I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and totally loving it. I will post a review on my Book List (see tabs at top right of page) when I’m done. It’s full of wonderful stories about the food her family creates when they move to a farm in Virginia and decide to eat only seasonal foods for a year.
Reading about their farming operation, how they raise (and slaughter) their own chickens and turkeys, how they can and preserve the fruits of their harvest to enjoy during the winter months…it all just makes me dreamy-eyed. I can’t wait to pick fresh produce from my own garden, and after this year I might just be confident enough to grow storage items and/or try my hand at drying tomatoes or canning them. When we get our small acreage (fingers crossed) I plan on having a root cellar (I have this book on my Amazon wish list).
But as I’m reading through the book, all captivated and dreamy-eyed, there is one thing that nags at me and has been making me more and more depressed as the pages progress…all the wonderful recipes they list, all the fabulous veggies they eat: my children will eat virtually none of them.
The only green food that passes Daughter’s lips are Sugar Snap peas, which she slices open and eats by picking out the little peas. It was a small miracle when she tried them last summer, then even more of a hallelujah moment when she said she loved them. I bought them constantly until she tired of them, but now she’s hankering for more (and we planted some recently).
But that’s it. In fact the only vegetables my beloved children will eat are corn (on the cob only), tomatoes (only in the form of tomato sauce), and onions (which she doesn’t know about because they are finely chopped and hidden in pasta sauce). That’s it. I’ve resorted to sneaking veggies into their food in the form of purees whose colour roughly matches that of their food (cauliflower for mac ‘n cheese, beets and kale in pizza sauce) – credit goes to Jessica Seinfeld. But they still get nowhere near one or two servings a day. Their fruit intake is limited to apples (for Daughter) and bananas, though Son recently decided he loved mandarin oranges and, as of yesterday, raspberries.
My kids didn’t start out life this way. As one and newly two-year olds they ate a brag-worthy range of fruits and vegetables, as well as exotic dishes like curry and chinese mushroom stir fry. But slowly throughout their third year they dropped items until they were down to a measly few meals: pasta with only one kind of sauce (homemade marinara which consists solely of onions, tomatoes, and olive oil), cheese pizza, and boxed mac-and-cheese. They will eat meat of almost any kind (which presents a problem due to our small grocery budget and ethical issues with factory-produced meat) and enjoy eggs (but only fried or soft-boiled). Their diet is basically Atkins without the veggies and salad. They won’t eat potatoes in any form except French Fried. And while my Slavic husband has much more cosmopolitan tastes when it comes to food, his veggie preferences seem to focus mainly around coleslaw.
It’s not like I raised my kids on crap food. Both my babies had nothing but mama’s milk for their first six months of life. I started Daughter on solids with the best of intentions. I never bought baby food, I made it myself from fresh organic ingredients. I served fresh veggies with every snack and meal. I laid out “toddler snack trays” with fresh fruits, crisp veggies…and threw out more food waste than I cared to admit.
But the dirty little secret I harbour is that I was the same way as a child. My mother never bought processed foods. She was a wonderful cook and served homemade meals three times a day. Even our granola she made herself. And I hated so many foods as a child. I still recall sitting there wanting to gag just looking at certain foods. You’d think I’d have some sympathy for my children. I suppose I do. They say the toughest issues for us parents are those that we faced as children. I was forced to sit at the table long after everybody had left (a real punishment for an extrovert like me), gagging down food I hated. I don’t hold any grudges against my mother – she grew up in the war, almost starved to death while escaping Japan-occupied Hong Kong; her intentions were noble. But while I don’t force my kids to eat foods they don’t like (we do have a “you must at least taste it” rule), it still pushes my buttons when I work hard at a meal I think might pass their selectivity filters, only to be presented with a resounding chorus of “Ewww, Yuck!”‘s after presenting the fruits of my labours at the table.
I’m hoping somebody out there can tell me “this too, shall pass”. I wish someone could look into a crystal ball and say “when your daughter is nine, she’ll love veggies and fruit”. I want someone to promise me that my dreams of growing produce and my desire to make wholesome, healthy recipes for my family will not go down the drain. I suppose even as I write this I know the answer: this picky girl who hated mushrooms, tomatoes, and anything green has grown up to be a woman whose mouth is watering over dishes loaded with the stuff. I want to set a good example by serving these produce-laden meals, hoping that eventually the kids will want to try them, but I have to say that making meals nobody eats does not help boost the confidence of someone who is already self-conscious about her cooking inexperience.