A friend phoned me yesterday and exitedly told me about a new book she has been reading called Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. The wife of the comedian Jerry Seinfeld has brought out a book of recipes incorporating purees of vegetables such as beetroot, pumpkin, carrot and spinach. In the book you'll find simple ways of slipping veggies into macaroni and meatloaf but you'll also find recipes for desserts such as Spinach and Carrot Brownie. Yum... or perhaps not.
I felt cynical from the start... how much nutritional benefit from the vegetables can there be in a mere slice of cake or Brownie that contains a total of 1 cup of vegetable puree and what vitamin content will remain in the cake once the vegetable has been steamed or baked, then pureed and then baked in the cake once again??
The same goes for the chicken nuggets dipped in broccoli puree that she shows how to make. Each nugget will have a very thin coating of broccoli once cooked so it seems really pointless and a waste of time from my point of view.
I feel that there are far better and effective ways of slipping vegetables into the family food without going to such lengths and I expect the addition of the vegetables to enhance the flavour of the food rather than being covered up by the strong taste of another ingredient as proposed by Jessica.
I like to make vegetable soups (pureed) quite frequently and find that my children will quite happily eat Butternut Squash soup with some fresh crusty bread but they wouldn't consider eating butternut squash when I roast it with the chicken... it's all about presentation and honesty. The children don't like whole squash but enjoy it as a soup and they know that as a soup they enjoy it. I don't need to try to fool them into eating things.
I find that grating some courgette (zucchini) and carrot into rice before cooking and adding some spices is a nice way of adding veggies to the meal and makes the rice tastey.
Shorba - the national soup of Algeria, my husband's country -contains a reasonable amount of vegetables and is exceptionally tastey and the children enjoy it.
As mentioned in this article, the whole idea of pureeing veggies and slipping them into our children's 'junk' meals (cakes, brownies, chicken nuggets) gives out completely the wrong message. We will find ourselves encouraging the kids to have another slice of cake simply because "It's good for you" and we will not bother to reinforce the idea of a healthy balanced diet.
"Philosophically and practically, this is not really an effective approach. It will not develop an appreciation of the flavors, textures, and interests of various vegetables, which is what you should try to do by introducing them over and over again until they catch on." - Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and author of What to Eat.
If you have enough vegetables on offer on a weekly basis there are bound to be at least one or two vegetables that the children will find to their taste. My 4 older children have turned into salad freaks and they love lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers... that has to be a good start! One of my daughters loves sweetcorn with her tuna and mayo in a sandwich. The four of them were crazy about broccoli at one point... to the point that if anyone looked away from their plate my son would steal the broccoli off their plate.
I will continue to make stews and other dishes with 2 or 3 vegetables in and encourage them to try different things. If they don't like the turnip in the cous cous stew at least they will enjoy the carrot. One of my girls recently discovered that long green beans are actually quite nice.
Food is a journey of discovery from the outset and I am still on that journey myself trying new things and I don't think I will be forking out the 100 Riyals for Jessica's book. You won't find any spinach in the chocolate cake in this house but I will be happy to add a little feta to the spinach and make it into a toasted sandwich.