My 3-year-old nephew Nathan is not a big fan of vegetables. Or the idea of eating in general. I spent a few days and many meals with him on vacation last month and watched as his dad — my brother — agonized over each crumb that did and didn’t go down the hatch. Annie’s Mac & Cheese is pretty much his only ace-in-the-hole option — that is, the only food my brother can be sure Nathan will eat when you put it in front of him. “Oh, and cake, too,” he said laughing. But I got the distinct feeling that he found it the opposite of funny.
For the entire vacation I had to force myself not to say what every single family member, friend, and physician said to Andy and me when Abby went on her Great Food Strike of 2004: She’ll eat when she’s hungry! Why are you making yourself so crazy? Man did that prescription make me crazy. While of course there is something to the idea of not giving the kid so much power in the struggle — i.e. by not pushing, not hovering, not worrying — try putting this in to actual practice when your kid eats one raisin over the course of an entire week (February 9-15, 2004).
In spite of my own grueling experience, it didn’t stop me from thinking that I could solve the problem if my brother was out of the house and out of the equation. I was determined to get Nathan to eat my golden crispy homemade chicken fingers (and therefore solve all his problems) in the time it would take my brother to play nine holes. So I made a plate of Nathan’s Mac & Cheese and a plate of chicken fingers then sat down with him to eat lunch on the porch.
“What’s that?” he asked with the same inflection he used earlier that week when he saw an albino alligator in the aquarium.
“Chicken fingers,” I told him. “But this is my lunch, not yours. You go ahead and eat your pasta.”
He studied “my” lunch carefully…skeptically, then watched me crunch into a piece of chicken and close my eyes with satisfaction. (I can really ham it up if the circumstances call for it.) His reaction? I think just to be absolutely sure that what I had promised him was true, he very gently pushed the plate of chicken as far as he could out of his placemat real estate, then scooped up a spoonful of his own lunch.
So guess what’s on the menu for the next time I see him? Cake.
I first found out about this recipe (which originated from Bon Appetit) from a reader who read my Babble posts. I love it because it feels like one slice for dessert gives the kids an official serving of veggies. This version is tweaked — I added whole wheat flour, and mixed up the vegetables. It freezes nicely, too.
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups grated vegetables (zucchini, peeled sweet potatoes, carrots)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a loaf pan. Sift flours, cinnamon, baking soda, and baking powder into a medium bowl. Blend together sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla in another bowl. Mix in zucchini and sweet potato. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir well. Transfer batter to pan. Bake about 1 hour 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool bread in pan on rack 15 minutes before cutting around the edge and removing. Let cool completely if you are freezing.