My daughter’s favourite food, apart from Wotsits, is brussels sprouts. This is the kind of thing you don’t dare mention in company, for fear of seeming like a dreadful show-off, like one of those mothers who happens to mention that Hermione is on Grade 8 trombone or Harry was chosen to play Joseph in the nativity play because of his marvellous grasp of Aramaic. Anyhow, here I am with a child who loves vegetables. My seven-year-old son, I should add, is more ambivalent and will eat them only if it pleases him (the sight of courgettes actually makes him cry, and he’ll hunt down a lone mushroom in a pie with the forensic skill of a criminal pathologist).
On the whole, though, we are a veg-loving bunch, largely because I spent their early years working on ruses to get vegetables into their mewling mouths without anyone noticing. Over the years, I have made use of subterfuge, deception, bribery – the entire menu of parental corruption, right there on a plate. The first lesson was in the art of disguise: you could make vegetables virtually disappear, I found, by chopping them ever-so small, like hundreds and thousands, or by turning them into smiley faces, with carrots for noses and, if you’re feeling both radical and artistic, curly kale for hair.
You soon discover that sweet veg like squash, yam and pumpkin are a breeze, while raw is infinitely more appealing to little appetites than cooked. Anything harvested by hand is also bound to be a hit – there’s an ownership there, and a pleasing sense of achievement. We grew an impressive total of three carrots, four tomatoes and a single bean from our veg patch this season (must try harder) – but I have grand plans ahead. Even so, I suspect that I’ll continue avoiding the truly tricky customers – cabbage is a work in progress, aubergines are, at least to someone who is three-foot high, largely pointless, while celery is still off-menu (at least as far as the kids are aware; it goes, incognito, into pasta sauces).
But the best method by far is to garnish the whole endeavour with fun. In our house, for instance, we’ve always called broccoli “trees”, and cauliflower “snow trees” (simple, but effective). Then there’s the “The Beany Race” which requires that everyone at the table consume a French bean in little rabbity bites at competitive and potentially lethal speed. Another endlessly popular treat, unbelievably enough, is a personal pot of frozen peas – a few dozen bomblets of iced vitamins, to be consumed individually and at leisure, preferably while watching Dennis the Menace on TV. I once mentioned in passing that petitis pois were pretty much droplets of ice lolly – and now the kids lurk around me while I’m putting things in the freezer in the hope that I’ll relent and let them have a bowl of cold peas. Strange, but absolutely true.