Seriously Kidding

How I got my son to eat his greens

My 41/2-year-old son had never been great about eating vegetables. He would meticulously inspect every spoonful of food for the offending foodstuff; seeing a mere suggestion of green was enough to set him protesting.

My husband and I tried to conceal the greens by cutting them into minuscule pieces and hiding them in every spoonful of food we fed him.

Meals took an unnecessarily long time because we spent so much time hunched over the spoon, creating wobbly stacks of vegetables layered over with rice, then meat, and then more grains of rice to plug any holes that might give away the presence of any green stuff.

After all that, even if a piece of vegetable managed to sneak past his microscopic vision and make it into his mouth, it would very often be detected by his superhuman sense of taste and would be spat out immediately while he pulled a face to suggest we had just fed him a dram of hemlock.

Screaming at him to "eat the vegetables! Don't spit that out! NO!" did not make the vegetables any more appealing to him.

Surely there had to be an easier way, we thought.

And then, one day, while my son was watching one of his favourite cartoons, Popeye the Sailor Man, I had a flash of recollection of how my mother got me and my sisters to eat vegetables. She would tell us that if we wanted to be strong like Popeye, we had to eat our spinach like Popeye did (inhaling it from a tin through a pipe was optional.)

So I tried the same brainwashing spiel on my son, pointing out how strong and wonderful Popeye was every time he watched the cartoon. Eventually, he grudgingly agreed that yes, if he wanted unnaturally huge biceps like Popeye, he would have to eat his vegetables.  

Meanwhile, both his grandmothers were working in the background and telling him that if you eat your greens, you will have bright sparkling eyes and soft, lovely skin and that you will be "mei mei" (Mandarin for beautiful).

My son is vain, and, of course, he wanted lovely, soft skin and sparkling eyes so sharp that he could bring anyone to his knees with just a glance.

He started to tentatively nibble at the stuff.

We followed up with reinforcement. He is at that age where he thinks the world of himself. Lately, he has been particularly fascinated by how much his abilities have developed, especially when compared to what he couldn't do when he was much younger.

After he performs some task which has impressed himself suitably, such as counting to 20, reaching for a toy on the highest shelf or simply being able to jump higher than ever, he will ask me, proudly: "Why am I able to do that?"

And no matter what the real reason is, I will tell him this: "You can do so many things because you eat a lot of vegetables."

Sometimes I'll throw in an additional line: "And because you put in the effort to try." But I emphasise the importance of veggies more.

Hey, I'm not technically wrong, right?

He can reach the highest shelf or jump high because he's tall and he's tall because he eats a lot of vegetables (and a lot of other things too, but I don't think that really needs to be mentioned right now).

Okay, so I omitted a lot of vital information. Sue me.

At least, it makes him think vegetables are the greatest foodstuff on Earth.

And when he eats his vegetables, we not only praise him. We also do a little jig of victory and clap, cheer and hoot as if he has just parted the Red Sea. This makes him puff up even more with pride and is probably not a bad thing in this case.

He likes mild-tasting greens such as Chinese spinach stir-fried in a flavourful stock till soft and broccoli cooked in a savoury yong tau foo soup. And once in a while, we let him eat cauliflower slathered with melted cheese and corn niblets covered with butter.

He will still not eat every kind of vegetable. Some he downright refuses to eat, such as brinjal and don't even think about ladies' fingers or strong-tasting stuff such as bell pepper.

But he is slowly developing a taste for vegetable and will now accept even slightly bitter greens such as chye sim and kai lan when cooked well and cut up into tiny pieces. He also claims he finishes all the vegetables he's served at school. And he surprised us one day when he proclaimed that spring onions are "so nice".

kengyao@sph.com.sg