Does Jessica Seinfeld Ever Take Her Kids to McDonald’s?

The recent publication and Oprah coverage of Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook Deceptively Delicious has stirred up a kettle of buzz in the kitchen and across the web as curious parents test recipes, seeing if this cookbook’s methods really work with their kids. The basic premise of the book is that by adding pureed veggies to popular foods like brownies, pizza and tacos, parents can increase the vegetable intake of picky young eaters. It’s vital to add here that these recipes are not meant to replace servings of whole vegetables; they are merely intended to help parents get in the 5-a-day veggies that pediatricians recommend.

The presentation of this spiral-bound, slightly retro-looking cookbook is so appealing. Bright colors, clear text and high-quality photos make a handsome package. Gorgeous, colorful ceramic serving pieces cradle charmingly styled nuggets, puffs and sticks of all kinds. The visual appeal is more suggestive of what Martha Stewart might place before a special guest than what the average mom places on baby’s highchair tray. It has to make you wonder, “Is Seinfeld really serving these dainties up three times a day, or does she ever throw nutrition to the wind and make a run for the Golden Arches?” I’m not sure of the answer, but so far, opinions of the cookbook are mixed.

All those in favor say…
Amazing! Yummy! Inspirational! Happy parents are saying that even their pickiest eaters are fooled into munching away on butternut squash pasta and cauliflower scrambled eggs. No doubt the exciting finger-foods presentation and convincing concealment of the presence of ingredients like spinach, beets and garbanzos has been cleverly crafted to appeal to kids who refuse to eat vegetables. Several reviews claim the whole family loves the recipes, adults included!

All those not in favor say…
Not nutritious! Too hard! Yuck! Deceptively Delicious has been billed both as a way to address the serious concern of childhood obesity in America by cutting out packaged foods and to provide delicious nutrition. Detractors say that the heavy processing and pureeing results in vegetables that have lost most of their vitamins, and also, that too many of the recipes contain large amounts of sugar and refined flour. In several reviews, parents said their kids thought the textures and flavors of the dishes were strange and not at all tasty.

Suffice it to say that this popular cookbook is working like a charm for some families and not at all for others. Either way, the fact remains that vegetables are absolutely essential to children’s health and it can be tricky to make sure they’re getting enough. If you’ve tried Deceptively Delicious, I’m eager to hear how it’s working for you.

Tried and true methods of helping children like vegetables

1) Introduce them during school time, as a lesson. In one class where I taught, I brought a new fruit or vegetable every week and presented it to the class. I tried to choose ones that were less familiar, like starfruit and plantains, or eggplant and chickpeas. As a class, we talked about the food, prepared it, and then ate it. Children were very likely to take at least one bite out of curiosity, and possibly eat it all when they saw their friends doing likewise.

2) Study fruits and vegetables. Plants that produce fruits or vegetables can be researched, and simple cards can be made using pictures from clipart or magazines. Drawing or painting a single fruit or vegetable (or a bowl of them) is a classic still life art lesson that every child can participate in.

3) Plant a vegetable garden. This could be a tomato in a pot or a whole yard of raised beds. Having a garden at school or at home is a cherished childhood tradition. Few children can resist the thrill of eating a serving of string beans they grew themselves.

4) For parents, children can be included in shopping at the market. Explore the produce section together. If your child shows interest in curly kale or crisp purple cabbage, let him pick out his favorite and add it to the cart. Grocery shopping provides real life lessons in selecting quality produce and doing math to stay within the family budget.

5) Allow children to participate in food preparation. Whether in the classroom or at home, kids can take an active role in the real work of cooking great, simple foods. What child can resist the charms of a broccoli steamer or potato masher? Being able to say, “I made this myself,” helps children to feel empowered and competent.

The importance of setting a good example

When my son was two, he attended a Montessori school twice a week while I taught music to the elementary students. One day I happened to walk by his classroom when the toddler teacher had gathered all the children around a large table. Each child watched in breathless anticipation as she introduced a large, beautiful, green bell pepper. She held it up and asked them to notice its shape and color. Then, with a flourish, she sliced it open and let them view the inside. Last, she cut it into slices and passed one to each child.

Each child smelled their bell pepper slice and looked over it carefully, then ate it. I can’t speak for other children in the class, but even now, years later, my son loves slices of fresh green bell pepper. While he may not remember the experience of standing around that table eating green pepper, he was implanted with the idea that green peppers are beautiful, interesting, and delicious. This lesson has never left him.

Good nutrition depends mainly upon variety and freshness of ingredients. For my part, I would consider “hiding” veggies in other foods to be a last resort, after implementing the steps mentioned above. Children can learn to love vegetables, when they are frequently given the chance to touch them, grow them, and learn about them.