Beige Food? Why?
Welcome to MostlyBeige!
I am the father of a young girl who delights me just about every day - except when it comes to the food she is willing to eat. When it comes to nutrition, there are three basic food groups that come into play for her: Chocolate, Candy, and Ice Cream. Everything else is a seeming nuisance and deserves, apparently, no consideration.
Feeding my daughter has always been a challenge. It has driven my wife and me to attempt just about anything in the hopes of falling in line with the omnipresent mantra of “Beige Food is Bad” that can so easily be encountered everywhere.
Trial - and Lots of Error
Thus, we bought cookbooks that instructed us on how to get those all-important nutrients into our daughter. Some suggested a playful approach to cooking for toddlers: Make that sandwich look like a Clown's face, dress the potato up like a hedgehog, create a whole meal on a plate that resembles a landscape.
While this approach seemed like it could be fun and while it certainly spurned our creative brain mass, the results essentially revealed three things:
It takes a lot of time and effort to make these meals.
We are not that creative.
It doesn't matter what it looks like – it still won't get eaten.
Simply putting a broccoli sprout to resemble the hair of a clown sandwich doesn't make anyone eat the broccoli... Instead, the broccoli turns into mere decoration that will, invariably, get discarded. So, what's the point?
Thus, we soon moved forward and tried another approach: Being sneaky.
Now, we found ourselves preparing five or six different purees, all of them choke-full of wonderful vegetables and all of them to be mixed in with other foods that our toddler would, then, find delectable. We thought that this was a great concept that certainly seemed worthwhile if it worked for us.
After a few attempts, we found the following to be true:
Making all these purees takes a lot of effort.
You end up with purees you just don't use.
Our kid will still not eat any new food.
If a puree is mixed in with a dish she likes, she will immediately complain that it tastes differently and won't eat it.
If you repeat this approach with the same dish, she will determine that she no longer likes this dish (even when the puree is missing) and we suddenly have an even shorter list of foods she will eat.
Clearly, none of this worked for us. We have a child who refuses to eat just about anything that has color. Preferably, food is beige, packed with sugar, fried in butter, and it better not have any spice in it (and that means pepper, too).
Great! ...and now what?
After conducting quite a bit of research, I found that feeding our daughter according to her own preferences basically amounts to child abuse in the eyes of many. What I read and heard over and over is that we ought to introduce “color” into her food. Stay away from beige! Colorful food is good!
While this suggestion made a lot of sense to me, it was also pointless. As parents, we eat a very varied, mostly vegetarian diet ourselves. I was a vegetarian for 25 years and during my endeavor, I learned to cook – a lot. You see, I wanted healthy food and I needed it to taste not just good, but great. In my quest, I experimented with many ingredients, resulting in the varied diet that my wife and I still enjoy to this day.
Despite the permanent availability of varied and colorful food in our household and irrespective of her parents' modeling of healthy eating, there are only a select few colorful foods in the world that our daughter would touch. For the most part, if she sees color, she rejects a dish and to this day, she remains an exceptionally picky eater.
At times, this tendency was so pronounced that she would reject a generally well-loved, home-made tomato sauce because I had been negligent in pureeing it to a degree where fresh basil would no longer be discernible as such. Invariably, this would result in the complaint that “It has leafs in it. Yuck!”
To make matters worse, those colorful foods she would like in one dish (say, tomatoes in Spaghetti sauce) would immediately lead to rejection when used in any other way (for example, tomatoes in Pizza sauce). Not necessarily because it tasted differently but because it was now perceived as a “new” food that would be carefully touched with the tip of her tongue, might even enter her mouth, and would then be spat out with a sweeping judgment that it was “yucky.” Spaghetti were good, Fettuccine with the same sauce were bad. There were, however, plenty of beige foods she would eat.
Spoiled Brats and Junk Food
Oh, I know what you are thinking: “What a spoiled little brat! (Alright, I know that for some of you, the term "Spoiled Brats" made you think of rotten Bratwurst).
You probably also thought "I'd show her how to eat!” Or perhaps, “Maybe if you stopped feeding her junk food and snacks, she'd eventually have no choice but eat real food.” I have also been told that it is all our fault: We made her into this picky eater. Well, you are not alone in those thoughts. I've had them and my wife has had them.
Consequently, we pursued a strategy of eliminating any and all other foods in the house: No snacks whatsoever – including items that we, ourselves, truly enjoyed. Our daughter went on a hunger strike and I jokingly started calling her “Gandhi.” It lasted and lasted. She became grumpy and unhappy, she was very whiny, didn't get along with her friends, and generally turned into the unhappiest child you could ever imagine. She even lost weight and we started to fear that her refusal to eat would cause subsequent health issues. She'd scavenge around the house in hopes of finding any snack or candy to satisfy her hunger – unsuccessfully, of course. What she did NOT do was eat the food we offered her. Thus, we had to stop this rather forceful approach.
So, please don't judge! We have tried any suggestion thrown our way. We have read many books about picky eaters, we have listened to self-proclaimed experts espousing the latest findings, tips, and conclusions about feeding children, and we have endlessly browsed just about any site on the internet that deals with difficult eaters. Still, nothing has ever worked - we have a child who only eats beige food and who, even with such a restriction in place, is still an exceptionally difficult and picky eater.
The Mighty Process - or How Do You Pronounce that?
Jealously, I observed other parents as they presented their offspring with carrots, peas, and Thai Noodles. However, I quickly discovered that many other children had plenty of issues with food, too. Thus, most kids still seemed to prefer the same basic foods that are often (and stereotypically) associated with children: Chicken McNuggets, French Fries, Pizza, Ice Cream – just like mine.
All of these foods had something in common: They tended to be highly processed, contained innumerable ingredients that nobody could pronounce nor explain the purpose of, and which made me question that they were food at all.
Now, I personally don't have a problem with an ingredient simply because I cannot pronounce it. After all, following this particular criterion, one could describe water as Dihydrogen-Monoxide and thereby declare it as an unacceptable ingredient in food (at least in the eyes of some). I do not follow this simplistic and nonsensical line of “reasoning.” However, I am not a friend of using sawdust as filler, no matter what scientific name it carries or what the FDA has deemed “safe for human consumption.” Castoreum and Carmine - anyone?
I also don't mind if my child, occassionally, eats processed foods. Thus, it's fine to want Chicken Nuggets or a Hot Dog (not that mine would actually eat the latter). I simply don't want these items to constitute the majority of food she puts into her body because it seems evident that doing so is bad for body, mind, and soul. I love greasy Bacon-Cheeseburgers myself, but eating this type of food everyday would affect me rather negatively as well.
The Experiment - and the Solution
My mission was clear: Create mostly beige food that manages to be healthy, is nutritious, has ingredients that everybody knows, that is easy and quick to make, and that, above all, my daughter will eat.
After trying many a dish, I thought it might be a good idea to share what I have learned, thereby granting you, dear reader, access to ideas and inspiration, as well as giving you a general sounding board to share your experiences, insights, and suggestions.
Here we are: Embracing the idea of feeding our kids mostly beige food.
I hope you have fun reading my recipes and that you will decide to try some of them yourself. At the very least, I strive to instill a sense of hope in those of you who struggle with the nutritional needs of their children as well. Perhaps you will find inspiration in my struggle and come up with new ideas on how to feed your own mini-me. I invite you to share your story – and your own recipes, of course.