Like much in life, raising kids is all about give and take, except the takers will whine and (literally) cry if they don't get what they want, and they'll also tell you you're mean. The tug of wars extend to the food arena. Although I have diligently raised my children with daily helpings of fresh vegetables, I still find myself making deals with them when it comes to eating some of them. Broccoli and kale are no problem. Swiss chard is a favorite. Olives and sea weed actually top the list of most beloved foods. But Brussels sprouts, asparagus and summer squash are trouble.
I know plenty of parents who simply don't serve the vegetables their kids dislike, while others hide the vegetables in the food. I have to say that I think these ideas are a mistake. Kids have many reasons for striking a vegetable off the list. From hearing on the playground that something is gross, to remembering (or misremembering) when something looked icky, those sweet and adorable little opinionated people have many reasons for rejecting entire plant families outright. But we need to remember that these are the same kids who decided they hate pink after years of wanting to wear only that color. So instead of caving in to what is often a misinformed judgment (spinach is NOT slimy all the time; it’s only like that when Aunt YouKnowWho makes it), I say we parents stand firm (which includes not serving mushy vegetables). Let's teach our kids that vegetables are crisp, crunchy, sweet and tasty. Plus it's our jobs as parents to educate them about the nuances of life. Sure, overcooked cauliflower has a pungent smell, but sauté it in olive oil on high heat with sea salt and those florets taste sweet and even a bit nutty.
But getting kids to try (or sometimes retry after years of happy consumption) a vegetable may take some bargaining. For instance, earlier this week when I was dropping Brussels sprouts in a bag while shopping, my daughter Maddie held up her hand (imagine the international sign for STOP) and exclaimed, "I don't like Brussels sprouts anymore." My first thought was "Huh? You've always loved Brussels sprouts"; but my second thought was "Too bad; you're eating them anyway." And so I bargained.
"Well what other vegetable do you like? We can have that one tomorrow."
"Kale, but we had that the other night."
"Okay. Well I want to make a root vegetable stew tomorrow anyway, so how about this: I'll buy something else you like if you promise to eat all your Brussels sprouts tonight."
Now my daughters can see an opportunity to get something they want but that I usually wouldn't buy a mile away. So realizing such an occasion had occurred, Maddie stopped and turned to her twin sister, Sophie, for consultation. I continued to drop sprouts in my bag, giving them space to figure out their demands.
After a minute or two of whispering, both girls looked up at me and said, in unison, "We want Cup of Noodles."
My stomach twisted in a knot. I detest Cup of Noodles (which on the package is actually called "Cup Noodles" When did they lose the "of"? There's also Maruchan Instant Lunch, but really they're all the same thing).
I know. I know. What's so bad about ramen in a cup, right? Many people lived off those dehydrated noodles and corn kernels during college, but when I spy a package all I see is 1480 mg of sodium and a Styrofoam cup that will still be here in 2110. Now I'm no enigma. My thoughts are usually plastered all over my face, so seeing my obvious annoyance at their terms, Maddie said "we'll eat ALL our Brussels sprouts."
Knowing that my daughters are little tree huggers at heart, I tossed out what I thought was a sure fire deal killer: "That Styrofoam cup isn't recyclable. It will sit in a landfill forever."
Maddie looked up at me with those big brown eyes, "I'll keep it on my desk and put erasers in it." And I know she will.
So what's a mom to do? Stand firm and make Cup of Noodles a forbidden fruit or grab an opportunity to get my kids to eat all their vegetables and convince them that Brussels sprouts really are delicious. I did the latter.
Later that evening as we ate our dinner, I asked my daughters how they liked the slivered Brussels sprouts sautéed in pancetta and garlic and served with toasted walnuts and mascarpone cheese (recipe forthcoming next week). Both girls seemed to have forgotten that they hated Brussels sprouts. "It's good. Why?" asked Sophie while Maddie just powered through the meal without a word. Next time, I'm going shopping by myself.
How do you handle food battles with your kids?
Note: I've since learned that my trash company will recycle the Styrofoam cup, but I still hate Cup of Noodles.