A friend sent me an interesting link to a story about Washington State chef Sabrina Tinsley who "sneaks vegetables" into her picky daughter's meals. It's not so sneaky; she does get her son and daughter involved in the process of making a vegetable soup with pasta stars. They help shell peas for example which we know is fun and piques kids' interest. But the key step is she purees the soup right before serving so that most of the vegetables' texture is made very bland, but all the delicious flavour is still there. And of course, then she adds in the cute pasta stars.
I think this is a fine idea. My stepmother served me delicious cream of cauliflower soup for years before I clued in to what it was; and was subsequently horrified. But it never gave me an appreciation for vegetables, because it had the boring consistency of all my favourite foods of the time, like rice pudding. It wasn't until I started eating out at nice restaurants during university that I developed an appreciation for vegetables in their natural, un-pureed state.
But I think a better strategy than disguising veggies, is to serve them unapologetically, and routinely at every meal. Tonight we had penne pasta that boiled along with shredded kale. The kale tasted yummy in the tomato-basil sauce and went well with the shredded cheese topping. We also had cucumber slices on the side. Vegetables are all over at plates in this house, and we don't try to disguise them or apologise for their fibrous texture. We like to dip them in dressings, mix them in salads, add them to soups or stews, eat them drizzled in butter. Even a canned soup can get jazzed up by adding spinach, kale, chard or broccoli. It's simple to cook and that's just what we do.
Many people I've talked to whose children "don't like vegetables" often reveal that they are not eating vegetables at lunch and dinner, or they do so rarely. The vegtable choices are often standard: carrots, peas, broccoli, and often are served in a bland way each time. Boring! No wonder kids don't like them. Kids learn by example and if Mom and Dad are uninspired by their veggie portions, then kids are not going to make the effort to like them either.
Go to the grocery store and find a new vegetable you don't typically eat. Serve it with a favourite, tried-and-true sauce or dip. Make it a bit of an adventure: "I wonder what this will taste like!" Or don't even mention it unless somebody asks "oh yeah, that's broccoli rabe with your favourite Naam Miso Gravy". Enjoy it and make it something you look forward to when it makes its way back to your dinner menu every other week or so. Vegetables are just another form of food: neither intrinsically good nor bad. It all depends on how they're prepared and served. Preferably with passion!