Thursday, October 25, 2007

Deceptively Delicious: Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables, One Pureed Squash at a Time

Okay, don't hate me, but I've never had a problem getting my kids to eat. Anything. From every vegetable you can think of, to raw octopus, to fiery curry - they'll try anything once and they usually end up liking it. In fact, my biggest problem at restaurants is trying to keep our bill down while they attempt to order one of everything on the menu - bisques made with strange fish, appetizers that contain mysterious animal body parts - "Just to see what it tastes like." I know it's freakish. But if it's any consolation they won't eat the school pizza, because it's square-shaped. Can you blame them?

So when The Parent Bloggers Network asked me to review Jessica Seinfeld's new book, Deceptively Delicious, I was a little skeptical. Do we really need to 'deceive' our kids into eating vegetables by pureeing them, mashing them or otherwise rendering them unrecognizable and then hiding them in foods? When at the age of 18 they finally come upon a real vegetable in its natural state, say a bell pepper, will they become puzzled and wonder aloud what the 'hideous green bulbous thing' is on their plate? Are we setting our kids up to become ridiculed because they're the only ones at the senior banquet who don't know what a zucchini is?

But then I got the book in the mail and I have to admit I could see what all the hoopla is about. Even Oprah digs it, and I was starting to come around, too. It's full of straightforward recipes with easy-to-understand directions and basic ingredients. Right off the bat I applauded it for it's chic un-stuffiness. Not a truffle oil or duck tongue to be found, thank goodness.

The basis of the recipes are vegetable purees, the secret ingredients that Seinfeld recommends you 'hide' in the foods, but I see them more as nutritional boosts. Cauliflower puree added to tuna salad, spinach puree added to brownies - ingenious! Who wouldn't get behind the idea of getting some folic acid along with your afternoon chocolate fix? But at the same time, I still think it wouldn't hurt to still serve your kid a cauliflower floret dipped in homemade ranch dressing, or maybe some whole spinach leaves scrambled into eggs. Obviously things are alot more fun over at Seinfeld's house than at the Vegetable Lady's house over here.

Being a designer, I have to say that my favorite aspect of the book is it's retro feel. From the kitschy illustrations (reminiscent of '50's clip-art) to the photography, it brought back memories of cookbooks that my mother had used to introduce me to cooking when I was a little girl. Is it improper to use a cookbook as a coffee-table book? Because I'd like to leave this one out for everyone to see. It reminds me of my favorite entertaining book, Amy Sedaris' I Like You, but without the snark and tips on how to wash your private parts.

But I still think that only serving our kids vegetables that have been mashed and pureed robs them of experiencing the beauty of vegetables in their natural form - the crisp of a sweet pea or the adventure of eating an artichoke for the first time. Instead of hiding the vegetables, what about coming up with creative ways to serve them that would entice kids to try them? I've found that with my own two girls, a visual presentation is sometimes all that's needed. I introduced them to raw red bell peppers by slicing them into thin sticks, standing them up in a cup like a bouquet and serving it with a side of hummus. Worked like a charm, and I saved myself the trouble of hauling out the Cuinsinart.

But in spite of my differences with Seinfeld's "deceptive" tactics, I would still recommend Deceptively Delicious. Because when all is said and done, it's a beautiful book with easy recipes and wholesome ingredients aimed at keeping our kids healthy - shouldn't all books be so noble? And then I came down off my high horse (aren't you glad?) and thought, if it helps even one kid get a green bean coursing through his small intestine, I'm all for it.

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Jess said...

I'm finding it both interesting and frustrating that so many people are focusing on the "deceptive" part and literally missing the tips on the inside of the book on including the "non-pureed" vegies on the side along with the dinner. On page 118, she suggests raw veggies as an appetizer while she cooks, and on the Oprah show she mentioned to always include some (non-pureed) vegies on the dinner plate...

On the other hand, I love your use of "nutritional boost," in lieu of "hiding vegies." That's exactly what it is. Until my child's old enough to cook with me, she probably won't know what's in her meals, let alone the vegie part, so I do not feel like I'm deceiving her in any way.

On another note, if the book is not on your bookstore's shelf, ask. You may have to order it, as the publishers are having a hard time keeping up with printing demands. As I understand it, it is partially due to the wonderful design of the cookbook. :)

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