Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bring on the Broccoli

There is a subtle war going on in my house over those green things on the plate. You know: vegetables. When you have children, even if you’re all modern and psychological minded, it’s still hard to not somehow expect them to be little carbon copies of you. Well, in my case carbon copies plus a y chromosome here and there, since I have two boys.

I was a child with wide and adventurous tastes in food. I loved vegetables. Asked to name my favorite foods, alongside the requisite M & Ms, burgers and peanut butter, I would have put artichoke, avocado and asparagus on my list. And that’s just the top of the alphabet.

My twin 7 year old sons, however are another matter. Food is a complicated issue in our house. Before they were born, (OK everyone groan now, we all remember the things we swore we would NEVER do that we find ourselves doing on a daily basis for survival) I just knew I was going to feed my children only healthy foods: lots of vegetables and fruit, no sugar or chemicals, etc. etc. Not quite a member of the anti-junk militia, lets just say that I’m no stranger to the organic section at Fairway, and my local little health food store is near and dear to my heart, and wallet.

When they were babies and I could control every bite that went into their mouths (the occasional purple crayon notwithstanding), it was 90% organic and all good: lots of veggies, low sugar, low sodium, no artificial anything, yadda, yadda, yadda. Though it was clear that one twin, Ethan, had a sweet tooth, greatly preferring the fruits to the vegetables, the sweet to the savory, they still pretty much ate what was offered, hungrily and happily.

But then life happened. They became two year-olds. With opinions.

Then Jacob was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum, and at three went on a special diet that made a huge difference in his physical and mental health, but created a royal pain in the ass in the kitchen. Because Jacob’s diet was now gluten and casein free, which to civilians out there means no dairy, no wheat or other gluten containing grains (like almost all other “normal” grains - oats, barley, rye), he needed special foods bought and prepared for him. And everywhere we went I had to carry a ton of food with, because you never know what’s out there and Jake is a hungry guy. Pizza, that birthday party staple: pure poison.

Some families go all gluten/casein free (GF/CF) when one child needs to, but besides the fact that I love blue cheese too much to do that, Ethan would have starved to death. Because he is, you see, a classic “picky eater” who thinks vegetables are evil and would live on beige food, if at all possible.

Ethan once turned his nose up with disgust at a wonderful meal I had prepared, and delivered his judgment “That’s not kid food!” with a precise mix of disdain and dismissal that was so precociously teenagery, I almost dropped the bowl.

Where he got the notion that there is a specific entity out there - “kid food” - and that he has the right to demand being fed that and only that, all the time, I will never know. It consists of things like chicken nuggets, french fries, bologna, hot dogs, bagels, string cheese, goldfish crackers, chocolate milk ... you’re getting the picture. All those things I’d sworn would never cross his lips, let alone become the mainstay of his diet.

I promise the processed meats he eats are all organic and nitrate free. At home. Just pretend you’ve never seen me buy my hungry kid an occasional hot dog from a vendor in Central Park, OK?

I thank my stars that Ethan really likes fruit. Well, some fruit. OK, apples, peaches and grapes. OK, Granny Smith apples - peeled; yellow peaches - when they are in season and really ripe and only with the skin ON; and green grapes with absolutely no seeds. Did I mention he’s a picky eater?

Jacob, after happily devouring whatever we put in front of him for the longest time (did I mention that for a kid on the Autism Spectrum he is amazingly flexible, easy going and compliant, it’s my “typical” one who is more high maintenance), then started to have opinions about what he would and would not eat at about three and a half. When he would so clearly say to us “I don’t like that” about a food, how could we not positively reinforce such great communication by honoring his request and removing the offending item from his food repertoire? Unfortunately, almost all vegetables soon fell into this category.

Lately, though a miraculous thing has been happening: veggies are back in! It started last year when he was obsessed with the Wonder Pets. They ate celery – so Jake ate celery. And now, thanks to a cute little PBS web video he watches over and over, Jacob has been asking for broccoli and carrots every day. It makes me so happy to steam his broccoli for him, I can’t wait to see what’s next on the vegetable agenda.

Ethan at this point is still a hopeless cause. I take heart from what a friend with grown children told me. Her three boys were all kid food aficionados and vegetable avoiders like Ethan when young, but they grew up and discovered girls. Sophisticated New York City girls who were not impressed by Neanderthal males who would not eat salads and dissed all things green. By the time those boys came home from college they were chastising their mother for not stocking their favorite vegetables in the house.

So therein lies my hope for the future. To think that Ethan might one day yell at me for not providing him with swiss chard… well, a mom can dream, can’t she.

NOTE: This post originally appeared on the sadly closed SVMG NYC Moms Blog.