About two months ago, Ezra randomly announced that he loved salad. I believe his exact words were, "Salad? I LOVE salad!"
(Note that no one was even eating salad at the time. But such is The Ezra, The Neverending Mystery of Weird.)
I also believe that prior to that announcement, he had never willingly taken a bite of anything that would traditionally be considered "salad" in his entire life.
Ezra, as you know, has always been a good eater — though prone to fickle fits of pickiness just like any toddler and preschooler, rejected previously loved foods for no real reason other to drive his mother to (more) drink — but...lettuce? Plain raw vegetables that have not been doused in cheese or purposely hidden inside of something more acceptable? Or basically any vegetable that is not a pea, a carrot or a sweet potato? It seemed like a stretch, even for him.
But sure enough, a couple nights later we made these Asian turkey lettuce wrap things that Jason and I go for when we cannot bear the thought of another goddamned taco night. The kids all like the filling, which we usually serve over rice or noodles for them. This time, Ezra grabbed a lettuce leaf and tore into it, then spooned the filling into a second leaf and ate that.
"Salad!" he announced again. "I LOVE salad!"
Next came a lunch out at an unremarkable chain restaurant in a nearby mall — one of those dubiously unhealthy places that includes a lone, sad, sure-to-be-rejected-by-90%-of-children vegetable with the kids' meals, alongside the salty chicken fingers and greasy french fries. It was broccolini. Ezra picked it up and asked what it was.
"It's salad," I said.
"Salad? I LOVE salad!" he responded, and proceeded to eat the entire serving.
WHAT THE WHAT.
So I took him grocery shopping and set him loose in the produce department. (Complete with a mini-shopping cart that the store provides, which is both adorable and nerve-wracking, as my kids careen around towering soup displays and strangers' shins, bumper-cart style.) After loading up on his usual favorite fruits, he demanded to see the "salad."
He grabbed cucumbers, kale, broccoli, bok choy, red peppers and asparagus by the time I finally convinced him to move on. We had to save some money and cart space for cheese and pasta products like NORMAL PEOPLE, i.e. his brothers, who were probably never going to help us make a dent in all that green stuff.
A store employee stopped Ezra a few aisles over and complimented his vegetable-laden cart, and asked if he was really going to eat all that kale.
"It's SALAD," he corrected her. "And I LOVE salad."
The employee then tried to compliment me, but I was all, "Dude, I had nothing to do with any of this. If my oldest child saw that cart he'd probably burst into telekinetic flames of vitamin-deficient rage."
To be fair, Noah has gotten much, much better about food — he can now tolerate and even enjoy certain meats and fish, and he'll also accept peas and sweet potatoes. Ike falls somewhere in the middle; he's not as sure-fire adventurous as Ezra but not nearly as picky as Noah. (But definitely at the age of the preference for All White Foods and random rejections of previous favorites, just cuz, Mom, just cuzzzz.) He'll either eat three servings of dinner or nothing at all; we just never really know.
Some of Noah's eating issues definitely stemmed from his early oral motor delays and sensory problems, absolutely. But I admit it was COMPLETELY our fault that they went on as long as they did, because I got tired of meals being such a goddamn pain in the ass all the time. So I made Noah a separate meal a lot, and then told myself it wasn't so bad because I at least made sure that meal was as healthy as possible. Lots of hidden vegetable purees hidden inside pasta sauces, homemade nuggets with bean puree and whole-grain breading with almonds, a fruit-and-vegetable smoothie on the side, blah blah hippiecakes.
But the end result was basically that I spent a ton of time and cooking effort making sure that Noah would never, ever willingly try anything new. And I realized that I was also potentially blowing it with Ezra, who WAS good-natured about new foods, who would pick at his macaroni-and-cheese during the kids' shift and then skulk around the table while Jason and I enjoyed our adults-only dinner later, asking for bites of steak or fish. Some of those good eating habits were starting to disappear as he mimicked his brother, and there were entire months when the only "vegetable" he'd touch was ketchup.
So a few years ago, pre-Ike, we went Full Satter and never looked back. (Seriously, BUY THIS BOOK.) The boys ONLY get a separate kid-friendly meal during the week if Jason or I have to work late and it's unreasonable to make them wait. (Luckily that doesn't happen too often.) Most of the time they eat what we eat, though sometimes slightly adapted for spice or we make a side dish we know they'll like in case the main course gets rejected.
It really helped Noah a LOT, as tough as it was to implement at first. But sticking with Satter's rules and plan was how we got him to eat crazy-ass things like...meatballs. Pork chops. Non-nugget chicken and fish. Peas and sweet potatoes in a mostly straightforward form.
(Though in the interest of full food-snob disclosure, I must give credit where credit is due for Noah's acceptance of meat: It was a McDonald's cheeseburger, which he was willing to try thanks to the power of the Happy Meal TV advertising borg. He loved it, and ended up being a huge turning point for him. WHATEVS, I'LL TAKE IT.)
Sorry for the Food Doctrine Tangent there, but I bring it up only so you can possibly understand what I was facing with Ezra's shopping cart full o' greenery. Seriously, KALE? WTF was I going to do with kale that wouldn't cause a full-on dinner table meltdown from the other two?
(And don't say kale chips. I've made kale chips. I've eaten other people's kale chips. They taste like slightly crunchy tissues made out of pencil shavings and even Ezra won't eat them.)
But you know what? It's been a pretty marvelous couple months around here, since the Great Salad Pronouncement. It snapped us out of a weeknight dinner rut that I hadn't even realized we'd fallen into. We take Ezra shopping with us almost every trip now and let him explore the produce department or farmer's market, and then come home and tackle whatever he picks out.
(Can I go full recipe nerd on you? Yes? No? Well no matter because I'm asking that question from the past, while I was still typing this trainwreck and therefore I CAN'T HEEEEAAAARRR YOOOOOUUU.)
(Also note that while, yeah, we TRY to eat healthy and organic and stuffs, we do not fear The Butter or The Carbs or The Gluten or The Spice or...well, much of anything. Except kale chips, maybe.)
Fettuccine with Sausage & Kale: I guess this is kind of an obvious cop-out, basically turning the kale into a pesto and serving it with pasta, but I'm claiming this one as a WIN because Noah predictably freaked at the sight of "green stuff" and wanted to pick it off. That proved impossible and eventually he caved and ate it. And loved it. We make it with chicken or turkey sausage and the whole meal takes 30 minutes start to finish.
Salmon "Bulgogi" with Bok Choy & Mushrooms: I literally have no words for how good this dish is, or how ridiculously easy it is to make. Ezra loves the garlicky bok choy, both he and Ike shockingly love the mushrooms, and Noah will at least eat the fish. Jason and I eat all of it, plus seconds.
Ratatouille's Ratatouille: I'm pretty sure I've mentioned Smitten Kitchen's amazing ratatouille before, but I admit it was usually more of a meal for Jason and I, while the kids ate whatever carbohydrate we chose to serve it with. But now I realize just how lazy that was. I just needed to add a couple additional steps. Step One: Watch Ratatouille. Make a big deal over how cool and yummy Remy's ratatouille looks. Step Two: Make this version immediately. Step Three: Get your kids to help arrange the vegetable slices and put it in the oven. Serve over couscous, polenta or pasta without fear — it's soft and saucy enough to mimic a regular tomato sauce so your kids won't realize they should probably pitch a fit over shit like EGGPLANT and ZUCCHINI. Plus you can pretend that a rat made your dinner.
Salmon Cakes with Lemon Yogurt Sauce: We first tried this one a long time ago in hopes that a kid who eats meatballs or burger patties could be tempted to eat a small crunchy/yummy fish cake. Results were actually pretty good, and the yogurt sauce is EXCELLENT for dipping bite-sized bits of steamed or raw vegetables (asparagus, cucumber, carrots, etc.), if you've got a kid who can be tempted that way. (Ezra and Ike are mad dippers and will eat anything slathered in a condiment. Noah not so much — I usually default to steaming a small bowl of peas as well). The best part about this recipe is that you don't have to use "good" salmon, but can grab the cheaper frozen filets like Trader Joe's sells.
Chicken with Asparagus, Spring Onions & Parsley-Tarragon Gremolata: Sounds so fancy and complicated, no? Except that it's totally not. Saute some chicken in a pan. Take chicken out of pan, saute some spring or green onions and asparagus in the same pan. Top chicken with some chopped herbs and citrus zest. You can leave out the fancy saffron and swap milk or half & half for the heavy cream. Or don't! Knock yourself out. I ain't gonna be mad. I can't promise that your kids will eat the asparagus, but if they at least like basic plain chicken there is nothing here that will offend them. Plus more asparagus for you. Unless you invite Ezra over. Then you will get none.
Mini Chicken & Broccoli Pot Pies: Hands down, the most successful family dinner I have attempted in...well, ever. EVERYBODY lost their tiny little minds over these, myself included. The kid-sized pies were so irresistible and fun that nobody gave a SHIT that there was broccoli inside. Next time I make these I'm totally going to push my luck and see if I can sneak some peas and carrots in there too, or maybe some chopped spinach. The recipe calls for using frozen pie crusts and a store-bought rotisserie chicken as shortcuts; we made our own crust since our regular grocery store only carries brands full of partially hydrogenated oils and other unpronounceable crap and I didn't feel like making a special trip somewhere else. You can also use any kind of leftover chicken or just grill up a cutlet real quickly. They were pretty. Damn. Yum.
The funny thing is, as much as Ezra enjoyed all of the above meals, he still not-so-secretly prefers when I simply put the vegetables in a bowl and let him go to town on them. So I usually sneak him a serving or two while we cook. Because. You know.
He LOVES salad.