Hiding pureed vegetables in children’s favourite dishes is an effective way to get them to eat more healthily, according to a U.S. study.

The researchers found that when parents enhanced popular meals such as noodle dishes or casseroles with pureed vegetables, their preschool children ate about twice as many vegetables daily and also had a much lower calorie intake.

“It’s known that children would rather eat fruit and vegetables cut up into small pieces than whole,” said Monika Niehaus, a spokeswoman with Germany’s Professional Association of Children’s and Young People’s Physicians. “Now there’s another method that can help parents to get small children to eat healthier food.” The meals enhanced with vegetable puree contained 15 to 25 per cent fewer calories. Researchers served 39 children aged 3 to 6 with their favourite dishes for several days with various pureed vegetables added -- for example broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes and squash -- and told them to eat as much as they wanted.

They ate as much of their favourite dishes as usual, finding them equally tasty even with pureed vegetables as a new ingredient.

It’s often difficult to get small children to eat healthy food, Niehaus noted: “If it were up to the children, they’d choose sweets and noodles most of the time.” So there is nothing wrong with hiding vegetables in their food, she said.