During dinner last week I was trying to tell my children, as all good guilt-inducing mothers do, how they shouldn't waste food, how thousands of children don't get a morsel to eat, how they would understand what they felt like if they starved for a day etc. etc. After my sombre lecture, my daughter looked at me and said, seriously, "You can give my broccoli to those children so they aren't hungry". While suppressing a smile and complimenting her on her wit, I said that in that case she should hand over the sausage and the pasta too. "Nooooo. I love THEM'", she yelled and much protesting followed. Eventually the meal was completed, all of it, with the broccoli being doused in cheese sauce so it could ‘slide down' her throat without her having to taste it.
Why is broccoli on the blacklist for most kids? Admittedly, it's not the easiest vegetable and even I would choose a French fry over it but it isn't poison either. Most children would disagree. There seem to be some foods that are universally yuck. Just as pasta, pizza, hot dogs, French fries and in India, the idli/dosa combo are heroes, veggies are the zeroes. On a table of most-hated foods, broccoli comes in at number one. This greenie makes some kids bolt from the dining table faster than an Olympic athlete. Stinky little trees, was how a 5 year-old described it. Tree or not it is very, very healthy. You could serve it with a sweeter vegetable like sweet potatoes or yams in a baked dish or chop it finely and chuck it in a pasta sauce. I've decided that I would rather have them eat it slathered in cheese than not at all. Life is after all about compromises and with kids you have to choose your battles wisely.
Spinach is a close second. Popeye may love it but those watching him most certainly do not. It's green again and many a times is overcooked to death and does become a little uninspiring to eat. A neat little trick is to cut it finely and mix it in to omelettes. It disguises well in a lasagne and even better in cannelloni. Let the green not show and you'll be surprised how it quickly it goes down.
To get my children in to eating eggplant, I gave them 3 dishes (on different days of course, even I'm not that cruel) each time calling it a different name - eggplant bake, aubergine fritters and brinjal bharta. It fooled no one and from that day on any new vegetable introduced would illicit a cautious, " Is it brinjal again"? So I decided not to name it but once again, hide it. If only they knew what was in their much-loved pizza sauce! Ha!
Fish, and its strong flavour and smell, has also never been a popular choice for kids. If you have fish as pets, it is an understandable dilemma the kids face. Avoid the eating (or letting them see) a whole fish and buy skinless fillets instead or you pay end up paying a lot for therapy sessions later on! Fish pies or baked dishes is the way to go or bread-crumbed and shallow fried usually disguises the smell well.
The odd one out on this list is peas. They are sweet, cute looking and small. The cooking crime may be in overcooking them where the skin separates and becomes an odd bit in a child's mouth. Leave them a little crunchy and mix them in to other popular dishes like fried rice and pasta and they will soon be saying More Peas!
Taking the kids side for a moment (and only a moment), there have been biological studies to suggest that children have aversions to the more strong tasting foods. Children are born with 10.000 taste buds and as time goes by, these diminish to about 3000. This explains why my husband will even eat a horse while my kids won't touch cabbage. They are genuinely more sensitive to strong tastes and flavours. So while they might not like that broccoli now, give them a few years and they may come around. But for now be a food chameleon. Disguise it all.