Thursday, June 5, 2008

What's Your Veggie History?

Having a toddler (and four ex-toddlers), I have often thought about how I can get my children started on a path to lifelong healthy eating. I always made it a goal to feed them lots of fruits and vegetables so they would grow up LIKING them... unlike me. But there seems to be something more to it than just what I feed them. Some of my kiddos like vegetables. One LOVES them and prefers them to other foods. Some HATE them. The two year old... well, she has a texture issue. She wants nothing with peels or fibrous materials. Which means no berries, grapes, or apples, which most kids love. And forget about vegetables. There is no way she will eat them unless they are pureed into something and unrecognizable. Tomato sauce is fine, but there better not be chunks in it! How this will play out as she grows, I don't know, but I just keep on offering and letting her decide.

So what's your veggie history? When you were a kid, did your parents give you vegetables at your meals? Were you forced to gag them down to get dessert? How do you think your childhood vegetable experiences affected how you felt about them as an adult?

Me, I don't remember a lot of veggie action going on in my house when I was a kid. I was an only child, and frankly my mother couldn't cook worth crap. I have very few memories of her ever cooking meals or snacks for me. She used to make spaghetti and meatballs by dumping a jar of Prego in the crock pot and then dropping in raw balls of hamburger meat... with nothing added, no seasoning... and letting it cook all day. That was her "recipe." A jar of Prego and a pound of beef. And my poor Dad... he LOVED carrot cake. Adored it. So once in awhile she would make one. I HATED it. I remember being at a picnic once, when I was about 14. A friend said, "you have to try the carrot cake! It is SO GOOD!" I told him I did not like carrot cake and he urged me to try it anyway. I took a bite, and said, "This is not carrot cake! Where's the carrots?" I said this because the only carrot cake I had ever eaten was made by my mother, who CHOPPED the raw carrots and added the big chunks to the batter instead of grating them. Gee, you mean you are not supposed to have huge hard chunks of carrot in a carrot cake? Go figure. My Dad always ate it anyway, thanking my mother for making it as he crunched and chewed his way through a piece.

My favorite childhood vegetable was corn. I ALWAYS loved corn. Mom would heat up a can of corn, and Dad (who COULD cook) would make a roast chicken, mashed taters and gravy. I would mix that canned corn into my taters and I was in heaven. And in the late summer, I adored fresh corn on the cob with lots of butter and salt! But other veggies? Forget it. I never remember my parents serving up fresh vegetables of any kind. The closest thing was when my Mom would put a dish of canned ratatouille (zucchini and tomatoes) on the table. I never ate it. Yuck! But wait... there WAS another vegetable I liked! My Dad would slice a zucchini in half and top it with Parmesan cheese and broil it. I loved that. Yummy! But most of my meals at home were vegetable free: macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese, cheddar cheese melted on bread (think my Mom liked cheese?), bagels and cream cheese, and lots of Ramen.

One of my favorite meals when I was a kid was SALAD. We NEVER had salad at home, but sometimes my Mom and her Weight Watchers friends would all go out to a buffet for the salad bar. It was all-you-can-eat, and I really got her money's worth! I would always get the same thing: plate piled high with iceberg lettuce, maybe one slice of cucumber, and then loads and loads and LOADS of blue cheese dressing. Then I would add a bunch of grated cheddar cheese and bacon bits. I would eat that plate of salad with a buttered roll, and go back for more, and more, and more until I was full. I LOVED that salad, and I thought it was good for me. My mother never told me what a nutritional nightmare I was eating... probably because she was eating the same thing. Is it any wonder I grew up knowing nothing about vegetables, and being a complete and utter cheese addict?

I think this affected me profoundly. I moved away from home when I was 18, and for two years on my own, I don't think I ever bought a single vegetable. As a matter of fact I am sure I never did. I ate a lot of Ramen, though. When I got married at 20, guess what I made for dinner? A big pot of Ramen. And the first few years I rarely made a vegetable at all. It was mostly spaghetti, mac and cheese, chili, and meat n taters. Sometimes a side of canned corn, of course. It was many, many years later when I was trying to lose weight (I had gained 20 pounds and felt HUGE) that I took a nutrition class and learned more about vegetables. I started making them more often, but still it was pretty rare. A can of green beans here, a can of peas there. I was probably 35 years old before I ever really learned how to prep and cook real, fresh vegetables. And now I am obsessed! I love my veggies now.

I really hope that my kids will grow up and learn to like veggies more. They do all enjoy a salad when I serve it with dinner. They like raw broccoli. And they often ask me if there is zucchini in the brownies (and yeah, sometimes there is!) At least they have been exposed to some healthy choices, and all of them are at a healthy weight. They eat lots of fruit! The bottom line is that as adults, we can make the choice NOW to educate ourselves about different ways to prepare veggies, and try different things until we find what we like. I am proof: it is never too late to start!


arquie said...

My veggie history is similar to yours-- canned corn and canned green beans at home. Occasionally we had spaghetti with tomato sauce, chili and a tomato based beef stew were staples.

My mom wasn't necessarily a bad cook, but she used way too many convenience foods. Looking back I see she was just a product of her generation, in the 70's there were all these new boxed dinners and packaged spices that you just add a lb of ground beef and you have dinner. And she didn't know much about nutrition; the point of eating was to get full.

However I did love veggies. My granny was an avid garderner and always served veggies and fruits. I'm from the South so it was often garden fresh vegetables cooked in bacon grease, but again she was from an era when people had to worry about getting food in their bellies and nutrition was a secondary concern.

I've since learned a lot about nutrition and cooking. I've found out cooking good food from fresh ingredients often isn't more difficult than preparing so-called convenience foods. And, I kinda enjoy chopping vegetables.

My own children like vegetables. My 7 yo son will only eat them plain though-- either raw or steamed no sauce, no butter or seasoning at all. I figure that's best for him even if it does get a bit boring for me from time to time. My 13 yo daughter is a vegetarian and a little more adventurous with spices than her brother, so I've had to find new ways of cooking for my family. Maybe I'm a product of a new generation...

Dawn said...

When I was growing up my mom and dad were both excellent cooks and cooked mainly using fresh ingredients, including vegetables. Since my mom grew up on a farm that grew vegetables, she knew the importance of them and we always had fresh vegetables from our own garden. The kids in my family were me, my brother and my sister. Since we've become adults we have very different eating habits when it comes to vegetables. I eat a reasonable mix of meats and vegetables. My sister is a strict vegetarian and that's almost all she eats. My brother hates vegetables and hardly eats any.

I started my three kids out eating vegetables early and they all love vegetables, although each one of them has his or her favorites and not so favorites.

I think it is important to introduce kids to veggies when they're young so hopefully they will learn to like them and continue eating them for the rest of their lives.

RunningNan said...

I'm the same way. I think about this all the time. My mom never really pushed veggies on us. I liked the basics.. I never know my tastes would go for things like peppers, onions, chives, brussel sprouts, asparagus. These are things that I will pass along to my friends children and my own if I ever have any.

Anonymous said...

We lived on casseroles as kids, so there were tasteless chunks of fresh-from-the-can green things, orange things, and yellow things swimming in some sort of sauce. When I got to be a teen, we had a garden, but while I remember tending to it and harvesting, I don't remember eating a lot of it. In fact, I hated tomatoes so much, my mother once took a picture of me eating one once when I was on (another) diet.

We did eat a lot of fruit as we got older, but mostly applesauce, as we lived in apple country and most of us worked on apple farms. We also used to pick a lot of berries on public land, but they were always put on shortbread and smothered in whip cream.

I'm amazed now, writing this, how throughout my childhood I learned how to take healthy foods and make them UNhealthy...

Anonymous said...

Just came across your blog & I really love it!

I ALWAYS hated veggies. When forced to eat them I would swallow them down like pills with whatever I was drinking. I would do anything not to taste them! And its sad, I am still not a big fan. I try, but they just aren;t my fav. BUT I do love corn! =)

Deb said...

Growing up, there was usually a veggie at dinner, but always canned ones. You know the staples: canned green beans, canned corn, and canned peas. The peas she would usually serve in a cream sauce.

For fresh veggies, we occasionally we would have iceberg lettuce for a salad with her homemade French dressing. This was actually really good but probalby not healthy. I remember her making it with ketchup, vinegar, and sugar. There may have been other ingredients too but I don't know what they were.

In the summer we would have fresh corn on the cob (slathered in butter and salt), tomatoes (sprinkled with sugar), canteloupe and watermelon (both sprinkled with salt). In the summer we also frequently had radishes and green onions on the table as a sort of crudite, I guess.

That's about all I remember of fruits and veggies in our house. Like you, I remember with fondness the tastiness of canned corn mixed into my mashed potatoes! Yum!

Heather said...

Ive always wondered about veggie histories because for me, while my parnets ate a lot of veggies, they enver really made me. as a result, I dont really care for salads and its taken me years to find oens that I like. however I love brussell sprouts!

Honi said...

you are fabulous.. not forcing your kids to eat veggies but introducing them to them and letting them decide thats the best thing to do..texture issues can a be problem but usually as a child grows they will try different always be there to introduce veggies.. maybe u can do some of the veggies you liked like the broiled zuchs .. for myself.. I always loved a younger age it was the starchier veggies at an older age it is the more nutritious ones!!

Anonymous said...

The rule was if you put it on your plate, you had to eat it - no wasting food. If someone else put it on your plate, you had to taste it - 1 tablespoon's worth. Any food served, you had to try a tablespoon, but that was all. Dinner always included at least one vegetable - often from fresh. My Mom cooked plain and basic food, so the vegetables were cooked just until tender and weren't loaded up with fats or sauces. We were all skinny growing up. Oh, I also remember snacking on celery and carrots - the real kind of carrots that you peeled.

My kids have been exposed to all kinds of foods, fruits & veggies. Incredibly I have one kid who won't eat corn on the cob, but will eat things most kids would consider unusual.

I think the best you can do is keep providing opportunities to try foods. Something a kid hates one week can become a favored food the next.