April 15th, 2009
Michelle and I consider ourselves to be flexible. No, really! Even when it comes to eating. But we also realize that our passion for good food and focus on inspiring the same passion in our children may give the impression that we are unwilling to compromise. While that’s true in extreme cases–no McDonald’s for Isaac or Atticus–we compromise and splurge just like every busy parent. How do you not (and stay sane)? And, anyway, what message does it send our kids if we can’t relax and enjoy most foods in moderation without stress?
My most recent compromise? I just took two 3-hour plane rides with Isaac. You better believe my bag was packed with “pecial treats” including a boxed chocolate milk that had almost as much sugar as my can of ginger ale and a bag of super processed mini babybel cheeses. It’s what was available and, plus, can you think of better plane entertainment for a 2-year-old than cheese + wax?
But now that I’ve gone out of my way to demonstrate that Michelle and I are flexible, I’m gonna to draw a very rare line in the sand. We don’t—we won’t—subscribe to the hiding veggies philosophy popularized by Jessica Seinfeld and the Sneaky Chef books. Period.
All right. I’m playing a bit of a semantic game. I said that we don’t subscribe to the philosophy of hiding vegetables. I didn’t say that we refuse to de-emphasize vegetables or serve things that our kids may not realize contain veggies (like sweet potato in oatmeal). Rather, it’s the idea of promoting an ongoing habit of keeping our kids in the dark about how delicious and versatile veggies are that gets our panties in a knot (so to speak).
I understand that this issue is more challenging for some families than it is for others. Some kids will refuse a side of savory carrots, even super flavorful ones like Michelle’s Roasted Cumin Coriander Carrots, but chow down sweet carrot pudding (I’m dying to try this recipe). For these kids, some creative, but honest cookery often does the trick. But other children will inspect their foods like freaking Sherlock Holmes. For them, it’s about a seemingly random, yet remarkably steadfast stand against certain vegetables, colors, and/or textures. Dealing with these kids is hard. And stressful. And while I get how it might push some to consider an ongoing habit of hiding veggies, I can’t help but wonder:
Doesn’t hiding veggies exacerbate and prolong the problem?
While I once experimented with mashed cauliflower florets in Isaac’s chicken salad (which, by the way, totally worked), I’ve decided that I’d rather he refuse to eat vegetables all together than hide them ongoing. This (controversial?) decision was informed by two realizations:
Some parents will opt for the short term comfort of ensuring that every meal is as maximally nutritious as possible, but Michelle and I have put our money on the long bet. And when a phase keeps us from successfully serving simple, flavorful veggie sides (like this Quick Sauteed Bok Choy or Pineapple Almond Spinach Salad) and mains (like Swiss Chard and Mushroom Enchiladas), we throw in family-friendly dishes that de-emphasize veggies (like these Zucchini Feta Turkey Burgers). The trick (as opposed to trickery!) is to talk to our kids about what’s in their food so that they start to develop an understanding of how versatile veggies are. Sometimes we tell them upfront, other times we wait until after the fact. But the message is always strong and clear: WE LOVE VEGGIES!
Here are some go-to dishes that make subtle use of veggies and will keep you honest, even through pickier phases (and please share your suggestions, too!):
Isaac loves “eggies,” so veggie scrambles and frittatas are another go-to for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I love zucchini with mint (reminds me of springtime in Rome!) and shredding the zucchini helps it blend in with the eggs, so this is a favorite. You can easily adapt this for other ingredients. We also like potato, asparagus, and fontina; broccoli and cheddar; and ham, peas, and smoked mozzarella. When using heartier veggies like asparagus and potato, saute in olive oil to soften before adding to egg. Also, cubed or crumbled cheese works just as well as grated. And add your favorite herbs for extra zing.
Zucchini Mint Frittata
(can be served to kids 12+ mos)
8 organic eggs
1/2 cup organic grated parmesan or crumbled organic feta (you can add as much as 1 cup if you like your eggs super cheesy)
3 tbsp fresh organic mint, chopped
2 medium organic zucchini, grated, squeezed dry
salt and pepper
organic olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In the meantime, whisk together eggs, cheese, mint, and salt and pepper (unless serving to early eaters, in which case you can salt and pepper individual portions before serving). Fold zucchini into egg mixture.
2. Brush a 9″ pie dish or oven proof skillet with olive oil and pour in egg mixture. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until frittata is set and browned. Insert a toothpick or knife into the center of the frittata—it’s done when it comes out clean.
NOTE: I often half this recipe and divide the frittata mixture between 4 oiled ramekins. They bake for about 2o minutes and make perfect little kid portions.