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.
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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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