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veggies for kids should be yummy, not bland overcooked “health” food

Posted by on Jun 5, 2012 in Blog Posts | 8 comments

I jut got back from the Ellyn Satter Institute meeting. Another several days of enjoying luscious meals with no diet or pseudo-nutrition talk. What a pleasure!

I’m hunkered down working on a round of copy edits for my book. As I was looking at the section about eating out, I saw that I mentioned Ruby Tuesday’s which has  booths and a buffet (two of my critical restaurant criteria with small kids). I felt the urge to make a quick post.

So, the regular broccoli served with an adult meal at RT”s is fantastic. Apparently they use their steak spice and a margarine spray (I was sad to hear that as I prefer butter, but it is delicious). The broccoli is cooked right, still bright green, with a pleasant crunch, but not raw.

Recently M ordered a children’s meal instead of splitting an entree as we usually do, and guess what? The children’s side dish of broccoli was so disappointing! It had no flavor, was overcooked, yellow-green and mushy. What gives?

I suppose if you were a nine-month old with no teeth, having it cooked to that degree is appropriate, but this was so emblematic about how confused this country is around kids and veggies. To RT’s credit, at least there is a veggie option, but come on! Just because they are kids doesn’t mean it should be flavorless and mushy. In fact, the foods we feed children who are learning to like new foods should be fantastic, appealing and flavorful.

In the name of health, or developing tastes, many parents forgo salt, sugar, sauces, or flavor of any kind thinking children should learn to like foods plain. In fact, adding flavor, a little sugar, sauces etc. makes kids more likely to enjoy a variety of foods. (My favorite study title in my bibliography is “Pass the Ketchup, Please.”) My daughter enjoyed guacamole with onions and lime, garlic, onions, butter, salt, brown sugar and various other items I cook with before she was a year old.

Have you had any similar experiences? What are your favorite eating-out finds?

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  1. maggiemunkee

    not terribly related, but i recently met a friend for dinner. i’d been craving a salad bar all day, so we decided on RT. MY LOCAL RT HAD CLOSED PERMANENTLY. i was very sad. no other restaurant in my city has (had?) a salad bar.

    • katja

      Oh NO! I had heard they were restructuring. It is the best and only salad bar I know of too. Oh, wait, we do go to the local co-op bar which is pretty fantastic, but not in a restaurant…

  2. Twistie

    I know at five I would have been utterly revolted by an overcooked mush of broccoli, which happens to have been a lifelong fave. I like it to have texture. I like it to be bright green and attractive to my eyes as well as my tongue.

    People need to trust children with a variety of flavors and textures. Each one will find the ones that appeal most to him/her, and they will be as varied as any other preference that child shows.

    One of my brothers only liked broccoli stems when he was a kid… but looking back, I realize he never did seem to care much for multiple textures in one food. Me? I was buggy for spinach and Brussels sprouts… and to this day I tend to enjoy foods with a slight bitter edge to them. Where one kid needs everything sweetened, another will prefer saltier preparations, and another will want plenty of spices. Flavor, texture, color, it all matters to every diner, but each person will pick something different in each of those categories.

    If we make all food for children exactly the same, then we shortchange them horribly. We don’t offer them the opportunity to learn what they like best, or even to enjoy the inherent adventure of good food.

    Other moms wondered at how our mother got us to eat things without complaining, throwing hissey fits, or otherwise doing battle at the dinner table. It really was simple: she cooked things the way they were meant to be cooked, cooked new dishes often so that we would be introduced to different flavors and textures and smells, and then allowed us to stop eating something we disliked as long as we had tried it out first and didn’t disrupt the meal for people who were enjoying it.

    Except for the bit about insisting we try it first, she pretty much had Satter down before Satter wrote it! LOL!

    And she raised three kids who would merrily try out goat stew and curries and vegetables they’d never met before without prompting. We knew perfectly well that the worst thing that would happen was that we’d discover we didn’t care for something.

    • katja

      I know, right?? Lucky you! My mission is to have more kids grow up this way. it’s amazing how many foodies who love to cook and eat are raising kids who are selective because of all the pressure and battles and nutrition worries…

  3. Dominique

    sorry for the awful look of the comment :S I tried html tags but screwed up :S

  4. Emgee

    You are so right. I am on the Health Advisory Committee of a local Headstart, which meets this Friday. I am dreading it, because they sent an advance copy of the agenda, which contains this item: “Menu changes–A. Obesity Awareness”. I know they have already eliminated any salt, everything is low-fat and whole grain, and the food is rather tasteless as a result. What else can they do? I’m afraid to find out. They have a nutritionist on this committee also, who is not Satter-trained. I have to bite my tongue frequently, and since she is thin and I am fat, clearly she is the expert on preventing obesity, so I try not to comment. Yet I know much of this is by federal regulation so it is not her fault. It is just so discouraging. Fat kids are identified to staff, who are told to monitor their intake. These are poor children, about whom we have no idea what or if they eat at home. I smile when I read the notes saying these children ate appropriate amounts of all foods, including veggies and fruits. Meals are served family-style, and they are not required to clean their plates, so they are doing at least that much right.
    Sorry for the rant!

    • Dominique

      veggies for everybody <b/` should be yummy, not bland overcooked “health” food. After years of dieting, and now three years of not dieting (which made me much fatter) I still struggle with not seeing vegetables as boring diet food or a mere way to punish myself for being «bad». Worse, i put pressure on myself not to add béchamel, butter, cheese, oil or anything on it, exactly for the sake of learning to love them without anything (old diet mentality, anyone?) It does me so much good to read this because it reconnects me with the possibility to allow myself to rediscover veggies in a way I like. Thanks so much for this. Recently I figured out that anything green with salt and herbed butter tastes actually darn good. I have to give myself permission to enjoy it like that and no pressure to give up the butter! 🙂

    • katja

      so sad! I reviewed the new school lunch policies, with pretty strict, and in my opinion, low calorie counts. Our poor Mommy’s helper already complains that she is still hungry at the end of lunch bc portions are so small, and she’s lean. Those poor kids! If I ever am in a home, I will make my family promise to smuggle in salt, and food!