Will The Kale Wonders Never Cease? (Words of Hope for Parents of the “Picky*”)

by Bettina Elias Siegel on February 13, 2012

So, for any TLT newcomers out there who haven’t read about my struggles, I have one child, now nine, who has continually astonished me since age two with his stubborn stance against vegetables.  While there have been little pockets of success over the years (remember the spinach malfatti and the “Miracle Mu Shu Vegetables“?), it’s been a long slow road, and he still generally spurns anything green (or orange or yellow) on his plate.

Well, last night I decided to make another batch of Andy Bellatti’s delicious kale chips, the same chips my daughter and I devoured a few weeks ago.  But I was pressed for time and instead of measuring out the topping ingredients I tried to eyeball them, and I wound up going overboard on the lemon juice and red pepper flakes.  The chips, which are inherently a little bitter even when properly made, came out way too sour and spicy.  Big mistake — or so I thought.

But I decided to serve the chips anyway, and I wasn’t even looking at first when my son — of his own free will and with no encouragement from me — took one from the bowl.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was amazed but also panicked.  Here he was, trying kale for the first time in his life, and it was going to taste awful.  It could take years to overcome this setback!  But before I could explain that this was a bad batch and he shouldn’t make any hasty judgments about kale generally, he’d already eaten the first chip and was reaching for another.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And you would have been so proud of me, people.  While inside my head I was screaming, “OMG, OMG, OMG, did you see that?  Can you believe it?”, on the outside I was cool as a cucumber.  I didn’t even look directly at him and  afterwards all I said was, “Hey, you need to wipe some kale crumbs from your chin.”

[Sorry - please indulge one more . . . .]

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So what can we learn from this development?

You Can Never Tell What Will Appeal to Kids

Trying to determine what kids will or won’t like is a futile endeavor.  For example, I sometimes serve roasted sweet potatoes mashed with a little butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and orange zest.   That dish has “kid-friendly” written all over it, right?  But my son will take only a nibble of it, at most, while the hyper-bitter, too-sour kale chips were inhaled.  Go figure.

Try Not to Pressure

It’s notable, I think, that my son took a kale chip with not a word of encouragement from me.  I feel quite certain that if the batch had come out well and I’d said something as innocuous as, “Hey, you’ve got to try one of these, they’re great,” his exploration of this new food would never have happened.  And this is what kid/food expert Ellyn Satter has been arguing all along – that even the mildest encouragement can feel, at least to some kids, like pressure, and that pressure often backfires.  Maybe your child does respond well to prompting from you, in which case, go for it.  But if repeated requests to “just try it,” or “just one bite” are not working (and they never have in my house), consider giving the completely non-interventionist approach a spin.  That said, you also need to . . .

Take the Long (VERY Long) View

As I’ve said here before, I’ve come to believe that any progress my son makes on the vegetable front is primarily a function of age and growing maturity, not some clever parenting technique on my part.  So if your four-year-old is digging in her heels about vegetables, don’t panic — but also don’t necessarily expect to see progress in a matter of months.  Maybe you’ll be lucky and she will quickly grow out of that stage, or maybe, like my son, it will take years and years.  Bottom line:  keep the faith and keep offering a variety of foods — no matter how discouraged you get.

You Need to Make These Kale Chips!

Finally, some credit has to be given to Andy Bellatti, blogger at Small Bites, for his excellent recipe, which has now converted both my children to eating kale.  My original post with his recipe and my cooking notes is here.  I also want to add a recent tip from my friend Karen who, upon hearing that the chips were not crisping up properly, suggested I use the convection feature of my oven (a button I have a tendency to ignore).  I took her advice and it made all the difference.

* * *

So if you’re a parent of a veggie-avoiding child like mine, good luck, stay strong, and feel free to compare notes with me and the rest of the TLT community.

[* =  I really don't like the word "picky," which labels a child from the get-go and doesn't allow for the kind of slow growth I've described here.  Forgive my shorthand use of the word in a blog post headline, where brevity is needed.]

 

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Nilam February 13, 2012 at 9:09 am

Bettina, Congrats!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This post was too cute and also encouraging.

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Bri February 13, 2012 at 9:12 am

Yippee!! Two observations about kale etc.: 1) Kale chips were like the “gateway drug” that led both of my kids to eating kale in ALL forms, and now we eat it several times a week prepared in various ways — a development I never would have DREAMED possible! Thank you, kale chips!
2) Interesting that as I think about what seems to be your son’s palate (entirely from anecdotal evidence you’ve given), he does appear to have more of a salty/spicy/sour palate than a typical “sweet” palate, which is the province of most kids. My kids are like that as well; my younger one APPEARS to have a sweet palate because he enjoys all fruits and loves his PB and J, but in reality, he gags on sweet potatoes and sweeter orange/yellow vegetables, and gravitates towards kale, broccoli, and garlicky tomato sauces. Go figure. Once I got that through my thick head, offering vegetables to him became a bit easier, because I had a better idea WHAT to serve for success.

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Karen February 13, 2012 at 9:28 am

Yes to what Bri said – now you have license to cook a whole bunch of cole veggies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brassica) – bring on the bitter!

Glad my asking about convection was helpful – that’s how I cook everything these days. It’s speedy but you do have to watch more carefully. Many cauliflowers have been blackened at my house. And not in a good way.

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Louise Goldberg February 13, 2012 at 10:24 am

Love it! This post cracks me up! (I actually saw it from Andy’s mention!) I hate the term ‘picky eater’ too and I tell people all the time–it gives a negative connotation to what is a normal part of child development. I prefer ‘selective eater’. ;-) Rock on with your awesome mama self!

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Sophie February 13, 2012 at 8:18 pm

I am SO with you on this Bettina. This example goes exactly to the heart of, “don’t label your kid as picky.’ If you do, beware, because you are creating an expectation that they will live up to.
http://www.choicelunch.com/blog/articletype/articleview/articleid/72/picky-eaters-no-more.aspx

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shira February 14, 2012 at 7:49 am

Yay Mom!! I would totally take credit for a genius recipe modification if it were me :)

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Sofia H. February 14, 2012 at 9:07 am

Love kale, love kale chips, love Ellyn Satter!

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Midge aka Mom aka Grandma February 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm

This is my favorite post (at least for today). You go, 9 year old!

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Evelyn Berghauser February 14, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Wow..my daughter will not touch vegetables…anything green, she won’t eat, even Goldfish! tried getting her to prepare with me, tried asking her to take one bite…etc …all don’t work. hopefully in time, she will be better like your son. :)

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MamaRalf April 10, 2012 at 9:36 pm

I did see this before!! I actually wrote down the recipe, I just have to get to the store to get the Kale!! I’m happy that your kids will eat it. I think my daughter will probably like them too. On the subject of Ellyn Satter, is this an appropriate snack? She seems to say that you should have like 2 or 3 things for a snack. Do you do that?

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Uly June 23, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Hm. If he likes sour and spicy, maybe he’ll like sweet potatoes more if you pair them with lime juice and some pepper or paprika.

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Bettina Elias Siegel June 24, 2012 at 9:32 am

Oh, good idea!

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Shell September 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm

My 3 year old daughter is very picky about ALL food…but kale chips have been a hit since the first time we made them! Once
she went two days refusing almost everything we put on her plate and I was getting a little worried, thinking about calling the doctor, trying to offer her food at all times of the day and night…
I put together a batch of kale chips and left them on the counter while the oven heated up thinking that I might at last obtain victory with the famous kale chips.
I have an adorable picture of her sneaking up to the counter, seeing the kale (uncooked!) reeeaacching up and running off with raw kale. She loved it. Didn’t even have to cook it and she was eating fist-fulls of it.
If only getting her to eat meat, carrots, eggs, sweet potatoes, (I could keep going but the list is so very, very long) were so easy :)

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Bettina Elias Siegel September 13, 2012 at 4:07 pm

That’s such a cute story! And it really points up the notion that you just cannot predict what kids will or won’t eat. Thank you for sharing!

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