Tuesday, October 16, 2007

P is for Peppers


Someone sent me a link to an article about a woman in America who has brought out a book of recipes designed to enable parents to give their children vegetables without any family rows. The idea is that you puree vegetables and include them in recipes, matching the vegetable puree in colour so that it is not detected by the children. I suppose Jessica Seinfeld is working on the principle that what you don't know about you don't worry about. I can see the logic and I admire her for finding a way that works for her family.
"The trick to all of this is hiding vegetable purees in your children's foods," she says. "You can match the color of the puree to the color of the food that your kid is used to eating."
But part of me thinks that this method, though admirable, is missing the point. Mealtime is not about tricking children into eating something unwittingly. That is to reduce vegetables to the status of medicine. It also does nothing to help the child to learn to taste them, learn how and where they are grown, how to cook them. I am sure that if I had spent the last year pureeing vegetables for Freddie and including them in recipes without him knowing, he would not have changed one iota. He would have remained resolutely anti-vegetable. Where is the fun in that?
Pureeing is useful - when the texture of a vegetable is off-putting to a child, but they should still know what they are eating. What do you all think?
We are moving on to P for Peppers. This is a vegetable that starts off in the "I hate category" on our fridge door. The Naming and Shaming Fridge is Freddie's up-to-date opinion poll, tracking the relative popularity of different vegetables. Like many children, he isn't fond of the taste of bell peppers. So we started off with a simple Chicken and Pepper Wrap. The chicken and pepper strips were marinated for an hour in a teaspoon of mild chilli powder, 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger and one crushed garlic clove. Using a little cooking spray oil, I stir-fried the chicken and peppers in the wok and wrapped it in a tortilla. I didn't expect Freddie to fall in love with peppers but he did eat the wrap without complaints. He gave it 6 out of 10. The peppers were made to stay in the "I hate category" but I am feeling optimistic....

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  1. Good read but some parents will tell you their children eat zero veggies (other than potatoes) so what's a parent to do?

    For example, I've heard parents "grating" celery, carrot, peppers into a bolognese sauce and the kids mop up the plate.

    Tell them the truth after a few years and they'll get over it! lol

  2. Peter. You are right. It is hardly going to do them any harm adding a few surreptitious vegetables to their food. And it is far better they get some rather than none in their diet. But I cant help thinking that this is a little joyless though. Where is the fun in hiding vegetables. I think you have to be bolder and create an adventure.

  3. There was a woman who used to write about hiding veg from children in the Telegraph, I think she wrote a book about it ... as you say, curiously joyless, but Peter's right too, a bit of deception probably won't do any harm and may do some good.

    I'm a bit further down the road than you guys, my youngest is now 15. Between our four we have had all kinds of eaters, and the surprising thing is that the two who were the faddiest children are now the most adventurous young adults. The infant who ate everything is now quite a faddy 21 yr old. All of them now eat most veg although all of them went through phases of not eating any/many. I remember once reading that one of the main ways to instruct a child's palate is for the mother to range widely while breastfeeding ... I got that right then ;)

    What a good way to introduce peppers


  4. Ursula L2:12 PM

    Doing nothing but purees to get kids to eat food seems a bit like baby food - probably likely to get the kids to rebel from puree, eventually.

    As far as the peppers go, I find that the contrast in texture between the skin and the flesh is a bit off-putting. Particularly when cooked, and the skin gets tougher while the flesh gets slimy. I'd rather have them raw, when they're crisp.

    I also prefer red or orange peppers to green - red and orange have a sweeter, milder flavor. You might try cooking and serving them separately, for comparison.

  5. I saw the Oprah show with Jessica Seinfeld. She also serves veggies with all her meals, but uses the purees to *ensure* that her kids get enough fruits/veggies without her having to worry about mealtimes being stressful because of the veggie battles. I think that she is able to replace some of the not-so-healthy ingredients in some recipes (like butter, oil, etc.) with the purees.

  6. I am loving your site and your approach towards vegetables for our kids. We are having "Pea" day on Thursday! In response to the article, I've begun pureeing vegetables and love giving our everyday foods a nutritional boost. For me, it's become a game to take out the eggs, oil and butter and substitute with butternut squash, for example. However, vegetables are still seen on our table, and my kids are expected to eat them.

  7. Those look delicious - they've got me really hungry. Lunch tomorrow methinks...

  8. My mom used to mash cauliflower into our potatoes and make cheesecake using tofu. What we didn't know didn't hurt us. I have never had that problem with my own daughter. She loves the veggies and leaves the meat behind. Of course she is 20 now and I have selective memory. I do remember her swishing the peas around her plate.

  9. Schmoof5:27 PM

    I always find the blending of vegetables curious too, but as I'm not a parent and I don't have tantrums to put up with, I guess I would do!

    Perhaps a peperonata would be a good one to try out? Stewing the peppers make them nice and sweet. Also, I as a proclaimed veg lover from an infant never liked green peppers until at least 13ish - I think they may be a bit too bitter for little taste buds.

  10. Charlotte I tend to agree with you on this. I have recently been baking cookies, cakes, breads and even brownies with courgettes in them, but they are recipes I enjoy. My friend and her family are surprised to find there is a vegetable in there. As her son doesn't like courgettes. She is now taking some biscuits I made today with courgettes for the neighbor boy that doesn't eat veg. The thing is they need to learn to like the new foods. You can't give up trying the first time. I know some things take me a few times before I find I have a taste for it. Hiding it doesn't really give you a true taste.
    The Fajitas look really yummy!!! We are having tacos tonight.

  11. Amen. It's not a solution that helps your child learn about food and be an active part of the process. There is great joy in sharing the choosing, cooking and tasting that should not be denied to your child any more than reading or math. I love your approach, you have empowered your child and are teaching him so much through this effort. I won't be buying Jessica's book. I would buy yours. :)

  12. Melissa12:06 AM

    I was a pepper-hater until probably 23 or so, and the things that helped me change my mind were 1) chopping them finely and then sauteing with other foods, and
    2) roasting them and removing the skin! It really changes the texture and brings out the sweetness.
    Good luck to Freddie, I know he can do it.

  13. Anonymous12:31 AM

    I just started using purees to get more vegetables into my own diet. I often feel bad about not eating enough healthy foods, and I read a lot of food blogs that talk about ways to get more vegetables in. This past week has included acorn squash and spinach purees. Surprisingly, both were undetectable in my banana, orange juice, and pineapple smoothies! A little vitamin boost in a delicious drink. I whole-heartedly approve.

  14. Those look pretty good. Now I am craving fajitas.

  15. Anonymous4:22 AM

    Grill peppers over high heat turning as it browns about 20 minutes, or until the skins darken and blister. Remove the peppers from the grill, and place them in a paper bag. Close the bag by folding over twice. Set the peppers aside to cool. The steaming helps to loosen the skin.
    Take the peppers from the bag and remove the skins, stems, and seeds. If necessary, rinse the peppers to make peeling easier.

    Make big hamburgers and put the peppers on top of the burger, put on one layer of cheese and melt in the owen. Mustard and ketchup to taste and a good hamburger bread of cause.

    /Kim from Sweden

  16. Charlotte, I couldn't agree with you more about the Jessica Seinfeld book. Why would you want to trick your kids rather than helping them understand what's great about trying new things? I'm sure things were perfectly miserable for her to come up with this method, but what you've done with Freddie is so incredible, proving it can be done! Your book will instigate far more positive change.
    That said, I'm ashamed to say that I'm with Freddie on bell peppers...very, very ashamed. It's the green ones that do me in. They're just too bitter, but I must admit that these tortillas look remarkably tempting!

  17. Hi Charlotte,
    I don't have any children myself, but I can't help thinking that tricking children into eating vegetables is a bit self-defeating! Surely they will still have nasty feelings towards whatever vegetable you just disguised!
    I say "use the Charlotte and Freddie Method"!

  18. ps loved the photos!

  19. Those look delicious! Great photo.

  20. It's funny that you would read about Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook; you and she are pretty much at opposite ends of the Parents Who Try To Feed Their Children Vegetables spectrum. I disagree with her strategy to get peaceful family meals through deception (mostly. I'm okay with it when it comes to desserts, although I can't quite articulate why). Also, I don't think sneaking nutritious purees in teaches children much about flavor, texture or other things learned at table, like being polite about something you don't like. At the same time, while I disagree, I'm reluctant to condemn it; everyone has to sort out what works best for their family. And I certainly can't throw too many indignant stones about lack of truthfulness, because in order to buy a little peace when my children were small, I used to tell them that the shelves of candy near the check-out in grocery stores were... tuna.

  21. Meg,
    Oh that old trick - the tuna/candy switchover! Now your grown up children presumably like tuna in their coffee and tea and candy in a casserole!

    They were delicious. I think it would probably be even better if we had roasted he peppers frist to remove the skin - it is where the bitterness seems to gather.
    Thanks for your comments. They were delicious. We have also tried a vegetarian version - with goats cheese with the seasoned stir fried peppers. That was good too but Freddie preferred the meaty one.
    Figs, Olives, Wine - The skin is the problem. Our next recipe will try and get round that.Maybe you will like them then?
    Kim from Sweden - I will try this recipe. Thank you very much for leaving it with us. Much appreciated.

    Kevin - Give into the craving!

    Anon - I think people have to use whatever techniques are best for them. I suyppose my issue with pureeing is that with children, it seems a little self-defeating. With adults who need a nutrition boost it seems a good idea.

    Expat chef,
    Thank you for your thoughts. I just think parents are missing out on so much by not learning to cook a wider repertoire of dishes. After all if you cant cook anything - what will you pass on to your children? Its a case of ever-decreasing knowledge from generation to generation.
    Melissa - Roasting the peppers to remove the skin will have to be our next recipe as you are right - that is where the bitterness lies.

    Schmoof - A pepperonata is a great thought. I will look up recipes. And we could put it on bread like a bruschetta maybe. That always pleases Freddie.

    Pat - COurgette biscuits...Can I have that recipe to try out?

    Ursula - Will do a taste test on red v orange v yellow v green and report back!

    Boy Done Food - Thanks for dropping by. Freddie and Alex ( and me) were big fans of yours on Masterchef.Do keep visiting us!

    Valli - Cauliflour Cheese in mash is a good taste.

    Melissa - Thanks for those tips - Will be trying the roasting one to remove the skins!.

    Joanna - You are right about each child being compeltely different. I have that in my own family. One stepson who has always been great about vegetables ( now 26) and my daughter and son who are diametrically opposed. Freddie is always suspicious. Alex is always happy to be adventurous with food. Now they are coming a little closer together in their attitudes to food.

    Lisa - I like the idea of reducing the fat with say some butternut squash - Will read up more about that. Thanks.

    Karen - We loved reading your P Day post - And it made us very happy to see the recipes come alive in your home.Thanks !

    Kelly - Thanks for your comment. There is one unfortunate aspect to the photo - I notice now that Freddie's nails were not as clean as they could be which is really appalling! He had been painting in an art class so they were ingrained with paint.

  22. I am sure you are right - we do our children a dis-service by not introducing them to the great range of veg available. But it all comes down to energy - & that is such a precious commodity for busy mums. Tired, & often the sole adult, it is difficult to keep calm, persaude & make delicious ricotta tartlets. They looked so good! You & the GBVC are inspiring us all to keep going & not give up.

  23. Hi Charlotte, the recipe is up on my blog here...
    I really do need to figure out how to do a recipe index.
    I also have a brownie recipe there using courgettes.

  24. Hi there - I was just recently introduced to your blog and I love it! I have not read the book you mentioned, but I've been hearing about it everywhere. I think it's a great idea for younger children. For example my daughter is 18 months old and not quite at an age where conversation will convince her to eat something. I hide all sorts of food in things I know she'll eat - but I still offer the hidden foods separately as well. I'm hopeful that someday she'll be more open to the foods that nowadays end up on my face when I offer them to her.

  25. Robin4:24 AM

    I was going to comment that Jessica Seinfeld also serves veggies along side of her foods prepared with the puree', but someone already left you that note. I've been very fortunate my three boys, now 24, 22, and 19 love and eat almost all veggies. Spinach is about the only thing that 2 of them won't eat. Fruit is another story altogether.

  26. The issue I have with Jessica Seinfeld's book is this: When you get to the point where you have to puree and hide the vegetables in other foods, why not just buy a food supplement and put that in the food? Why go through all the trouble?


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