Anyone that has lots of bookshelves knows that, left to their own devices, books will mingle and eventually reproduce. If you stack some Agatha Christie next to Shakespeare, sooner or later you're going to find some little paperback mystery novels set in Renaissance England. And they're just too darn cute to throw out in the cold.
Cookbooks are a little different, in that they tend to invite older relatives to move in. This is why you'll be looking for your latest trendy Asian-Brazilian Fusion glossy and will instead find a grimy cookbook that came included with your family's Amana Radarange in 1975, complete with advice to wear a lead-lined apron and goggles while zapping an entire turkey for three hours.
But cross-pollination can occur! When that old copy of SeinLanguage gets too close to one of The Roommate's healthy eating cookbooks, you get...
Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food
Jessica Seinfeld, 2008
Published by William Morrow
208 pages, available for less than $10 these days
Yes, it's a cookbook written by Jerry Seinfeld's wife Jessica, and before I get into the actual recipes, I have to give this praise: this is a beautiful cookbook. Playful 60s-style design without being tacky, gorgeous photographs, lovely typography, and it's conveniently wire-bound so that the book will lie flat on the kitchen counter. While reading through it I kept thinking what an utter joy it must have been to do the layout for the book. But ultimately, it's the content that matters. That playful wink on the cover will only get you so far.
The concept behind the book is getting kids to eat vegetables by sneaking various vegetable purees into other dishes. The purees include beets, spinach, cauliflower, butternut squash, etc. So for instance, while making brownies, you fold a little carrot and spinach puree into the batter. It's not necessarily a bad set of recipes. The book is full of All-American classics, sort of a shorter and simpler Betty Crocker Cookbook. It's a little odd to think about adding ground-up canned navy beans to macaroni and cheese, but hey, have fun.
I do have a couple of issues with it. One is that most of the recipes just make an existing dish sweeter, through sweet potatoes or butternut squash puree. That's more of a personal preference, but our national cuisine is increasingly sweet, either naturally or artificially. Try buying a soft drink that isn't sweetened--your choice is either water or non-alcoholic beer. Another problem is the portion size. A contributing nutritionist to the book suggests trying to get kids to eat 1½ cups of vegetable stuff per day. No problem with that, but an entree recipe designed to serve four might only have ½ cup of puree in it, meaning that the kid is only going to get a spoonful for that course (assuming the kid eats the whole serving). The book does suggest serving whole veggies (raw or steamed) along with the meal to make up the difference, but... doesn't that defeat the whole purpose?
One of the best pizzas I ever had in my life was a vegetarian deep dish pie in Chicago. It was delicious because it was an amazing combination of flavorful vegetables that tasted great together, not because a bunch of cauliflower puree was slipped in with the cheese to bulk it up. I've always felt that with any cooking, it's important to add things for flavor, not for sheer volume. Need to serve soup to more people? Add more stock or tomato juice or whatever, don't just thin it out with water. Italian cooking is full of ways to stretch out a meal during lean times while maximizing flavor and nutrition.
I'm not a parent, and I'm not going to tell people how to feed their kids. But the idea that kids can't or won't eat vegetables is absurd, and I'll tell you why. If you include people who consume dairy and eggs, about 40% of India is vegetarian. That's 480 million people who didn't starve to death on an all veggie diet during childhood. Somehow humanity has survived for millennia without the chicken nugget. If you want to know how to get your kids to eat vegetables, ask a vegetarian. Seventh Day Adventist churches often offer vegetarian cooking classes, as do health food stores, Buddhist cultural centers, and your local hippie drum circle. I'm not advocating here for any of the vegetarian spectrum diets (even though I enjoyed it for a few years in my 20s), but if you want to know how to make veggies tasty and filling, there are entire established culinary traditions devoted to the subject. No need to reinvent the wheel with broccoli puree in your beef stew (p. 83).