07 March 2011

Book Review: Deceptively Delicious

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).


Bianca said...

I own this cookbook, and it's ridiculous. How you get a child to eat a veggie is to feed them veggies. I'm just sayin...

p.s. i love your blog!

Benito said...


I admit I was bracing myself for a parent backlash as I hit the post button, so it's nice to start off with a kind comment. :)

I'll give a personal example from my childhood. Mom once snuck some canned corn into macaroni and cheese. It just seemed weird, and my brother and I picked it out of the noodles. But the next year when we had a backyard garden and grew some sweet corn, we couldn't wait to pick and eat it.

A lot of it is context, and how you're exposed to it. Not every kid (or adult) is going to like every vegetable, but we have so many options available these days, and there's bound to be something that works.

Thanks for reading!


Stephen said...

We started both of my kids with just eating fresh, well prepared vegetables. You know what? They both enjoyed them very much but as they have gotten older, it has become more of a challenge. I'm going to look for this book because I love the idea. Thanks for the post!

Benito said...


If you like the concept--and I'll definitely agree that there's more than one way to tackle this situation--she's also written a sequel that goes into more depth and includes additional recipes.


Kristin said...

I may be going beyond my realm of propriety here, but I think not wanting to eat veggies has less to do with actual taste, and more to do with one bad experience multiplied with drama by 10,000% which is thensupported by parents who just throw up their hands instead of trying to pin it down to the source. I know several adults who started hating various foods at a young age, were humored by their parents, and have become even MORE obnoxious diners.
I JUST had coffee yesterday with a girlfriend who was talking about this book (and how silly it is) in regards to her boyfriend who cannot eat milk with his cereal; cannot eat cheese on pizza; cannot eat macaroni & cheese; cannot eat any kind of fish; cannot eat any vegetable (even pureed); etc. It got to the point in the discussion when the rest of us were like, "what WILL he eat?!"
My friend said, "his mother and I have just been accommodating and cook him separate meals from our own. It's exhausting."


I'm with you, Ben. Find a recipe that works...and don't just except a "NO! I don't like it." as an answer

Also...pureeing and whipping and baking veggies into an oblivion only defeats the purpose. All of that processing depletes the majority of their essential nutritional content.

Benito said...


I've met several adults who can only eat chicken fingers and fries. Maybe pizza. No other foods, at all. It's really pretty sad.

I've also been in multiple social situations where I've heard parents say, "Oh no, kids can't eat Indian food. It's too spicy and weird!" or "Oh no, kids can't eat Chinese food, it upsets them!" Despite the Americanized versions of both, you're assuming that over 2 billion people were biologically incapable of eating their native cuisines as children.

I've said this many times: whatever strange/ethnic/gourmet/rustic/traditional dish that you think can't possibly be consumed by a child is most likely the favorite, most beloved, and most nostalgic childhood recipe for hundreds, thousands, or perhaps millions of people.


Thomas said...

One way to get kids interested in vegetables is to have them grow something to eat in the garden or in a large pot!

As for that cookbook, nah, not worth saying it.

Benito said...


That's how I ate radishes for the first time. :)


Mark said...

Agreed Benito. With so many fruits and veggies to choose from, it still surprises me when parents feel the need to "sneak" in healthy stuff.

My children look forward each year to doing a backyard garden with grandmom. Amazing to see what kids will try when they've chosen, planted and grown their own fruits and veggies.

Benito said...


Glad to hear that you're doing that with your kids--it definitely removes the fear of the unknown, and everybody loves digging in the dirt.

I just remembered that Alton Brown did a show like this once, featuring three recipes sneaking in parsnips. Bizarre.


Allen said...

Don't forget the year of the Giant Pumpkins.

Benito said...


I can still remember the smell of some of those monsters during the decomposition phase... That and the pumpkin vines that threatened to take over the backyard.