Friday, December 14, 2007

Sneaky Cuisine

I have not read Deceptively Delicious, and I have no plans to. Yet it seems everywhere I’ve turned over the past couple of months, food writers and book reviewers have all weighed in, rather contentiously, on the subject of getting children to eat fruits and vegetables. In the best-selling book, Mrs. Seinfeld shares the ways she has tricked her children into eating healthfully, and it seems that hiding vegetable purees in typical kid fare is something that gets people riled up in a hurry. And you know how easily offended we have all become...

My lack of interest in reading the book has nothing to do with my taking a moral stand on the issue. If anything, I simply don’t need to read a how-to book about deceiving my child. I do it all the time. Oh sure, I know you’re not supposed to lie to children. And honesty is the best policy. I’ve heard all that. But I’ve found that the quickest way to pre-empt an incoming meltdown is to lie. I have managed to convince The Big Boy that the ice cream freezer in Blockbuster is art. Same goes for the pastry case by the coffee counter at Barnes & Noble. And you know those big arcade thingies whereby you put in a quarter (or more) and then try to manipulate a defective claw into picking up a stuffed animal? Art.

The Big Boy is catching on to my ways. He now waits until he is sure people are watching, and then he points at a table full of cupcakes in Publix, narrows his eyes at it and asks in his loudest, most suspicious tone, “Mom, is that art?” Without batting an eye, or worrying in the least what these onlookers might think, I reply in the affirmative. The Big Boy has taken to muttering, “That sure does look like some good art.”

But back to the book…

Children can be challenging when it comes to proper nutrition. My mother raised me to eat very healthfully, and this is one of the only ways in which I did NOT rebel against her as I got older. Even when I got my first apartment, it didn’t occur to me to stock the kitchen with potato chips and soda. Instead, when I remembered to eat at all (you know how eighteen-year-old girls can be), I tended towards salads or fruit. But lest I come off sounding too pious here, I distinctly remember chowing down on junk food when I was much younger and the opportunities presented themselves when I was visiting relatives. And The Big Boy is the master of choosing the junkiest of the junk when the choice is available. This is why I have made sure to stock his shelf in the pantry with boxes of raisins and whole-grain cereals. The refrigerator shelf at his eye-level holds yogurt, blueberry bagels, baby carrots and the like. It just isn't any of his business that I hide my stash of dark chocolate truffles up in the kitchen cabinets behind the drinking glasses.

Whoops. Now Big Mama will know where to find them when she comes over.

I do not begrudge Mrs. Seinfeld her deception. Rather, I applaud it. Crucial physical development takes place in these early years, development that depends on adequate nutrition, and these just happen to be the years when kids can be incredibly annoying to argue with. If your son or daughter steadfastly refuses to eat anything but mac & cheese, go ahead and add some pureed cauliflower. They’ll never know. Your toddler will only eat fruit with a sweet dip? Fine, thaw out some orange juice concentrate and let them go to town on some apple slices. Mix some wheat germ into peanut butter to add fiber to a ‘white-bread-only’ munchkin. Learn how to make muffins with whole-wheat flour, sweeten them with applesauce, and add chopped nuts and dried fruits to the batter. There is no need to make sure your child knows you have won the battle. I say let them think the power is theirs. There will be ample opportunities to disabuse them of this notion in later years.

Besides, children become more reasonable as they get past the toddler and preschool stage, and it is then that I plan to take my stand. When The Big Boy is older, I fully intend to stare him down at the dinner table until he eats his vegetables. And he will get no dessert until he cleans his plate. But until then, I will continue to trick him in any way I can. For the past week, I have been cutting PB&J sandwiches with a champagne flute so that I can serve him “Circle Sammiches,” which, I might add, he has been wolfing down. Since he has lately lost interest in fruit, I have learned to whirl yogurt and frozen fruit in the blender, and serve him smoothies for a snack. And he wouldn’t touch a green bean until I served it to him with ketchup. Hey, if he wants “green bean fries,” who am I to judge?

Don’t get me wrong. The Big Boy is not living a monk’s life here. I make desserts ALL THE TIME. I just tell him they’re all gone after he has had one piece. I suppose I should be ashamed or at least a little alarmed at how easily the lies just roll off my tongue. But let's just consider me creative...

BANANA CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS (makes 12 muffins, adapted from The Mom's Guide to Meal Makeovers)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup low-fat milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
  1. Stir together the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, wheat germ, baking powder and salt.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix the bananas, eggs, brown sugar, oil, milk and vanilla.
  3. Pour the banana mixture over the dry ingredients, and stir just until moistened.
  4. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Spoon the batter into 12 greased muffin cups.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes (until the muffins are light golden and a toothpick comes out clean).


catholicmom said...

I love your creative ideas...I wish I had thought about "art." My kids thought the car wouldn't start unless everyone had on their seatbelts. I even pulled over to the side of the road when my then 5-year old unbuckled mid-ride. "Can't get home 'till you buckle up!"
As they got older I tried to instill in them the sense of balance: both as a way for them to deal with all the junk food out there and as a way to avoid falling into the "diet" trap of say...eating only grapefruit, or whatever. Variety...balance. Key words in all areas of life.
Thanks for the great post.

Marge said...


Funny post! I enjoy your writing. When our 7 kids were still at home, we had convinced them that until they were 16, they could not make a choice of what to eat. What mom cooked, they had to eat. Our 4th kid, 2nd son, hated broccoli and choked it down for years. After he turned 16 and could finally decide if he wanted to eat broccoli, guess what became his favorite vegetable? You got it.....broccoli. They eventually kind of balance things out, don't they? Again, I enjoy your writing.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget to serve dessert squash - they can't have it 'til they finish the rest of their food :)


Anonymous said...

I lie to my kids about other things like "I dated Santa Claus before Daddy." and "The tooth fairy was my best friend in high school.". I guess I really need to look at more productive lies. LOL

Rachel D.

Fatcat said...

I love the ice cream machine as art. That's hilarious.

I'm personally not fond of the 'clean your plate' club. I tell my kids not to eat even one more bite if they are full, trying to teach them to listen to their bodies hunger/saiety (sp?)signals.

Anonymous said...

You are just as funny as your mom! As a former teacher and a mom to a 27 and a 22 year old, I too was forced to spin tall tales for peace.
Our 22 year old daughter/drama queen/former blonde cheerleader became so distraught over the loss of her pet goldfish when she was two years old, that we knew that "he died" was not going to work for her in the future. We chose to tell her that her pets had gotten married and moved to Alabama. So far we have had two hampsters, ten gerbils, two cats, a peacock, and a beloved family dog all get married amd move to Alabama. She only recently found out that all of those pets had really perished. She said, with tears in her eyes, "Well, I did wonder why they all chose to move to Alabama!"
I love your humor and your recipes. Thanks, Beck :>)