The artichoke is the symbol of nutrition wisdom in my home. It represents a method for establishing healthy eating behaviors for young children that has always and will always resonate with me. This story solidifies that children are open to trying new foods. Even green ones.
Artichokes make my list of top ten favorite foods on the planet. (This isn’t exactly a printed and laminated list that I keep in my back pocket, but I’m sure that beets, white peaches, homemade pasta, moule frites, brussel spouts, and truffle fries would easily be on said list.)
Growing up, my mother would steam artichokes and my brothers and I would enjoy them dipped in Ken’s Italian dressing. SO GOOD. Today, I love them so much that I eat them plain steamed: no need to dress them up with other flavors.
A few years ago, I was enjoying a casual dinner with my (only) two boys one night. They were eating …. something, while I was eating an artichoke. I had only purchased two in total, assuming my husband would have the other one once he got home from work. Then the interrogation began.
“Mom, what’s that?”
“But what is it?”
“A green vegetable. It’s yummy and I love it.”
“Why are you doing that?” (Scraping the leaves with my teeth.)
“Because you can’t eat the whole thing. Just the meat at the end of the leaves. That and the heart. Finish your dinner please.”
“Can I have some?”
A golden moment folks.
“Why can’t we have some?”
SIGH… Hungry mama here… “Because this is MY dinner” (or at least the part that is ready and I’m starving) “and you have YOUR dinner.”
Two pairs of curious and insistent little eyes were beaming at me. Drilling holes in me. My mother of the year award was getting reassigned and shipped out.
The injustice of it all. I found a food that I didn’t have to encourage, entice, bribe, sneak, or bargain with my boys. And yet I only had two artichokes so really I didn’t want to share. How cruel and how cruel of me.
Begrudgingly, I spent the next ten minutes or so teaching my boys about the anatomy of artichokes, how to eat them, and where to place the discarded leaves. And to my amazement, my boys LOVED them, even plain. (Sorry Ken’s Italian dressing.) Sadly, my husband and I were forced to share only a half of one remaining artichoke. (On a good note: my boys’ little teeth scraped off very little of the meat, so we could literally eat over their discarded leaves. Not gross. Just resourceful 🙂
I can say with complete confidence that had I prepared an artichoke for each child, I would have been slammed with “I don’t like that!!” before one little leaf had been torn. But something about the fact that it wasn’t being offered to them, and quite simply they were exposed to a new food and dinner time experience, they were drawn to it. (It is immensely important to add that they were hungry too, and likely not eating their favorite food at dinner that night. I believe this helps them to build an awareness of the food and food options around them.) I really had no idea what a profound effect it would make on meal time in my home. Unlike most food introductions, this was unplanned.
Today, I must buy five artichokes each time I bring them home for dinner. Artichokes are still a favorite food in my home. Even more popular than pasta.
And thus I learned that children and families really DO eat better when they are together.
I would empower any family to find their own “artichoke.” And, to Eat Better Together.