Many of us can remember it. We were sitting at the table when a plate of pale, lifeless, overcooked, overboiled, plain squishy green peas were plunked in front of us. We were handed a spoon and threatened with, letÛªs all say it together, ÛÏYou canÛªt get up from that table until you eat everything on your plate!Û I remember that looking at that plate of green peas somewhat resembled a long prison sentence to be served, with no chance for parole. I was lucky, my mom was not patient, if I sat there long enough, she would plead with me to eat just one spoonful, but I know others were not so lucky.
As an adult, my husband and I are trying to consciously join in the effort to eat more vegetables and fruits in our diet. In an effort to attempt to add more green to the table, as well as our lifestyle, I decided to stock up in the vegetable aisle. While preparing dinner one night, my husband asked what was for dinner. I said asparagus and broccoli. In a knee jerk reaction, his face blanched and grimaced. He immediately retorted, ÛÏYuck, I am glad that someone in the household likes them.Û The reaction was so sudden, that I realized that it was not an insult to my cooking ability, but instead, a deep-rooted childhood memory. In the end, he was pleasantly surprised by the grilled fair with lemon juice and rosemary. Luckily for him, he no longer grimaces at the thought of anything green from the kitchen.
I have learned many things throughout my life, one of which is that properly cooked peas can be eaten with a fork and do not require a spoon. Another is that we develop stereotypes from our experiences with certain things in life. The old adage that you donÛªt have a chance to make a first impression is just as true for a head of broccoli as it is for a job interview. The first experience that our children have with a food item will make an impression that will last a lifetime. Those that are repeated will cause a knee jerk reaction that does not have to pass through the brain circuitry before exiting the mouth. We, as parents, have a responsibility to our children to make sure that this knee jerk reaction is, ÛÏOh great! Broccoli tonight!Û instead of ÛÏYuck, I am glad that someone in the household likes broccoli.Û
The task at hand is not as difficult as it would at first seem. The first step is to go to our cupboard and throw out any old cans of pre-cooked peas that may be lying around. They will not be any more appealing to your kids than they were to you. Trust me, if you serve them up and threaten your kids with your motherÛªs old lines, those peas will not seem to by any less of a prison sentence to your kids than they were to you. DonÛªt do that, we now have new ways in our arsenal that are much more humane.
The first step is to realize that in order to build a positive impression, the emotion behind the association must be positive to start with. LetÛªs tie on an apron and get one for our kids too. We are going to have some fun in the kitchen!
There are many ideas that are fun and tasty. One idea is to make veggie kabobs. Kids love making kabobs. They are fun to assemble and the creative ideas are endless. They can be grilled, baked, or broiled. The first step is to soak some bamboo skewers in water for at least 30. This makes certain that the skewers do not scorch or catch on fire before the veggies are done. While the skewers are soaking, the vegetables can be cleaned and cut into small pieces. Pieces about an inch or two are best. The children can participate with this according to their age or ability. This is an excellent time to teach older children those wonderful rules about safety and cleanliness in the kitchen. DonÛªt miss out on this teachable moment. You have their attention for once, use it.
Some great kabob ideas include mushrooms, tomatoes, corn on the cob cut into 2-inch lengths, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, fennel, kohlrabi, or bok choy. With vegetables that tend to fall apart, wrap them in tinfoil to keep them together. Sauces such as teriyaki, or Italian dressing, can be used to baste while cooking, or try a little ranch dressing after they are cooked. Can be served with rice, couscous, risotto, garlic bread, foccacio, or Texas toast. A wonderful fruit salad makes a perfect end to the fair. The important thing is to have fun and make it taste good.
Another idea that is great for kids is to get tortilla wraps and let the kids make their own wraps. They can add the dressing of their choice and cheese to make it more delectable. Grilled veggies can also be used in the wrap. This can be used in place of the standard salad at the beginning of a meal, or makes a wonderful take-along snack for picnics. If one of the children does not want to try a certain vegetable, donÛªt make threats. Try gentle encouragement. If they still do not want to try it, eventually, they may come around after they see everyone else enjoying it. Positive peer pressure does work.
Some final thoughts about the Zen of broccoli and other vegetables are that it needs to be colorful and appetizing to make kids (and adults) want to eat it. They may have heard bad things about the food before they even try it and these messages can be a powerful force to overcome. Try these suggestions and if everything fails, use your ultimate weapon, melt some cheese over it. Kids will eat anything with some melted cheese and donÛªt forget to sprinkle generously with hugs and kisses.