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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 03/ 8/2011

Ranch dressing revisited

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

When I blogged about ranch dressing last week, I asked readers to register their feelings about the ubiquitous sauce by voting in a little poll. About 70 percent of the nearly 300 people who took part responded that they find ranch okay and use it once in a while. Just over 20 percent responded that they can't stand the stuff. The remaining votes were split about evenly between people saying they love ranch and put it on everything and those who said they'd never tried ranch.

A small and decidedly unscientific survey, to be sure. But the results are in keeping with ranch dressing's huge popularity: The vast majority like it well enough to use it at least once in a while. As I write in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, ranch is the most popular salad dressing in America.

Ranch is often offered to children along with cut-up vegetables or baby carrots. Like the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down, the ranch dip makes vegetables more palatable to kids who might otherwise shun them.

But full-fat ranch is high in fat and calories, and reduced-fat versions are packed with sodium. Is it really such a great idea to induce kids to eat vegetables by loading those carrot sticks with such nutrition-unfriendly glop?

The dietitians I interviewed for the column acknowledged that it's a trade-off, but they felt it was more important to get kids eating vegetables in the first place (using light ranch dressing) than to worry about the sodium, at least until they develop a taste for vegetables.

But will that ever happen? Or are we raising a generation of kids who think vegetables come plucked from the earth with a dollop of ranch on the side?

The issue reminded me of the controversy that erupted in 2007 when Jessica Seinfeld (wife of comedian Jerry) published her Deceptively Delicious cookbook, which encouraged sneaking vegetables into kids' meals in such a way that the kids would never know they were there. Seinfeld reported great success with adding pureed squash to macaroni and cheese, pureed beets to chocolate cake and pureed carrots to deviled eggs. While some agreed with Seinfeld's approach, others felt it was wrong to deceive children in that manner and that children should be taught from an early age to appreciate vegetables' natural deliciousness.

The argument recently took a new twist with the publication in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of a study showing that study participants who ate food to which pureed vegetables had secretly been added consumed far fewer calories than did those whose food was made from normal, no-veggies-added recipes. They also substantially increased their daily vegetable consumption -- without ever realizing they were doing so.

That sounds like a good outcome -- until you stop and think about it. Wouldn't you rather your kids learn to enjoy a nice, big, filling and fiber-rich but low-in-fat-and-calories plate full of brilliant-hued fresh or perfectly cooked vegetables than have to be sneaking cauliflower puree into their food till they go off to college?

I've got two teenagers who have on-again, off-again relationships with vegetables. I'd like to see them eat way more than they do. Readers, how do you get your kids (and teens) to eat their veggies? Do you follow the ranch/stealth approach, or do you have a scheme that works better for your family?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | March 8, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Childhood obesity, Dietary Guidelines, Family Health, Kids' health, Nutrition and Fitness, Parenting, School Nutrition, Sodium  
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I completely agree with you--how long can we "fool" kids into getting their veggies? Why not just start healthy eating habits early so that they will continue them when they leave the nest? Fruits & Veggies More Matters has a ton of ideas on getting kids involved. Take the time to do it from the start and you won't be pureeing veggies and sneaking them into recipes the rest of your parenting years. ;)

Posted by: js369 | March 8, 2011 10:22 AM | Report abuse

One of the first solid foods we gave our child was pureed peas. Why? Because that's what we were having for dinner that night so we threw some in the blender for her.

I think that feeding your child what you are eating from the very beginning, at age appropriate levels, makes things much easier in the long run. No, it was not always convenient to stop, throw some hot dish in the blender, puree, grab the veggies, etc. and repeat as necessary but now our child in her tween years she will eat everything we do and there are no fight over food at our house. The only downside we ever experienced is she that does not like macaroni and cheese because "it has no taste". She came by that honestly though as her father is of the same opinion so we never serve it at home.

We have Ranch dressing as everyone in the family likes it but since we do not use it for a dipping sauce so neither does our daughter.

Posted by: SaintPaulMN | March 8, 2011 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I don't have a problem with adding purees to kids' foods. I think it's better to get their veggies in by any means necessary, then slowly introduce vegetables as vegetables as they get older. For many kids, it's not so much the taste of the food but the texture. Besides, tastes and palates change as we age. As an adult, I eat many things that as a child I wouldn't have touched, and no longer eat things I loved as a kid. It's highly unlikely you'll be sending your kids off to college eating baby food, and even if you do, well, so what? They're getting the veggies, what difference does it make whether they're whole or pureed?

Posted by: Arlington5 | March 8, 2011 11:44 AM | Report abuse

From the time our children started eating with us we always insisted that they take one bite of everything on their plates, after which they could choose which part of the meal they would eat or be excused. This worked for us and as they have grown and changed, so have their tastes and now there is very little they won't eat.

Posted by: sdiego | March 8, 2011 2:44 PM | Report abuse

From the time our children started eating with us we always insisted that they take one bite of everything on their plates, after which they could choose which part of the meal they would eat or be excused. This worked for us and as they have grown and changed, so have their tastes and now there is very little they won't eat.

Posted by: sdiego | March 8, 2011 2:44 PM | Report abuse

If I like it and and it's expensive or a fair amount of trouble to fix, then children are certainly not required to eat it. "do I have to eat that? certainly not. all the more for me"

Posted by: abbyandmollycats | March 8, 2011 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Some of the "hidden" purees actually add to the overall flavor of many dishes--many tomato sauce based foods have heightened flavor through the addition of carrot, squash or even sweet potato puree.

Moisture is added to many baked goods by including applesauce or other fruit (or even vegetable) purees or shreds.

I agree that "hiding" vegetables because that is the only way to get them on the menu is an unsatisfactory way to build good eating habits for a lifetime. However, boosting the overall nutritive value of some foods while at the same time introducing kids to a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can be a good approach.

Better the kids have some "squash enhanced" macaroni and cheese--with perhaps some steamed broccoli or French green beans on the side--than to use the artificially yellow stuff that masquerades as cheese to brighten up the dish.

Posted by: hsl2000 | March 8, 2011 5:46 PM | Report abuse

The problem with this story and so many like is is the phrase "vegetables' natural deliciousness." If they really were so delicious, it wouldn't be difficult to get kids or adults to eat them.

I'm an adult, I understand the importance of eating veggies, but I have to look for ways to sneak them in or disguise the taste, because very few of them taste good to me. I can't even fathom how people eat broccoli, even the smell of it bothers me. But I know plenty of people who love broccoli.

I've tasted a lot of vegetables prepared a lot of different ways and most of them still don't taste good to me. Yes, it's important to get kids to try all kinds of foods and teach them the importance of eating vegetables. But it's also important to be realistic. No one, child or adult, wants to eat food they don't like.

Posted by: lalalu1 | March 8, 2011 6:03 PM | Report abuse

Vegetables are highly overrated. So? If you are neurotic and determined to "eat healthy" put a bunch of them into a blender and make baby food out of them, then gulp the slush down and fight to keep it down. Once past the barf zone, and into the tummy, why, you have just nourished yourself and are now free to eat whatever you really want to eat... but you won't be hungry! Surprise! A great weight loss technique but you won't overcome the desire for something delicious. There is no free lunch, except, course, a raw beet, or raw potato, or a raw head of cabbage. Sometimes eating is as highly overrated as vegetables and that is why booze was invented. "I'll have a double scotch in a slurry of asparagus slime. URP!" Keep smiling.

Posted by: squarf | March 8, 2011 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Parents of my mom and dad's generation would never have dreamed of making two meals - one for them and one for us - so we ate whatever they were having for dinner so we'll eat pretty much anything well into adulthood. My brother's kids got the separate meals though, so the first two won't eat much that isn't beige but the youngest will eat anything, preferably on a dare.

Posted by: duhneese | March 8, 2011 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Vegetables aren't *naturally delicious* to kids, or nobody would ever have this conversation in the first place. (The fact that it goes on in every household in America should tell you something.) The taste for vegetables comes with a mature palette, not sooner.

So 'sneaking' some vegetables into otherwise yummy stuff is a great idea. The kids will come around, and perhaps planting those seeds in their taste buds will make them come around quicker. It couldn't hurt, certainly.

Posted by: miffedone | March 8, 2011 8:56 PM | Report abuse

Who worries about kids? I have trouble getting my husband to eat the danged vegetables!! He doesn't like any dressing though, so I sprinkle some parmasan cheese on top of it. No matter what the "experts" say, vegetables are ok, but not terrific tasting, so there!! That's the truth of it, people will forever be fooling around with vegetables in order to "get" someone to really eat them by the plate full. Does anyone out there "sneak" broccoli or cauliflower, late at night??

Posted by: kuchen | March 8, 2011 9:42 PM | Report abuse

I honestly think this is a situation where beggars can't be choosers. Nutrition experts have been trying for decades to get more Americans to eat more vegetables. Ranch dressing has gone a long ways towards accomplishing that goal for many Americans. Personally, I absolutely love salads, and eat them frequently. I also love Ranch dressing, and frequently eat my salads with Ranch. However, I also exercise pretty vigorously on a regular basis. I'm not overly concerned about the added fat with Ranch dressing, personally, since I burn much of that fat off with my exercising.

Posted by: liberalsareblind | March 8, 2011 10:17 PM | Report abuse

I just now received my free product sample from name brand companies, quite a few of them from "123 Get Samples" online

Posted by: joansmithy123 | March 9, 2011 2:14 AM | Report abuse

I was surprised that one of the alternatives wasn't make your own. I have a recipe with skim buttermilk, nonfat yogurt, low-fat myo and herbs and spices, which is great and according to Eating Well has about 16 calories per tablesppoon and 73 MG sodium. Seems like a no brainer.

Posted by: SherryJeanne1 | March 10, 2011 2:40 PM | Report abuse

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