For the first year of our marriage, I was a vegetarian and Matt didn’t eat fruit or vegetables. This is absolutely true. We were young and dumb and super annoying dinner party guests. Luckily, over the years, food gradually became more and more important to us. I started eating meat. He started eating veggies. And now, of course, food and cooking is pretty much at the center of everything we do. When we were still market farmers, I had to be able to give people such a delicious recipe for the giant bunch of swiss chard I was asking them to buy (saute with bacon and garlic, serve with fresh rolls) that they would come back every week to buy some more. I had to work hard on my culinary skills.
But I winced every time a customer asked my kids if they liked swiss chard, or some other wacky vegetable that normal kids wouldn’t poke with a stick. I’m sure somewhere there lives a mother that has done such a good job with palate training that her kids request things like roasted brussels sprouts for after school snack and declare that their favorite food is cabbage. If you are that mother, good work. I hope to be like you someday. Despite all my best efforts, though, when a customer asked my boy if he enjoyed kale, he would anxiously look around for a place to hide. “Why? Is that what’s for dinner? Thanks for the warning.”
It was great advertising for the family business.
My kids, however reluctant, do eat a lot more vegetables than I ever did at their age, and I think that’s progress. If you wish your kids ate more veggies, but are having trouble making it happen, here are some things that have worked for us:
1. Grow your own. My kids will stuff themselves full of green beans or peas or cherry tomatoes or almost anything that they can pick for themselves all day long out in the field. For whatever reason, though, putting those same vegetables on a dinner plate transforms them from delicious to disgusting. I don’t know why this is, exactly, but I think it has something to do with liberty and self-determination and the sheer joy of driving your mother bonkers. So we encouraged free-range grazing through the vegetable rows. Now we live in town and get the same effect with a cherry tomato plant in a pot on a patio.
2. Allow Experiments. One memorable late spring evening I put my kids in charge of making a dinner salad. “Just go pick stuff you’ll eat!” said I, in complete exasperation. They put together a bizarre mix of spring carrots, calendula petals, and raisins, smothered the whole thing in Italian dressing, and we all ate it like it was ice cream. It really was that good. Weird. But good.
3. Eat Seasonally. The key to honestly enjoying vegetables, for kids and adults, is eating them while they are still fresh. It took me years to recover from a childhood full of mushy, over microwaved frozen lima beans and broccoli, and I’m working hard to save my kids from that same fate. Buying locally grown vegetables that are in season now increases the chance that these vegetables will actually taste good to you and your kids. We’re still eating the occasional salad, but since it’s September, the bulk of our meals will start coming from things we’re harvesting now. Cauliflower gratin. Potato leek soup. And yes, even roasted brussels sprouts.
4. Go Underground. The only way anyone in my family will touch an eggplant is if that eggplant is breaded, fried, and smothered in cheese and sauce. I enjoy summer squash, but my kids really, honestly have trouble choking the stuff down, and I feel bad watching them gag on dinner. So I puree it and put it in pizza and spaghetti sauce and they don’t even know it’s there. Also, in this former vegetarian’s humble opinion, any vegetable recipe is much improved by adding bacon. When all else fails, lie about whether there are tomatoes in that casserole. Nutrition really is just that important.
I’m sure there are other tricks, and I desperately want to know what they are before my kids grow up with the same annoyingly picky eating habits Matt and I had in early adulthood. What works for you all?