Veggie Love, With a Side of Haterade

there’s been a bit of a kerfluffle in the mommy blogosphere about jessica “married to puffy-shirted jerry” seinfeld’s new cookbook, Deceptively Delicious. basically, it teaches you how to smuggle veggies into food you make for your (younger) kids.

i was surprised that citymama weighed in so negatively, especially as she said up front that she hadn’t read the book. normally i like citymama’s postings, but this one seemed really off base. but hers wasn’t the only response that triggered a whole lotta hate and accompanying haterade.

well, i relied on Super Baby Food to help me make nourishing home-made baby food back when the Unreliable Narrator was but a pre-verbal Cutie Nubbin. and i see cookbooks like seinfeld’s DD and the one i happen to own, The Sneaky Chef, as an extension of that time.

LCD and Portion Size

the issue is not “having a backbone” to stand up to picky eaters, as i see it. the issue is that EVERYONE ELSE’S KIDS EAT CRAP, including the mythical, all-powerful children who live in TV-land, and so you’re battling the tsunami waves of chicken mclabfood and other lowest common denominator foodlike substances all by your lonesome broccoli-lovin’ self. we serve and eat plenty of veggies at home, in undisguised form. but we also interact with people who let their kids watch (apparently) a heckuva lot of tv.

let’s face it, the late toddler years/early preschool years coincide with an onset of “cautious eating” that some scientists and anthropologists argue makes evolutionary sense. from the NYT article linked just above on picky eaters:

Most children eat a wide variety of foods until they are around 2, when they suddenly stop. The phase can last until the child is 4 or 5. It’s an evolutionary response, researchers believe. Toddlers’ taste buds shut down at about the time they start walking, giving them more control over what they eat. “If we just went running out of the cave as little cave babies and stuck anything in our mouths, that would have been potentially very dangerous,” Dr. Cooke said.

if you’re now a mobile little critter and can wander away from mama, it helps if you’re very picky about what you’ll eat (you eat what she eats) or otherwise you’ll nosh on some poison berries. or rocks. and game over.

those late toddler years also coincide with what many of us charmingly call “socialization,” otherwise known as “practicing life skills on people your own size at preschool and being subjected to the Lowest Common Denominator.” LCD goes for behaviors of all kind: we tv-free families end up with kids who are smashing and punching and kicking and fashioning “guns” out of tinker toys because their little friends who watch Power Rangers or the like have introduced the concept of “gun” into their lives. (we watch no cop shows, no animated superhero shows, NOTHING that would even show a gun or what it is. so it ain’t coming from us. but our son is bringing it home, to our dismay.)

but there you go. there’s no upside to socialization without its downside.

now i’m proud my boy eats what we eat, for the most part, as long as it’s not too spicy-hot. this child eats deep-fried chinese and korean fishtails, a whole tin of sardines (on two separate occasions), goat cheese, toasted tempeh, 4 different kinds of seaweed, adores broccoli and green beans, has blown hot and cold on carrots, loves dim sum, cuban roasted pork (and black beans and rice), and basically noshes all manner of bizarre and eclectic foods. he loves cauliflower, i don’t.

if you’ve bothered to read one other post on this blog, you’d know that being spineless is the last thing i am.

BUT, some day your kid is gonna come home and decide he only wants to eat Annie’s microwave make-it-yourself mac and cheese for three meals straight. so what’s the harm in throwing in a little pureed cauliflower with it?

now the other thing about these nutritional additives or boosters is that we don’t limit them to “kid’s foods.” if i make a beef stew or spaghetti sauce, i throw in pureed lentils or chick peas or what-have-you. we all eat the same thing. i do this because i feel everyone in the family could use the nutritional boost. we buy local/organic whenever we can, and let’s face it–we live in the first world so we probably have the most nutritious, vitamin-packed pee on the planet. in short, we’re not struggling to survive at subsistence level.

but it’s possible to eat a lot yet still not get the nutrients you need. i try to steer my family away from nutritionally empty and toward nutritionally dense foods. and that includes carefully using vegetable sources of protein and iron to supplement animal sources of the same.

with very young kids, you also confront the Two Bite Kid. too tired, distracted, or whatever to eat, they start off strong and then you realize they’ve only eaten two bites. literally Two Bites. so i’d prefer that those two bites pack as much nutritional punch as possible.

which is why i use the Sneaky Chef’s (chef missy chase lapine’s) methods. and yes, i actually read that book, including the text between the recipes, so i know of whence i speak. she never says to hide the veggies forever. she says, use these methods to help you get over a rough patch, when your normally healthy-eating child is for some reason going through a phase that you know is not nutritionally optimal. she never says, “puree those veggies and don’t let on til he leaves for college.” no. she says, add it in AND also keep offering it so kiddo knows what the cauliflower or squash or sweet potato looks like in real life.

now, i think where a lot of the negative reviews of jessica seinfeld’s book verge into mass haterade is when they start sniping about how she ditched her first fiancee and ran off with jerry. or whatever that scandal was. EXCUSE ME, WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH THE RECIPES AND NUTRITIONAL CONTENT OF THE RECIPES? that kind of concern about someone else’s life is a phenomenal waste of time. in my humble opinion.

besides, i already own The Sneaky Chef book. i don’t need a quasi-celebrity to tell me how to live. that indifference to celeb fame worship established, i can say:

i know for a fact that jessica seinfeld has said, as directly and as publicly as possible, that she does not advocate exclusive feeding of your children vegetables “deceptively,” but as part of an attempt to introduce them in their overt state as well as incorporated into whatever your kids seek to eat.

this is from her oprah interview:

Even though Jessica’s kids are getting the nutrients they need from hidden purees, she says she always serves meals with a side of veggies. “Not only do I add purees to everything that I now cook, I always, always, on the side of [the] plate, have fresh vegetables,” she says. “I never want my children to think that eating vegetables is not important.”

Get Out of the Kitchen, and Into the Street

now, i feel that the Sneaky Chef methods are one quiver in your bow in the war against bad eating habits/poor nutrition. other areas that are just as important:

  • i’ve involved the Unreliable Narrator in cooking pizza from “scratch” using Trader Joe’s readymade whole wheat pizza dough, which is a shameless maneuver to get him to eat something he made,
  • i’ve also put in a whole lot of time at the UN’s school to build up their community organic garden, to encourage my son to plant, grow, and eat things fresh from the garden (which they’re lucky to have as part of the school),
  • i got some like-minded parents together to change the school’s formerly deranged school lunch and early childhood education snack menus (deranged=sweet, multi-colored breakfast cereal as snack. less deranged but not as desirable=pancakes with high-fructose corn syrup “maple” syrup, and a few too many of those darn sugary “Go-Gurts.” currently, and better=organic scrambled eggs, whole wheat crackers and cheese)

i really believe that it takes a village to raise a child. it also takes a village to sink to the Lowest Common Denominator, or, to decide that healthy snacks and meals are better for and enrich everyone.

i know emily bazelon at Slate has bitched about the sugar-addicted eating habits of her kids before, and to her and others like her i can only say: CHANGE HAS TO BE BIGGER THAN WHAT YOU ALONE SERVE FOR DINNER. because when it’s you against the world, you will lose. and if it’s too inconvenient for you to band together with other parents who also want to make a change, then you’d better find a way to put up with the status quo. you know, emily: ante up or shut up.

there are plenty of people out there from all walks of life who want to help kids eat better and be healthy. so to my mind, the enemy isn’t a pseudo-celebrity with a cookbook. the enemy is con-agra and how damn convenient and profitable it is for agribusiness to pour a lot of crap down your kid’s throat, with the help of the multi-billion dollar advertising machine–without regard for how healthy it is for your kids.

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2 thoughts on “Veggie Love, With a Side of Haterade

  1. Pingback: Dating Blogfeeds » Vegetable Love

  2. Hi there,

    Thanks for the shout-out that introduced me to your blog. I’ve enjoyed poking though your posts and found myself agreeing and applauding your writing, even in the post above! (small joke)

    I understand that my post may be characterized as off-base, but my own personal experience and thoughts about food and cooking led me to finally put down in words what has bothered me so much about that book. (I think I explained it as best I could in the post and the subsequent comments. And it has nothing to do with my personal feelings about Jessica Seinfeld who is completely off my radar.)

    I, too, started out reading Super Baby Food, but the cookbooks I chose to add to my arsenal were “Salad People” by Mollie Katzen or Gimme Five! by Nicola Graimes or Kids Cook 1-2-3 (author escapes me). I chose books where kids could have a hands’-on approach to food and cooking rather than the books that went the “sneaky” route.

    Each family does what they need to do and shouldn’t feel bad for the choices they have made. I just shared what worked for me and why the book (which I haven’t read) turned me off based on what I had seen/read.

  3. hi stefania,
    wow, that was quick! thanks for the thoughtful comment, and i’m glad we could disagree peaceably. it’s funny you mention the mollie katzen and Kids Cook 1-2-3 books, because we have and use those also. i think we actually have more in common in our approaches than differences.

    i really want my son to learn how to cook and appreciate good food, *because* he’s a boy. none of that “#1 son” chinese mama pampering from me, though a chinese american mama i may be. :)

    in the end, i don’t think of boosting ordinary foods with veggies as “sneaky”–i have my son add iron-fortified baby oatmeal to his regular oatmeal (just cuz he likes to “cook” and stir) and he’s even dropped cubes of pureed chick pea into the spaghetti sauce. we certainly don’t go to lengths to hide our enhancements from him. he just thinks they’re part of the recipe! i see it as “additive”–re-balancing meat-heavy meals with equally good vegetarian options…or maybe a way of weaning ourselves off meat into a (more eco-friendly) semi-vegetarian diet. lots of people have no idea that there could be more iron in a helping of lentils than in a slice of deli meat, for example.

    and yes, overall i believe that people do what works for their particular family, because they’re the ones who has to live that life. chacun a son goute and all that good stuff!

    but as a former literary critic, it always peeves my pet when folks comment on a book, movie, or performance…and they haven’t read it, seen it, or experienced it. i think people can also use products (such as the Sneaky Chef or DD books) in ways that expand and riff on the original agenda of the product.

    and i do think all of us who care about what we eat are up against a much bigger adversary, one that’s better funded and all-pervading. so i wanted to re-direct some of the anti-jessica seinfeld sentiment (which was more in other blogs) to what i feel is a more appropriate outlet for outrage.

    cheers, and i’ll keep enjoying and visiting citymama,
    cynthia/cynematic

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