The conceit of the new book Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food, by Jessica Seinfeld (wife of comedian Jerry), is that children are priggish eaters who, when left to their own devices, will eat only white or fried food. Trying to force-feed them nutrition leads to endless frustration. So the smart parent tricks them by puréeing the vegetables and hiding them in palatable, nonchallenging meals: lasagne, pancakes, meatloaf or chicken soup.
I describe the book as having a conceit because it’s a work of fiction. No one will actually follow the rigorous mixing and freezing and scheming Ms. Seinfeld prescribes. I’m equally repelled by and attracted to her program. Without apology, Deceptively Delicious fully indulges in that retrograde 1950’s version of domestic life where the woman controls everything and does all the work happily from the back seat, and so cunningly that the husband almost thinks he’s the one with all the ideas and the map, driving the car.
On the other hand, who doesn’t have fantasies about being that sort of wife—that is, when one is screaming at a baffled spouse: “Why do I feel like I should thank you right now? I do this every day and you don’t thank me!” Moreoever, I, like all privileged upper-middle-class Western world mothers, am a control freak who knows for sure I have failed if my 2-year-old, Woolfie, is not eating vegetables or whole grains in each of the eight small meals he’s supposed to be ingesting daily. I’m a perfect patsy for this book’s promises. I decide to give Deceptively Delicious a shot.
Ms. Seinfeld on her puréeing process: “I have a standing date with my husband in the kitchen every Sunday night after the kids have gone to bed. We do a good catch-up while I purée the night away … and when I’m done I feel so virtuous.”
My husband is away on a business trip. After a hellish pilgrimage to Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza green market, wrestling unwieldy cauliflowers and kales into my NRDC tote, the last thing I want to do is purée the f*ckers! Still, I steam a massive bunch of iron-rich chard, then throw it in the Cuisinart, to hide in her ridiculous mac-and-cheese recipe. Ms. Seinfeld puts a box of store-bought Kraft on the counter to trick her children. Woolfie has been brought up without that crap ever entering the house, so is delightfully unfazed by his Tony Duquette-like pink-and-green dinner (the red chard stems dyed the whole-wheat macaroni). He takes a few mouthfuls.
At dinner, Woolfie responds favorably to an avocado purée dip, an easy one, but I’m exhausted at the thought of prepping more purée, not to mention horrified at using environmentally unfriendly Ziploc bags, Ms. Seinfeld’s method, to freeze it. I noticed in a Vogue story covering one of the author’s children’s parties a photo of Julian Seinfeld, her middle boy, holding up a gigantic beet from her garden, tended organically by her gardener. Yet her book says nothing at all about eating organic or local vegetables. Is it not for the masses, Ms. S.?
Yay! It’s Monday. Over to you, dear nanny. I ask her to make Woolfie Ms. Seinfeld’s meatloaf, which uses ground turkey and carrot purée, for lunch. She looks mildly annoyed. We substitute ground beef and the leftover chard. Woolfie won’t touch the green-flecked loaf.
I have to work late, and my husband, who unlike Mr. Seinfeld actually cooks, agrees to purée beets for pancakes tonight. We are mystified that the recipe calls for pancake mix, all the more so because Ms. Seinfeld apparently makes her own ketchup. Still, pink pancakes for dinner are a hit.
My husband fashions whole-wheat pita pizzas for lunch, a recipe that suggests hiding a thin layer of puréed greens under store-bought tomato sauce and low-fat mozzarella. He reports that although the spinach doesn’t remain invisible, as the recipe claims, Woolfie eats almost an entire pita. Later, he announces that he hates Ms. Seinfeld, arousing me to almost honeymoonlike ardor.
Against the author’s advice, we meet at a restaurant for dinner, toddler in tow.
For dinner, I decide it’s not cheating if I use a recipe from Deborah Madison’s just-out revision of the fantastic Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, because it’s a recipe that calls for puréed kale, barley and cave-aged Gruyere with an easy stovetop roux and milk or broth. It takes 30 minutes to steam the barley, but it seems like real food, rather than the Deceptively Delicious recipes (I mean, rolling puréed turkey and low-fat cheese into whole-wheat tortillas for Tortilla Cigars? She’s got to be kidding). But Woolfie refuses the fancy gratin.
Still, the experiment wasn’t a total failure: I have a freezer full of beet purée, and some leftover pink pancakes. I can’t wait to invite some of the closet-uptight other So-Slow (as I call South Park Slope) mothers over for these. “They’re healthy too!” I’ll gloat, as the kids gobble them down.