Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Veggie Art = Veggie Smart (how's that for a Mom Post title?)

I'm sure you won't mind if I go a little off side here and write a pure mommy post. Or, if you do, you'll just skip it and love me anyway.

All of a sudden, my kids eat vegetables. Like, not just one or two, more than a dozen different kinds, including the big ones: broccoli, cauliflower, spinach. The only ones they don't eat are tomatoes...yet.

It wasn't always this way. Although both children took to pureed vegetables early on, the moment they tasted fruit, veggies went out the window. We were down to pureed pea/corn mixes just to get a little veggie into them. That lasted a very long time. Every attempt to introduce vegetables into our meals was met with constant resistance.

So what changed? One, I got lazier, and two, I got bored.

I decided to stop cooking vegetables. I only bought vegetables that I was comfortable serving raw. In fact, I bought a bit of every vegetable that I felt comfortable serving raw, washed them and carefully put them away. That night, I cut up veggies and created the first of many tableaus to come.

That's the secret: raw veggie tableaus. And time.

I create a picture, sculpture, abstract visual piece, or an attempt at realism, using raw veggies. The family chooses our own veggies from the tableau throughout the meal. CHOICE IS KEY!

At first, the novelty got their attention. My rule was that they needed to choose three pieces of vegetable from the picture, no more than two the same. They reluctantly complied, and though it often took a long time at the table, they got used to eating their three pieces of raw vegetable every night without complaining too much.

Still, they were very limited, choosing only carrots or celery, avoiding chunkier bits. I persisted in using colour in my pictures, and managed to convince my son to try a piece of red pepper by making it a light saber. He loved the red pepper. He loved how happy I was that he loved the red pepper. He was encouraged to try other veggies, adding broccoli, cucumber, green beans and snap peas within a week. He declared that he LOVED zucchini and he couldn't BELIEVE I hadn't given it to him before, the night it was a face. He started enjoying his picks, taking six, seven and eight pieces of vegetable. Soon my tableaus needed to grow in size to keep up with demand.

My daughter was stubborn. I didn't think she'd ever come along, Then, based on her brother's recommendation, she decided to try just a little tiny bite of red pepper. She declared that she LOVED it. She loved how happy I was that she loved it, thought she only ate a few tiny bites, not sure after all. The next night she persevered, taking red pepper as one of her choices. She got a little further. Eventually, she could finish a piece in no time. Another day, we pretended to be rabbits and she ate the spinach leaves *nibble nibble nibble*. Next it was cauliflower, which had been the sheep in my shepherd tableau (she was happy to CHOMP the sheep!).

The thing is, I am not a veggie lover. Unlike my kids, my repeated tries have not resulted in LOVING any particular vegetable. But I am trying. And I make sure they see me take a variety, see me eat it. My husband, too, though for him it's not a chore since he actually likes them.

So here's the list of things that seem to have led to my kids' big turnaround:

- my positive attitude towards vegetables (look! I got fresh cucumber this week!)
- serving vegetables raw
- creative presentation
- variety available, choice
- patience
- supporting even a very tiny try with big love
- sibling recommendations
- eating my own vegetables so they see it
- perseverance and a willingness to sit them out, every night (or at least, most nights)
- early, promises of dessert, but not every time

That's my list. I can't guarantee it will work for anyone else. But I am shocked and proud to find myself the mom who's kids beg for more broccoli. Hooray!!

They won't make any museum, but my family really looks forward to them: