I am at my wit’s end. My children will not eat vegetables. I’ve tried everything I can think of: bribes; assigning a favourite vegetable to individual Marvel superheroes (it transpires Thor loves kale but Ant Man has a passion for yellow peppers); even flat-out lying about carrots and referring to them as “special orange sausages”. Nothing works.
I have two boys – a four-year-old and an 18-month-old, and if it were up to them, their diets would consist of chocolate-chip brioches, cocktail sausages, Babybel and Fruit Shoots. My older son recently turned his nose up at some tenderstem broccoli my husband had seared with garlic butter because, and I quote, “I am not a herbivore”. When we presented him with mushroom stroganoff, he informed us that he is “allergic to mushrooms”. Apparently, they make him sneeze. When I pointed out that neither of those things were actually the case, he replied, barely missing a beat: “But I am allergic to stroganoffs.”
But while the boy has never been a vegetable fan, his father and I have always fallen back on the nutrition he absorbed form the wholesale quantities of soft fruit he’d hoover up every day. But now even that’s suffering. He’s become the sort of picky eater who will carefully remove the bread from a sandwich, then remove the filling from the sandwich, then push his plate away, and ask what’s for pudding. And his younger brother – who until recently would cheerfully gobble up anything – has begun to copy him.
At this rate scurvy will set in by the end of the week. Have you ever tried to explain scurvy to a toddler? It doesn’t capture the attention quite as well as, say, Baby Shark.
What’s worse is that we always seem to be around other kids who love vegetables. At soft play the other day, as my toddler was chanting “choglit” and pelting me with the raisins I was trying to feed him, a woman pulled out a Tupperware container for her own child, and in it was lamb’s lettuce. Lamb’s lettuce!
“I don’t know why, but she just loves lamb’s lettuce as a snack!,” this woman smiled at me. I’m ashamed to admit I thought very many unkind things about this woman, and I was pleased to see her daughter was consuming the liquid snot from the top of her lip with equal relish. Lamb’s lettuce, I ask you.
“In fairness, I was also deeply suspicious of vegetables when I was a child."”
In a fit of pique, a few days later, I pulverised an entire butternut squash, half a head of cabbage and three green peppers, and tried to hide them in a pasta bake. This did not go well because it did not taste good.
We almost had some success after the kids read a book about how leeks could propel you through space using farts as fuel, but apparently, in reality leeks “taste like badness” so we’re back to square one.
In fairness, I was also deeply suspicious of vegetables when I was a child. It’s easy to forget that flavours and textures are so much more overwhelming when your mouth’s so small and your tastebuds are so new. Anything too green or fibrous – like leeks or celery – would be too much work for too little reward. I remember when I said I was hungry and my mother suggested I ate an apple. To me, apples were 70% water and 30% aroma – not food at all.
Even now vegetables can be a bit of a trial; I like a salad but have to psyche myself up for the tedious business that is chewing and swallowing your way through a bowl of roughage.
Annoyingly, the answer – as with so many things in parenting and life – is within myself. If I want my kids to eat vegetables, I need to model that behaviour for them. And because I am a terrible actress, in order for that to happen I need to make vegetables delicious: to do more than present my kids with limp asparagus, then yell about the risk of diverticulitis when they refuse to eat it.
My older son didn’t like eating watermelon “with black things in” until I explained that watermelons grew from the “black things”. After dinner he scattered them in the garden to see what would happen. Obviously nothing happened, but the thing is he’ll eat watermelons now. So maybe I should get the kids involved with growing vegetables – nothing as big as a melon; perhaps a tomato plant or two on the patio.
Then again, an old schoolfriend’s mum just messaged me on Facebook about my plight. “You remember Becky would eat nothing but cheese and pickle sandwiches for lunch, and chicken and chips for dinner,” she noted. “And she’s a tennis coach, now.”
Becky is in fact terrifyingly fit – and with no sign of scurvy, either. So maybe I should relax about my kids – perhaps their futures aren’t quite as disease-ridden and pock-marked as all that. Maybe they’ll even be athletes like Becky! And at least they don’t lick the snot from their own noses.