Monday, November 5, 2007

Spinach Brownie, Anyone?

Originally, I was going to just say some nasty things about Jessica Seinfeld's new cookbook, Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Getting Your Kids Eating Good Food, where she advocates pureeing veggies and hiding them in kid-friendly recipes. But there are a LOT of different opinions out there about this book already so I decided to just say one (sort of) nasty thing, and then refocus on my own attempts to feed my kids real, healthy food.

The Nasty Part

As for Mrs. Seinfeld . . . I am sure that some of her recipes (say the burgers with mushrooms and zucchini?) are just delicious. But her suggestion that moms serve their kids spinach brownies or chocolate and avocado pudding is just too much for me. It offends all of my food sensibilities. I can barely think about it without gagging. I don't believe for a second that the "hidden ingredients" don't affect texture or taste. I cannot imagine serving my family brownies with spinach in them, much less eating one myself.

Although I confess to tricking my kids into eating healthy food from time to time (I think all moms do), I think that Jessica Seinfeld's approach sends two undesirable messages to kids about food. First, vegetables ARE disgusting, which is why we hide them in other foods to disguise how they really taste. And second, she totally overlooks the value in the process of preparing food (i.e. choosing quality ingredients, combining them together in a way that is complementary, and serving food in a way that appeals to all of our senses). She just throws some mushed butternut squash or beets . . . well, wherever they are unlikely to be noticed.

Food is about so much more than nutrition. Kids benefit from the opportunity to talk about food, help prepare it, and watch others enjoy it (even if they don't). Who knows, maybe next time they will try it. I just don't think that getting them their spinach via a brownie is a sensible idea.

Now Back To My Own Problems

My Dinner Ideal: The Family Dinner. We all sit down together and enjoy the same food. The kids sit patiently and try new things. We have delightful family conversation about our day. And then we all help clean up.

My Dinner Reality: It is 5:30p.m. (which unfortunately turns out to be about lunchtime for poor Daddy's workday). Ellie is declaring that her belly is hungry, while Brendan has gone into the drawer to retrieve his bowl, hoping I will get his clear message. This is usually about the time I crack into the Annie's Macaroni and Cheese (the three-minute microwavable variety), and throw it on a plate with some raspberries and a few steamed baby carrots or peas. And Ellie reminds me - again - that she finds carrots to be "extremely yucky."

My Alternate Dinner Reality: It is Friday night. I bought trout from the fish monger that David is going to turn into something delicious when he gets home around 7:30p.m.. We are going to sit and eat together after the kids are tucked in bed. So that means I throw something together (do we have leftover pasta?) for the kids around 6:00p.m. and look forward to eating my trout like a civilized adult.

New Plans

I can do better in the dinner department. On the nights that we aren't all going to be able to eat together, I am going to do some dinner prep earlier in the day so we don't have a mac and cheese crisis at 5:30p.m. when I don't have anything ready to go for the kids. I am also going to aim for more family dinners with food we all love to eat (no "children's menu items"). I'll probably start with Bolognese, which is a favorite cold-weather dinner for all of us. But I am also going to try some new things (maybe steak diane with some broccoli, or crepes stuffed with ham, leeks, and cheese alongside mixed greens). And when I go to Trader Joe's today, I am going to skip the Annie's Mac and Cheese (for this week at least).

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