Well, actually, someone did ask...
There's been a lot of hype this week over Jessica Seinfeld's new book Deceptively Delicious where she discusses ways to hide veggies in foods kids love in order to get them to eat more vegetables. I've not read the book, but apparently she advises parents to hide spinach in brownies or butternut squash puree in macaroni and cheese. These ideas and recipes may or may not be her own, but that's for her lawyers to sort out.
I'm just going to say it: I think this is a bad, bad idea and I think parents of my parents' generation are all rolling their eyes thinking, "Parents today are soft. Grow a friggin backbone already."
I think Seinfeld's book is based on the presumption that there are certain foods that moms consider "kid food" (mac n cheese, PB&J, chicken nuggets etc.). And I also think it's born out of a certain privileged point-of-view. I mean, when do we stop catering to our children's every whim (because not everyone can afford to) and stop being short-order cooks in the kitchen. (Plus, does anyone believe she is really doing the cooking, cuz if I had all her money, I might not. Or at least, not as often.) I say, stop thinking about food as being divided into kid-friendly fare and "adults only."
The bottom line is this: I don't want my food to be deceptively delicious. I want it to be delicious. Full stop. And if it isn't, maybe I need to go back to the drawing board and try again.
Yes, my kids drink fruit juice, eat the occasional mac 'n cheese or chicken nugget, and we aren't above a Happy Meal treat every now and them, so I am definitely not hardcore about anything when it comes to food. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. But I am strongly opposed to "kid menus" and foods created specifically with kids in mind. Why limit your child's palate from the beginning? I say, start them out by exposing them to everything, even if you don't like it. Even if it's not on the kids menu. And especially if you think they won't like it. You never know. Palates are individualistic. The first time my 14-month-old devoured half of my Caesar salad, I knew that letting kids try everything (barring allergies) was the way to go.
- If your kid won't eat vegetables, feed them fruit.
- If you kid, doesn't eat fruit, feed them veggies.
- If your kid won't eat either, maybe talk to your doctor about vitamins.
- And if all the above doesn't work, take comfort in the fact that "it's not your cooking, it's your genes." (Okay, maybe that's not helpful.)
Do I have a solution that will work for everyone? No. Do I know the frustration that comes with parenting a picky eater? No. But I know what has worked for my family, and I share it here:
- We've feed our kids what we've eaten almost from the beginning. We went through the same period of introducing new foods to babies that everyone goes through but we weren't hardcore about it. I've always used herbs and spices in my cooking and would add a little curry to pureed acorn squash or ground oregano to mashed zucchini. For the babies, I avoided using salt or spicy chilies, but I wanted their foods to have flavor. Would you like to eat pureed chicken with nothing to enhance the flavor? I wouldn't, so I added a drop of extra virgin olive oil and the teensiest pinch of rubbed sage or a smidge or unsalted butter. Food may be tasty in its natural state, but most of the time, I think it's better when you "do" something to it. Once they hit about 9-10-months-old though, our dinner--whether it was spaghetti or mild lamb curry or roast chicken and potatoes--went into the food mill and was fed to our kids.
- Try, try again. I reintroduce foods often. I cook what my husband and I want to eat and try to incorporate at least once item I know my girls love. You never know when kids will decide they want to try something. If they reject it once, try it again next month. And the next. I have a 5-year-old that lists her favorite foods as brussels sprouts and pasta with truffles. Go figyer.
- I don't cook two meals. If my kids don't like it, they don't have to eat it. I won't let them starve: we always have yogurt or fruit on hand, but I can count on one hand the times they've turned their noses up at dinner in favor of yogurt.
- Make food fun. We often have breakfast for dinner or cold pizza for breakfast. My five-year-old definitely is of the mind that breakfast foods are for breakfast and so on, so when we change it up, she gets a huge kick out of that.
- Let your children be involved in the entire cooking process. Take them shopping with you. Let them hold and smell the ingredients. Marvel over delicious-looking tomatoes or bright pink salmon. Say it out loud, "Look at that broccoli rabe. That would be so yummy roasted with garlic and bacon. What do you think?" Let them hear you gush so they know that food is fabulous! Talk about the ways you will cook the items you buy and what sounds good, then let them help! Anytime I can involve my girls in the kitchen I do. They naturally want to help and even though it's tempting to say no--especially when you are rushed and don't want kids underfoot while you are tryin to get a meal on the table--resist. Say yes and let them get their hands dirty. I believe that when kids are invested in cooking the meal, they are more apt to want to eat it.
- When we offer treats (dessert night is once a week) we also offer fruit. My kids will eat their treat and will also always eat the fruit. Sometimes they even reach for the fruit first.
Hiding foods, though? No. Never done it. It just seems so distrustful and I'm not the only one who thinks so. I've seen my daughter spot a microscopic fleck of parsley in her food with her bionic vision. Imagine how she would feel if I tried to sneak an eggplant chunk (her least favorite food item) into her meal. I think I'd have bigger issues to deal with then.
Just say no to Deceptively Delicious.
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Cross-posted on my food blog, Family Food.