I hid vegetables in my children’s food not for their nutrition, but to avoid their criticism. With three kids and a foggy memory, I didn’t really know who liked what food. One kid would declare with disgust, “I’ve NEVER liked mushrooms.” or “I want cucumbers, Garry’s the one who doesn’t like them. He only eats pickles.” I took what little internal praise I could muster and was proud that at least they knew a pickle is a salty, vinegar-soaked cucumber.
I snuck in veggies wherever I could. Pureed carrots blend easily into spaghetti sauce. Frozen kale crumbles into tiny particles that look like bits of seasoning. Mushrooms ground up fine in meatballs became the same color as the meat after it cooked. Sometimes I got away with just covering cheese over the vegetable like a blanket. I swore they ate anything covered with cheese until the time I made a vegan lasagna.
After school, I didn’t bother hiding the vegetables. They always came home hungry and would eat whatever I offered as a snack before doing homework. I cut up raw broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, cauliflower, peppers, and fresh string beans, whatever I had. Served with hummus for a dip, they cleared the plate. Then, I could relax at dinnertime and not worry about who ate their cooked veggies. Yet they still complained. Even if they were happy, they let me know what I did wrong.
I had to give in when it came to green peas. Garry really didn’t like them and he let me know it once too often. He broke me. I knew when he was four that he was more stubborn than me. Somewhere in middle school, Garry figured it out, too.
We made a compromise. I gave him a small spoonful of sugar to sprinkle on his peas. My grandmother used to do this. She always said the peas that grew in her garden were better because of the sweet New Hampshire soil. I was well into adulthood before my mom let me know that Gram sprinkled sugar on top of a bowl of hot, cooked peas just before bringing them to the table.
Of course, Tommy and Kay had no problem eating peas before then, but afterwards they also required a spoonful of sugar to force those peas down. We went along fine for a few more years like this until I met my husband, Mike. He did contracting work and spent more and more time at my house. I’d invite him to stay for dinner now and then and we slowly learned all of his food quirks. I didn’t make dessert too often, so Mike started bringing cakes and cookies from the grocery store. He’s the only person I know who requires dessert every day. He was also very upfront and vocal about not liking peas.
For years, I put fresh green peas into tuna salads. My kids told me early on that they didn’t like nuts in their pasta salad when they felt the small bits of crunchy celery. I didn’t correct them that celery was not a nut and swapped it out with peas. I mean it when I say I did this for years. Garry was 16 when I started dating Mike who unapologetically refused to eat peas. They took their lead from him and wouldn’t eat peas anymore. A sprinkle of sugar was greeted with admissions from all three children that they had never liked peas and I should have known that all along. They branded me a horrible mother for forcing them to eat those green balls year after year, meal after meal.
On the rare nights that I only had to cook dinner for myself, I’d pull the bag of peas out of its exile in the back corner of the freezer. I’d murmur about how much I missed them as they heated up. When they were cooked, I’d nestle them with a little rice in a cereal bowl and top it with lots of melted butter and salt. I’ve found that absence not only makes the heart grow fonder it also makes the peas taste so much sweeter.