When I was a little girl I was a very picky eater… so much that my parents put me in a school where they offered lunch to see if I would expand my eating horizons. For 2 years I ate white rice and ketchup for lunch. True… my mom would ask me everyday what I had for lunch and I would reply – Arroz con ketchup! Proudly…
But my pickiness never came because my parents never offered me a wide variety of foods. They always instilled in me I had to TRY EVERYTHING BEFORE I could say I didn’t like it. In my former life, before I became a vegetarian, there used to be a time where I would only eat the paella rice and not eat anything else in it. I would only eat the sauce of stewed beans and still remember how my dad tried to teach me to swallow oysters with cocktail sauce… never did it, but became a fan of the sauce and horseradish. Also, when in a ballet summer camp, they made us go on a diet where we ate steamed broccoli and cauliflower… I hated the taste, the smell, the texture, but now I eat them regularly. I also remember how in my Quinceañero I spent the whole evening eating these delicious “onion rings”. When I told my mom how good they were, my mom told me there wasn’t any onion rings on the menu… that they must have been the calamari rings!!! I never took the calamari off the paella anymore after that. And I remember the first time I had marinated tofu in a sandwich and fried gluten… that fried gluten tasted like pork “chicharrones” rinds and I was “scared” that someone at the yoga center got confused and made something not suitable for the vegetarians at the party.
Don’t they look like onion rings???
My point… people, kids and adults alike are many times prejudiced with what THEY THINK something tastes like. They think they do not like to eat something because of its color, its appearance, their idea of its taste. Something I have learned throughout the years is that you might not like a specific ingredient in a specific preparation… but if you give it a few tries you might like it prepared differently. For example, I much prefer eggplant battered and fried than stewed. I very much prefer garbanzo beans in a hummus than in a bean salad… you would “never” see me eating a bean salad. That’s something I have not been able to conquer or think I will…
Being such a finicky kid, believe it or not, I was not the finickiest… My friend Mariví was worse than me. We have a LOT of history together. And it was not until we were late in high school that she came to eat at her first salad bar. We went to Ponderosa to eat and she asked me if she had to eat the salad… I said emphatically “OF COURSE!!!, why else would we come to Ponderosa if not for the all-you-can-eat salad bar???” She confessed, with her salad plate in front of her, that she thanked me because it was the first time she had tried lettuce, tomato and corn. I could not believe her mom had not taught her to eat salad… It was so far-fetched to me, as finicky as I was…
Now time has passed… Madelyn is vegetarian and Mariví has 5 kids!!! Yes, that was not a typo… 5 kids – Ignacio who’s 11, Diego who’s 10, Kamila who’s about to turn 8, Daniel who’s 4 and the newest one, Sergio who’s just 3 months old. They’re as finicky about eating as Madelyn and Mariví were when growing up… the thing is that by having also a finicky mom, it’s my theory they’re not as exposed to as many foods as they should be… And this might be my own impression, but I see plain hamburgers without an ounce of lettuce, tomato, or even ketchup at their birthday parties… and when I mention certain things to eat to my goddaughter Kamila, she makes faces at me…
So I decided to hold a little experiment… I would prepare a meal for Mariví and her 4 oldest kids without telling any of them what is in any of the dishes. They will eat them, enjoy them, hopefully even LOVE them and then afterwards tell them what was in it… to prove to them that they do indeed like to eat more than what they’re exposing themselves to and to expand their eating horizons. It is my belief that kids learn mostly by example and what better example than their parents habits. If the parents do not eat something or do not expose kids to certain things they will not gain an appreciation for them.
They came over without knowing of the experiment… I did not want them to prejudice themselves knowing I am vegetarian. I explained to them I had made dinner and I assured them they would love it all. And if they wanted to know about how anything was made, I would tell them at the end of the meal.
Here was last night’s menu:
I can remember the first time I ate an asparagus sandwich at a birthday party. I just ate it thinking it was a regular “sandwichito de mezcla” just rolled into a different shape and loved it. It was not after I had eaten about 10 of these little sandwiches that someone told me it was asparagus. I was hooked.
I knew Mariví’s kids would be surprised about liking them too… I just make a mixture of jarred asparagus and egg-less mayonnaise and spread it onto whole-wheat bread. I flatten the bread so I can roll the sandwiches and give them a fancier look. Sometimes people place a whole asparagus spear in the center and then roll the bread around it, but because I knew these guys are finicky, I just made a puree out of the ingredients to avoid any apprehension before they tasted them.
Both Ignacio and Diego smelled them before putting them in their mouths… so typical of a finicky kid!!! Ignacio, Diego, Kamila and Mariví all loved them. They were all trying to figure out what was in them. Ignacio and Diego had about 4 each and even told me they would love to have them again…
This was Ignacio’s face when I told him the sandwiches were made from asparragus – HUH?!?!?
A few weeks ago I tested my Undercover Carrot Mac and Cheese as a way to “sneak in” some added veggies into my niece’s, Mariana, dinner. A reader suggested me to try it also with cauliflower. So this is my version of mac and cheese with added cauliflower.
I usually make mac and cheese with a white cheese sauce. I thought it would be something different the kids would enjoy – steering away from the orangy sauces they’re so used too. I cooked the cauliflower in the same water as the macaroni. I used Jerusalem artichoke pasta instead of the regular semolina pasta. I then combined it all with a cheese sauce made from soy milk, gruyère, pecorino romano, cream cheese, an Italian-blend grated cheeses and Parmesan. I baked it all in the oven for about 30 minutes to get the crust golden brown.
Mariví was amazed that this has cauliflower and was so good. Ignacio felt there was something more in there than just mac and cheese and kept asking me how I made it… Diego just didn’t care and started shoveling it in. The two little ones did not understand how a mac and cheese was white instead of orange. So I convinced them to try it again after I mixed in a few slices of American cheese into their portions – bringing to the cheese total to 6 – the cheesiest I have ever made a mac and cheese before. The learning… when you make mac and cheese from scratch for the little ones, make it ORANGE with regular cheddar cheese. They’ll find it more familiar and will not look at it as funny as Kamila and Daniel did.
Tostones in Puerto Rico are typically made from plantains… but you can make tostones also out of Breadfruits. We call them PANA in Spanish. Breadfruits are very polarizing – people either love them of they hate them. There’s a breadfruit tree behind my grandma’s house and I decided to expose Mariví’s kids to breadfruit.
These were a complete hit!!! Everyone wanted to be in the kitchen with me when I fried them and everyone gobbled them up. Even the little ones went for the tostones first before they started on the fixed-up mac and cheese.
Tostones need to be fried twice… so I had fried them for the first time earlier in the week and kept them frozen in a Ziploc bag. I defrosted them in salted garlicky water and fried them again right before eating them.
Diego going first after the Breadfruit Tostones…
I knew this was going to be the most difficult one to “sell” to these kids. They are just not used to eating salad. But I had to give it a try… I used organic romaine lettuce and organic cucumbers. I bought mini cherry tomatoes and told them these were tomatoes specially made for kids.
I made them a Thousand Island Dressing to go along with the salad. That used to be the only dressing I liked when I was a kid, so I figured they might prefer that to any vinaigrette I could make. I started with a Mayo Ketchup base and added some sweet pickles.
Some of them tried the tomatoes only but they were not impressed. It was so sad to see all the salads left almost intact… I was the only one who really ate the salad. Everyone else, including the mom, left salad on their plates. This was the real challenge… but I will not give up. I will make them eat salad if it’s the last thing I do for that family…
Recently, Kamila had told me she loved strawberry ice cream. So when this idea started I decided to make strawberry ice cream from scratch for her. Unfortunately, I live this crazy life that I did not have time to fix it. So I decided to do the next best thing I knew… prepare a fresh strawberry sauce to top vanilla ice cream.
This is great with any berry, in fact, the original recipe I learned from Ina Garten in her Barefoot in Paris book. I had made it with raspberries, but strawberries are cheaper and more readily available.
Just cook some fresh strawberries with some water and brown sugar. Mix them in a food processor with strawberry preserves and voilà!! – Fresh Strawberry Sauce. Kamila even wanted hers with a fresh strawberry as a garnish.
Surprisingly, the little ones loved this strawberry sauce, not so much the older ones. They exchanged it for plain ice cream.
I believe all in all this VERY VEGGIE EXPERIMENT was a SUCCESS!!!! More thumbs up than thumbs down… overall.
Marivíand her kids were exposed to a bunch of different foods they are normally not exposed to – asparagus, cauliflower, gruyere and pecorino romano cheeses, Jerusalem artichoke pasta, pickles, breadfruit… And out of the 5 things I prepared, they liked 4 of them with the salad being the most challenging of all. Which I was really expecting…
I hope Mariví now has learned how exposing her kids, and even herself, to foods she might not be familiar to is a good thing. They will in the end be healthier and better-rounded individuals.
Based on this experience, I will make an effort to invite the kids over more often to expose them to foods I know they might never try otherwise and even teach them how to prepare these dishes for their parents.
For complete directions on how to prepare all these dishes, stay tuned in the next few days to KarmaFree Cooking when I will share the recipes and instructions in detail.