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Books rehash old tricks to whet kids' appetites The books really appeal to already concerned parents and could be accused of 'preaching to the choir.'

On the surface, the trick is harmless (if a bit sneaky). If you're worried that the kids are not eating their veggies, you simply puree the veggies and sneak them into the kind of food they really like -- mac and cheese, maybe, or even chocolate pudding.

But the trick has become a big deal.

Two books came out on the subject during the past couple of months, and some of the recipes in them were remarkably similar. "The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals" (Running Press) by Missy Chase Lapine did well at first, hitting best-seller lists immediately. But then along came "Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food" (Collins) by Jessica Seinfeld, wife of uber-comic Jerry Seinfeld, and just in time for Jerry's new "Bee Movie."

Bolstered by a visit to Oprah Winfrey (who later, if the gleeful blogs are to be believed, was showered with a gift of 21 pairs of designer shoes by the Seinfelds), that book really took off.

Well, whoever said life is fair? So far, the matter has stayed out of the courts.

Excluding the personalities involved, what is everyone getting excited about? Pureeing and combining ingredients to give kids healthy meals is a practice that some people have been following for years. So the books really appeal to already concerned parents and could be accused of "preaching to the choir."

The practice has its proponents, including Erica West of Buffalo who has done it for years for her daughter, 2 1/2 -year-old Cate. She also made her own baby food. Lately, West has been pureeing kale, freezing it and eventually putting it into black bean tacos that the whole family loves and eats.

But another mother, Stacy Batchen of Amherst, doesn't bother because she says her children already like vegetables. "I've even heard them say, 'more broccoli, please'," she says. (Reporter's note: Even my husband doesn't say that.)

"I think my real problem is keeping them away from junk food rather than getting them to eat the healthy stuff," Batchen says.

Ask most professionals, though, and they think the practice is a bad idea. Laura Rojek, who teaches at the East Aurora Community Nursery, which participates in the state-sponsored "Eat Well; Play Hard" program, says that kids should know what they are eating.

"They should know that an apple tastes delicious and that it's crunchy and it feels good in your mouth," she said. "You don't have to hide things."

Rojek says you keep offering the food and not forcing it and eventually they will eat.

Still, one mother told me how she grated carrots and put them into the meatloaf her now high school-aged son ate gleefully. I used to sneak smashed peaches into baby oatmeal, though I'm not sure that's exactly the same thing.

Yes, we definitely have a childhood obesity problem in this country and kids should eat better. But with Thanksgiving coming, I keep thinking how lucky we are in this country of plenty. Feeding problems often disappear as children get older. At least the food is there for most of us.

What about those starving kids in Africa? Bet they'd eat those carrots even if they weren't pureed.

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com

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