Over pork shoulder tacos one night, we told our daughters that we had an announcement to make.
“Jeez, that sounds scary,” said Phoebe, as she held a massively overstuffed tortilla in front of her face. Little did she know.
“Next week, we are going vegetarian,” we informed them. “Now: you guys are either with us or against us, and since you aren’t old enough to get a vote in this, it looks like you’re going to be with us.”
Oh my god, the whining. It began immediately: But I’ll be starving. But tofu is disgusting. But this isn’t fair. But we eat a lot of vegetables.
This last point was true. The girls have been trained to think of a meal as incomplete without a vegetable on their plates. They ask for seconds of kale salad and, to their grandfather’s eternal bewilderment, will go off on a bowl of Brussels sprouts. Our issue is different. Other than the occasional black bean burrito, they flatly refuse meals that feature the mainstay proteins of a vegetarian’s diet: tofu, eggs, lentils, beans. Which feels like a fairly epic parental fail on our parts given that every week, it seem like an inspiring new cookbook is published imploring us to live healthier, go plant-based, and experiment with Einkorn berries. We sit there, thumbing through recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi, April Bloomfield, and Steven Satterfield, saying to each other, If only we could eat likes this every night. So we decided to try – for a week, at least – and we dragged the girls along with us. Here’s what we learned along the way.
1. Never Reveal the Meal Plan Ahead of Time.
The less time the kids have to organize their resistance, the better. We learned this hard way on the morning of Day 1, when we let them know that dinner was going to be Ottolenghi’s Thai lentil soup. What ensued was a full day of complaining that followed them right to the dinner table. No matter how good the soup was – and it was good – the response could only be lukewarm. Abby: “I miss chicken.” Phoebe: “It wasn’t terrible, but I’m really hungry.”
2. Kids Are Really Hungry.
Tuesdays in the spring were soccer nights, which meant the kids came home late, ready to chow. On Boot Camp Night 2, we served vegetable fritters on rolls with tamarind sauce, and Phoebe, who was starving, inhaled one. And then another. We declared victory. Then she asked for a chicken sandwich. (Note: Here’s a good recipe for summer fritters.)
3. Don’t Be Too Ambitious.
On Day 3, we made April Bloomfield-inspired salad sandwiches. This one seemed about as unthreatening as it gets – crunchy lettuce, cucumber, tomato, avocado, red onion, some ranch dressing. Oh, and hard-boiled eggs. Which our kids despise. Just having them on the table touched off an epic meltdown. At one point, Abby went to the coat closet and came back wearing a fleece balaclava, which she claimed “protected her from the egg smell.” Dinner derailed.
4. Misdirection is your friend.
We could tell the girls were dreading tofu night, so we rolled out the sides first: Avocado salad, roasted carrots, and sushi rice, which Abby eats by the pound. By the time we presented the tofu – glazed with miso-butter and the best thing we ate all week – their heads were in a much better place. “They look like French fries,” said Phoebe. “I’ll eat that.” And she did. Both of them did. Two bites each. #SmallVictories.
So after a week, were they full-on dal and tempeh converts? Not exactly. But we cracked the door open, and it was good to be reminded of the Big Bang Theory as it relates to feeding kids: If we want to expand our daughters’ worlds, it’s up to us to explode the routine every once in a while.
This post (except the tofu recipe below) is our “Providers” column for the July 2015 issue of Bon Appetit. Head over to BA for the Salad Sandwich recipe. For tons of awesome summer cooking ideas, pick up a copy on the newsstand, or, better yet, subscribe. Salad Sandwich photo credit: Alex Lau for Bon Appetit.
Recipe courtesy of the gifted and talented Catherine Newman.
1 block extra firm tofu, cut crosswise into 12 slices
2 tablespoons white miso paste (available at Japanese markets or better supermarkets)
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 minced scallions (white and green parts only)
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
Press your tofu: Place it on a plate, cover with a few paper towels, then place a heavy pan on top for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a small bowl, combine white miso paste (available at Japanese markets and Amazon.com) and 2 Tbsp. warm water until miso dissolves. Stir in chicken or vegetable broth, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and scallions. Arrange tofu in a single layer in a 13″ x 9″ glass baking dish. Pour miso mixture over tofu, tilting dish so all of tofu is coated. Dot the top with butter and bake 50 minutes until golden and bubbly. Serve with any or all of the following: sushi rice, broiled broccoli or asparagus, avocado slices that have been drizzled with ginger-miso dressing and sprinkled with chives.