Spring in Charlottesville seems particularly blustery this year, with blown-over recycling bins along the streets evidence that March is (like a lion) still lurking around. I celebrate the fact that the sidewalk in front of our house seems to get a lot of pedestrian traffic, but I can always gauge the level of recent wind by the variety of trash that makes its way among my poorly mulched columbines and irises. In the last week, our yard has accumulated a padded chair cushion, ice cream wrappers, and an empty blister-pack for something called “Stamina-Rx,” in addition to a motley array of fluttering detritus like plastic bags, which now adorn the ferns under our cypress tree. I guess I should be out there now, cleaning it up. Priorities, people! I’ve got priorities!
Meanwhile, we found morels growing in that same yard for the first time yesterday, and the seedlings started in our fluorescent-lit basement are making their way to permanent beds outside, the wind making them hardy, with (I hope) deeper roots. Deeper roots mean I can get away with forgetting to water them later in the season. And I will.
As a cheers to whatever-spring-epitomizes-to-you, I’m going to extend the trite “winds of change” metaphor a little more, because other surprises seem to emerge like crocuses, too. For two years, my husband and I have done our darnedest to model good vegetable eating habits for Fionn, making all our dinners at least 50% salad by volume and telling him about all the colorful ingredients. Dorkily energetic offers of beet squares, carrot circles, broccoli with dip, etc. were all met with a shaken head and a snotty “nnnnnn-OH!” or, on good days, a taste rapidly followed by a spitting out, as if he had accidentally put a tea tree oil candle in his mouth. As I have written before, he sees even the typical toddler favorites like carrots and fresh peas with disdain, the irony of which seems to sting me personally, somehow. Cramming a handful of kale salad in his four-compartment lunch container was an effort equivalent to filling the space with glittered-up dryer lint– it wasn’t meant to be consumed, but to be SEEN. As expected, I would still see it there, untouched, when I picked him up from school. I continued sneaking greens into smoothies, muffins, crackers, and anything I could imagine. If I could only engineered a way to hide spinach inside a pistachio shell (his favorite nut), I would.
Knowing that context is everything, I began to question everything about my own behavior. Was my bad habit of getting up from the table to get the dressing I forgot, or wash my dishes when I was impatient for my husband to finish somehow priming Fionn to not take meals seriously? Certainly, Fionn has inherited my antsiness; at Friday’s preschool parent-teacher/meeting, his teachers said he is “special” as a kinesthetic learner, one who follows his own beat, who refuses to stand in a line, and delights in being a contrarian, even when the conventional wisdom makes more sense. Come to think of it, this sounds like me.
I hate the notion of “hiding” anything in food. I stubbornly want Fionn to identify vegetables in their raw state, and to enjoy them the way I do. Thus, the whole concept of good phyte foods navigates a fine line — incorporating (organic, locally grown) vegetables into the kinds of foods kids might otherwise nosh on willingly, while not “pretending” they aren’t even there.
The good news, in our house, is that persistence is paying off. Impatient for the opening of City Market yesterday, I had bought the first local spinach of the season at Integral Yoga a few days ago. Out of the blue, Fionn accepted the usual offer and decided that he liked it. Quoth Fionn: “I like spinach.” Plain, raw leaves. Whoa. This was two hours after he plucked a turnip leaf from a garden and put it in his mouth without prompting. Before you get too excited about his valiance, you should know that the turnip was spit out on his chin, and wiped away with a grimace. Even so, I think our lame parental chorus of “Thank you for trying!” might be making headway. Here is a snippet from a New York Times article called “Six Food Mistakes Parents Make” that rings true despite it being written (gasp!) more than six years ago. This is Mistake #6:
Giving up too soon. Ms. Worobey said she has often heard parents say, “My kid would never eat that.” While it may be true right now, she noted that eating preferences often change. So parents should keep preparing a variety of healthful foods and putting them on the table, even if a child refuses to take a bite. In young children, it may take 10 or more attempts over several months to introduce a food…
Susan B. Roberts, a Tufts University nutritionist and co-author of the book “Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health,” suggested a “rule of 15” — putting a food on the table at least 15 times to see if a child will accept it. Once a food is accepted, parents should use “food bridges,” finding similarly colored or flavored foods to expand the variety of foods a child will eat. If a child likes pumpkin pie, for instance, try mashed sweet potatoes and then mashed carrots. If a child loves corn, try mixing in a few peas or carrots. Even if a child picks them out, the exposure to the new food is what counts.
“As parents, you’re going to make decisions as to what you want to serve,” Ms. Worobey said. “But then you just have to relax and realize children are different from day to day.”
So keep putting that spinach on the plate! Plant seeds and be patient! With the winds of change in the air, this might just be the time your little one will surprise you.
Chard, onions, lettuces, and tat soi.
I have so much fun taunting you!
What are you trying to do to me? That broccoli was “yucky.” Seriously, he said “yucky.”
Morels in a bed of bleeding hearts. Sounds so earthy and romantic!
Wheatgrass easter eggs. And the first fragrant daffodil in our yard, picked for mommy! 😉