At age three, my son Eric was a tall, healthy, energetic kid. Like many of his toddler peers, he recoiled with horror if vegetables were on his plate. Yet strangely, he would happily eat pureed veggies out of a jar. To me, the liquefied green gunk seemed like more of a turn-off than an actual green bean, but if he was ingesting the nutrients, I didn’t want to argue about it. But then my go-to variety of Mixed Vegetables was discontinued. It was like the company was saying, “Um, your son is three. It’s over with the jars. Deal with it.” And so began my mission to introduce vegetables – real ones – to Eric’s daily menu.
Day 1. I start with the classic kid-friendly veggie – raw carrots. Me: “Would you like a carrot stick, Eric?” Him: “No thank you, Mom. Maybe when I’m six.”
Day 2. I buy Jessica Seinfeld’s book, Deceptively Delicious. The back cover promises to teach me how to sneak pureed vegetables into regular recipes, resulting in nutritious food and zero dinnertime battles.
Day 6. I select gingerbread/ broccoli spice cake as my first project. I cook enough broccoli for eight people and add it to my blender. It does not puree. I add a bit of water (the instructions say one teaspoon maximum). No luck. I add 27 teaspoons of water. It still does not puree. An ongoing cycle of stirring and re-grinding the blender eventually results in something that looks like it was scraped off the underside of a lawn mower. Exasperated, I pour it into a Ziploc bag and toss it in the fridge.
Day 7. Phase two of cake-making. I mix together the ingredients and add yesterday’s puree. The batter is army-fatigues green. I shove the pan in the oven, hoping it would darken to the decadent chocolate colour shown in the cookbook. I feel a small spike of hope when I peek into the oven at the 15-minute mark and see that the olive-green hue had faded slightly. The end product tastes mildly like gingerbread, but with a thicker texture. Not delicious like a birthday cupcake, but not throw-in-the-garbage repulsive either. I use white icing to hide the strange colour, which likely negates any nutritional goodness. Eric eats it with no discernible reaction.
Day 9. Next recipe: banana/cauliflower bread. My arthritic blender is reluctant, but eventually produces a creamy white puree. Maybe I just started with the wrong vegetable! I mix everything together and cook as specified. The top of the loaf is a lovely golden brown. After cooling, I turned the pan upside down to remove the loaf, and a huge pile of goopy batter falls out – burblop – on to the counter. I stifle a scream.
Day 15. I decide to rely on my own creativity and create an edible football field (Eric loves football). I use a green plastic lid as my field, then set cooked yellow beans as the upright goal posts at each end. One “team” was five thin little carrots cut into one-inch, flat-bottomed pieces, and the opposing players were green bean pieces, cut the same way. I set it all up (including a raisin as the ball) and tell Eric it is a football appetizer. He is intrigued, especially when I give the guys names and move them around. He takes a small bite of the yellow bean goal post. He chews. He swallows. He pauses. Then he throws up. As I wipe his face and remove his shirt, he tearfully says, “I guess I don’t like appetizers.”
Day 27. I take some time off to regroup and go back to square one. The only non-pureed vegetables Eric had ever eaten were oven-roasted potato wedges. Since pureed sweet potato was his first-ever food, I slice one up and add it to the pan. He loves the dual-coloured wedge combo. Success! Two veggies in our repertoire!
Day 32. I make roasted potatoes again but didn’t have a sweet potato, so it was all Yukon Gold on this night. Imagine my utter shock when Eric looks up and complains, “Aw, don’t we have any orange potatoes?”
Day 36. My new Ninja blender has six slicing blades that reach all the way into the pitcher. Now I make smoothies with mixed berries, bananas, peaches, mango, flax seed, yogurt, and small pieces of cooked broccoli and carrots. I add in ready-to-use frozen spinach nuggets – pure genius. Eric naively slurps it up.
Day 42. As I load up the Ninja, Eric wanders over and says, “Mom, what is that? Frosted broccoli?” I was caught green-handed. I stutter something about a green ice cube. All he says is: “Hmm. Looks like frosted broccoli to me.”
Day 60. Tonight at the dinner table, he sees the broccoli on my plate and announces, “Mom, I will try broccoli on September 20th.” I scramble over to the calendar and write it down.
Day 90. I present Eric with a few tiny pieces of broccoli and remind him that this was his idea. He chews them down, takes a sip of water, and seems surprised that he survived. “So,” I say in my over-eager way, “how about we have broccoli every night?” He calmly replies: “No, today is a Tuesday, so I will only eat it on Tuesdays.” And that’s how Broccoli Tuesdays came to be.
Today. Fast forward three years. The veggie chronicles have long since passed with the arrival of my second child, who happily stuffs broccoli florets in his mouth and proclaims, “I love broccoli! It’s like trees!” All of a sudden, I notice that Eric’s plate is empty. “Eric!” I say incredulously, “You ate your carrots and everything, and I didn’t even have to ask you! How can this be?” He shrugs as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I guess it’s because I’m six.”
Kristi York is a mom and writer in Waterloo, Ont. Her husband and two sons all eat carrot sticks, but asparagus remains a far-off dream.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November 2014.