when you can see foods clearly and separately, you are more likely to feel in control and more open to eating those foods. Other common examples to think about and explore include: limited intake as a result of a previous illness, allergic reaction, or even just a bad social experience. Whatever the reason, understanding and talking through the root-cause is critical when figuring out the best approach for each person.

Lastly, knowing that it is ok to not like a certain food the first time – or even the 15th time for that matter – can be encouraging.

In fact, some research suggests that it could take between 15 and 20 tastes before you like or tolerate certain foods. Some ways to help explore foods over time without feeling overwhelmed include: adding new foods to those already familiar with, preparing foods in fun shapes and designs, changing up the cooking method, and even “chaining” foods together so new foods seem familiar. For example, start with crinkle-cut veggie chips. When ready, try a thin-crinkle-cut raw carrot and then eventually baby carrots. Remember that the process takes time. Celebrating even small wins can keep you moving forward towards your health goals.

Thinking through this can be fun and challenging at the same time. Keep in mind that there is no one perfect approach to exploring new foods. Talking with Registered Dietitians can be a great way to discover the best approach that is right for you, and as always, Banister Nutrition is here to support you! AS