There goes another thing I swore I’d never do before having kids…
In those care-free days (at least that’s how I remember them now), I self-righteously poo-poo’ed the trend of using subterfuge to get kids to eat their vegetables. The idea, popularized in Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld (wife of Jerry), is to puree vegetables and add them to foods kids will eat, resulting in recipes like meatloaf (with carrots) and quesadillas (with butternut squash). Kids should learn to love vegetables, I thought, not be tricked into eating them! Oh, and I also thought my kids would never watch television and only play with wooden toys.
And, actually, we never had to resort to these tactics with our older son, Jack. While he has always had a tolerate-hate relationship with vegetables, Jack has always loved fruit. So, we figured the bananas, grapes, strawberries, and apples he ate on a daily basis, along with the cucumbers, carrots, and broccoli he managed to choke down on occasion was nutritionally sufficient. For the most part, Jack liked healthy food—tofu was among his favorites until recently, when, out of the blue, he decided he didn’t like it (I’m convinced one of the kids at his school told him it was supposed to be gross). And now that he’s able to completely communicate and use logic (call it “the age of reason”), even when he doesn’t want to eat healthy food, we can use incentive and/or punishment to encourage him.
But Benny, now 20 months old, has been a different story. Although he is much more compliant than his brother in so many ways, Benny refuses to eat pretty much any fruits or vegetables. For a long time, our pediatricians told us, he was getting most of the nutrition he needed from milk. But when we started to phase out the bottle, we were at a loss. No matter how hungry he was, Benny would simply refuse to eat anything “healthy.” He seemed to have a sixth sense for the stuff. He’ll eat endless chicken, turkey, meatballs, etc., and, of course, bread, cereal, and pasta, but if he accidentally put a zuchinni bit or broccoli floret that had been mixed in with his pasta in his mouth, he would immediately spit it out, as if it had set off some invisible sensor. Yogurt mixed with fruit and occasionally applesauce were the only reliable sources of fruits or vegetables.
We’ve tried not letting him have other foods unless he eats vegetables, but after maybe an hour of whining/screaming, we would usually relent and give him some turkey breast or cheerios. I suppose we could have been tougher and put him to bed hungry, but then we would likely all suffer.
Inspiration came a few weeks ago when we brought some beautiful zuchinni home from the farmer’s market. I looked up a recipe for zuchinni bread—which included two large zuchinnis in a small loaf, along with, of course, lots of butter and sugar—and made it. Benny couldn’t get enough. While it lasted, we gave him zuchinni bread instead of cheerios for breakfast, and instead of turkey for lunch. A few days later, my wife cut some broccoli into tiny pieces and mixed it with ground turkey to make meatballs. Benny devoured them! There were a few moments when he seemed to pause with something in his mouth—we were sure he was onto us—but he just kept putting the green stuff away.
We haven’t yet experimented with purees—and we haven’t bought the book yet—but we’re sold on the idea, at least as a stopgap measure. We intend to keep serving salad and grilled vegetables for dinner every night, and putting them on Benny’s plate, but until he’s convinced of how delicious they are, he’ll be getting what he needs. In his mashed potatoes.
Anybody have other ideas?