In some ways, feeding kids when they’re inarticulate little babes is easier than it is once they’re able to clearly communicate their preferences. Because when they can’t talk back, it’s relatively easy to pack their meals full of veggies. Once my own were able to vocalize their likes and dislikes, we’ve often found ourselves yelling at them to eat the sparse amount of vegetables we serve them or hopelessly caving in and feeding them meals with not a single plant in sight.
Now, I am fully aware that not all kids are vegetable-averse. One of my son’s BFFs and his sister’s BFFs are themselves siblings. And both are very happy to eat their greens. My wife’s cousin’s son, who is just a bit older than my daughter, loves munching on crudites. So maybe somehow, somewhere along the path of raising our young’uns, we screwed up. But our unfortunate reality, which I suspect is not all that uncommon, is that neither of our two older kids love vegetables.
T2 oddly is fine with only two vegetables, enoki mushrooms and Chinese spinach. And being the future empress dowager that she thinks she is, she has very specific and limited ways for cooking these ingredients that she will accept. T1, when he was a baby, loved broccoli and we regularly fed him spinach and carrots. These days, I have to hide them in his food in order to get him to enjoy them.
In fact, hiding veggies in their meals has become something I’ve begun doing more and more frequently. In our house, we’ve taken to calling them “secret vegetable”. At first, it was a term only my wife and I used. But the kids heard me say it once and they’ve started to use it. Amusingly, because they often can’t taste or even see the “secret vegetables” added to their food, they’ve actually become fine with the idea that I am adding green (or red or orange or yellow) goodness into their meals. In fact, T1 likes to try to guess what the secret veggies are in some of dishes we make.
I’ve found two ways to best introduce these secret veggies. The first is to make a whole bunch of vegetable purees that can be used as sauce thickeners and flavour enhancers. These are often so yummy that I use them in dishes for my wife and myself too. My faves so far have been pumpkin, leek, onion, and carrot. The process is simple – just slow cook the ingredients down until they are super soft and blend really easily. Season to taste, vacuum pack in small portions and freeze.
The second option is to dice up your veggies finely, cook them together with whatever meat you’re also prepping and use a dark or bright colored sauce (dark soy or a tomato paste) to mask the visual identity of the ingredients. I especially love using zucchini and mushrooms in this way. This works really well when braising minced meats to go over rice or with pasta. This popular recipe that I posted on my blog exemplifies what I am talking about.
Of course, the ultimate and uber-trendy secret vegetable foods at the moment are the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger. I like the Beyond Burger. I had it for the first time when it was launched in partnership with the Grand Hyatt last year. And when the distributors reached out, I was more than happy to connect them with the chefs at Straits Clan (of which I am a co-founder); the Beyond Burger is now on our main dining room’s lunch menu and sells tremendously well. The Beyond Burger is an all vegan patty, and while delicious, doesn’t taste exactly like beef.
The Impossible Burger, on the other hand, I had been told tastes just like a beef patty. It even oozes juices like a real beef burger. This past week, I decided to have a little fun and conduct a little experiment on my two veggie-averse munchkins. I took them down to Three Buns Quayside, one of the outlets in town that serves Impossible Burgers, for a fun family dinner and secret taste test.
I figured also that since so many friends, including Phin and Gen from the CNA Lifestyle team, couldn’t tell the Impossible Burger from a real beef burger, then maybe I’d be able to sucker, I mean, entice my kids into enjoying these veggie burgers.
Once we were seated at Three Buns, I quickly squirreled away the menus. I didn’t want my older one – who has become a voracious reader – to catch onto my trick. All I had told him and his sister was that we were there to try some new special burgers they’d launched. I ordered three burgers, one with all the works for myself (the Impossible Dream) and two with just cheese for them (they aren’t big on sauces or other condiments yet). I also threw in milk shakes and fries to get them in the mood for a good time.
When the burgers arrived, they looked good and smelled just like the real thing. My daughter reached for hers eagerly. But after one bite, she put it down and looked up at me.
“Papa, I don’t really like it.”
Whoops. Don’t tell me she could tell something was up after just one bite. My son, on the other hand was slowly working his way through his. But after eating about a quarter of the burger, he put the burger down. Then he looked at me, then back at the burger, and then back at me.
“Papa, it’s not great.”
When I asked him what was wrong with it, he actually took the time to think about it. He said, “It’s too dry. It’s not juicy. See?” And he started to press down on it, demonstrating that his burger, while pink, was definitely not moist in the middle. I convinced him to eat another quarter of it, after slathering on some more ketchup. But after another quarter, he said there was now too much ketchup and he was full. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t but that was his way of asking if he could stop eating.
My daughter in the meantime had eaten up the brioche buns but had left the poor plant patty sitting by its lonesome on her plate.
All in all, Operation Impossible Burger was a failure. The kids knew, after just a bite or two, that something was definitely different – and not in a delicious kind of way. So maybe trying to swap out meat entirely didn’t work, but that won’t stop me from still sneaking in as many vegetables into their diets as possible.
Chubby Hubby, Portly Papa is a regular column about adventures in fatherhood from Aun Koh.