I still remember the controversy in 2007 when Jessica Seinfeld came out with a cookbook about how to sneak vegetable purées into kid-approved dishes like mac and cheese and brownies. It sounded like a bad idea to me. How would a child learn to recognize and eventually enjoy vegetables if they were eating them unknowingly? I wouldn't do that to my kids, said my late-20s self, probably over a leisurely late Sunday brunch, wearing an outfit not crusted with old oatmeal, and definitely not listening to Dora the Explorer singing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" on repeat.
A lot can change in nine years, including one's stance on feeding vegetables to children.
My almost-2-year-old son is a very normal toddler with normal toddler preferences. He has actually become a little more adventurous in the months since he suddenly became more particular at the table, especially since I started using meal templates to plan dinners that work for the whole family. However, the list of vegetables he tolerates is short and inflexible.
He loves almost every kind of fruit, has a big appetite, and in general eats a nutrient-dense diet. For the most part, I am not concerned about him getting enough nutrients, but I do wish he would occasionally eat some leafy greens. I love them and cook with them at least a few times a week, but so far my son has treated their appearance on his plate as a personal affront. Cooked kale in the chili? He will pick it out piece by piece and place it next to his bowl while making sounds of unhappy disgust. Chopped spinach in the meatballs? Not even his love of meatballs can overcome his hatred of greens.
But lo and behold the miraculous power of smoothies: When I took our pediatrician's advice and started making him green smoothies in an attempt to get more iron from various sources into his diet, he sucked them down happily and asked for more. I became a veggie-sneaking parent — and I feel no remorse.
For one thing, I still put vegetables in their whole and recognizable form on his plate at mealtime. He has plenty of opportunities to get acquainted with broccoli florets, kale chips, and roasted carrots; he just chooses to ignore them the vast majority of the time.
The other thing is that I'm not really hiding or sneaking. He watches me make the smoothies and sees the greens go in. I tell him, "This has spinach, peaches, and yogurt in it" as he drinks. And taste-wise, I'm not masking the strong "green" flavor with sweeteners. In short, he knows what he's getting and he's okay with it — at least for now. (Check back in six months, though, and you might find me stealthily assembling smoothies in the sink. Toddlers are so fun!)
But mostly, I feel no remorse because I don't believe in beating myself up as a mom — period. These days there is incredible pressure on parents, especially mothers, to do everything "right" when raising a child. But what is right? When did You do things differently from me become You're doing it wrong? I don't have the time for or interest in joining these battles. One of the most unexpected benefits of becoming a parent has been feeling my heart open hugely to other parents, exposing a deep empathy for every caretaker out there doing their best to raise healthy, happy kids. I firmly believe we're doing it right.
So yeah — I render vegetables unrecognizable so that my kid will eat them. Do you have stories about what you did (or you're still doing) "wrong"?