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Cookbook author Missy Chase Lapine is up to her old sneaky tricks again

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CONCORD, N.H. - Missy Chase Lapine's newest cookbook includes a chapter on holiday recipes, but in her kitchen, every day is April Fool's Day.

Her first book, "The Sneaky Chef," laid out the basics of her approach to feeding finicky kids: hiding vegetable purees in their favourite foods to increase nutritional content and decrease dinner table tension. The followup, "The Sneaky Chef to the Rescue," builds on that approach with 101 new recipes, many written in direct response to reader feedback.

In between, she sued Jerry Seinfeld and his wife claiming that ideas for Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook "Deceptively Delicious" were stolen from Lapine's book.

Lapine wouldn't comment on the lawsuit in a recent phone interview, but in court documents she claims Seinfeld "blatantly and wilfully copied" her idea, down to the book's organization and design. The Seinfelds have asked a federal judge in New York to throw out the suit, saying it "gives new meaning to the terms 'objectively unreasonable' and 'publicity stunt."'

To hear it from Lapine, she doesn't need the publicity. Her new book is full of testimonials from fans, including a mother of six who says two of her children with autism have made significant academic and emotional gains since she began using the recipes. Another declares herself a "kitchen rock star" after her kids asked for seconds.

"There's an endless demand for more Sneaky Chef recipes. From what I've heard from my readers, it's not really a cookbook, it's really a book they live out of," Lapine said from her home in Westchester, N.Y.

Besides holidays and celebrations, Lapine includes chapters devoted to lower-calorie recipes and recipes for children with food allergies. There's a green-and-red striped smoothie for Christmas morning that combines strawberries and avocado, a reduced-fat version of the "Brainy Brownies" featured in first book that includes even more pureed spinach and blueberries and egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free granola bars.

In fact, the book's introduction reads more like an article in a parenting magazine than a cookbook: Lapine describes parents trading amusing stories about their picky eaters while trying to hide how deeply bothered they are that their children aren't getting the nutrients they need.

In the interview, she takes credit not only for teaching parents how to feed their families healthier food, but also for making "people feel like good mothers again."

Lapine's method does have its critics, however.

Lynn Brann, an assistant professor of nutrition at Syracuse University, specializes in children's nutrition. She said being sneaky doesn't teach children to enjoy fruit and vegetables in their own right.

"As a parent and professional, I'm not trying to pull one over on my kid," she said. "What we really want them to do is enjoy and eat the actual food, and I don't think this method is helping to do that."

Lapine insists that in most cases, "kids are in on it, and they love it," i.e., they're thrilled to be eating their favourite foods or they enjoy the "game" of trying to figure out which veggies might be lurking in their meals.

And she isn't advocating that hidden purees become a child's only source of vegetables; she urges parents to continue to present a variety of vegetables on their own. The idea is that once they know their kids are getting at least some healthy ingredients, parents can educate their children about a healthy diet without the old suppertime showdowns.

"I've never said just be sneaky. I'm always saying sneak and teach," she said. "By cooking this way and putting the world's healthiest ingredients in kids' favourite meals, you've eased the pressure. Now you can put out the steamed broccoli and teach them about how to eat healthy ... nobody can learn under pressure."

Brann called that good advice, but still believes the overall approach lulls parents into thinking they're creating lifelong vegetable lovers. She advocates providing children with a variety of healthy foods at consistent times. They won't starve if they skip a meal, she said, and are more likely to eat what's offered if they arrive at the next meal or snack time a bit hungry.

"It's not really our responsibility as parents to make them eat. Children should decide whether or how much they will eat," she said. "It takes a lot of effort, and it takes patience. Parents don't want to be patient."

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"The Sneaky Chef to the Rescue" will be published April 14 by Running Press, an imprint of Perseus Books.

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