I remember my first real meal (the accidental whopper with cheese does not count) in the United States. It was in Radford, VA. My host from a Blacksburg, VA church invited me to dinner and he chose a massive all-you-can-eat kind of place. Slightly overwhelmed by all the options, I opted for what seemed like a safe bet: The Salad Bar. When I piled my first plate (which also ended being my only plate) with every vegetable known to man, my host seemed amused, but pointed out that I was allowed to return for seconds. I didn't think much of it at the time, but our plates looked drastically different. Mine was colorful and his was pale and "brown". In retrospect, my host composed a tasty plate of food where as I struggled through my plate because the flavors really didn't jive. And, how could they? I had piled pickled veggies on top of salad dressings (note the plural) on top of various legumes which were mostly flavorless and decidedly under-cooked to my Indian palate. Mind you, I was used to Dal Makhani, Chana Masala, and Sambhar. If I was a kid, I too would never eat my veggies again.
As a chef, when I am handed a ticket with a modifier that reads "Child's Pasta" or "Child's Chicken", it is implied that I am to not season the dish as I would for an adult. Maybe I could use salt, but for sure no pepper. And for sure, no other spice blend or fresh herbs are to be added. And the last thing I should be serving the youngster should be a vegetable of any kind. My staff can attest to my reaction every time. It is one of frustration and downright indignation. "This is why kids don't eat their vegetables", I rant. So, I've begun to contemplate this state of affairs more reasonably. Can you imagine a world where children desire vegetables over fried foods and desserts? Can you imagine the demand they would generate in the schools for healthier and more vegetable-friendly meals?
I am certainly not an expert on discerning the palate of a child. While I do know how to prepare dishes they would enjoy, I also believe that we are doing a disservice to both the vegetables as well as the children with the manner in which they are presented for consumption. They don't have to be simply steamed. And for sure, they need not be devoid of flavor. Let's better understand what savory flavors appeal to a youngster's palate and let's complement vegetables with those flavors. Let's roast, grill, "confit", and puree. Let's not hide vegetables as if we are afraid that a child might see them. Instead, let's dream of and make real a day when a child asks to be fed broccoli because they know that it's in season and that it's delicious. And, if the child prefers it steamed, so be it, but let's not sell short their ability to enjoy adult flavors and diverse cooking techniques. Studies show that children are more likely to emulate an adult they admire and respect. So, are we setting a bad example ourselves? Are there not enough adults who eat their veggies?