I Bribed—Excuse Me, Encouraged Via the Promise of Reward—My Child to Eat Vegetables

It’s true.

Harry ate vegetables.

For fourteen straight days.

Do you understand how momentous this is? The kid’s been so challenging to feed for so long, I actually got paid to write about it. And yet for a full two weeks, he was willing to try a new vegetable nearly every day. He ate celery. Jerusalem artichoke. Watermelon radish. Fennel. Rutabaga! On one memorable day, he sampled avocado, Jerusalem artichoke, and cucumber. And most thrilling of all, Little Gram’s Sauce. I’m not saying he liked everything—in most cases he ate a single mouthful, but that’s about a thousand times better than we’d been doing for the last few years.

Cucumber has been added to the regular rotation, people. An actual green thing, he eats willingly!

I have no idea what brought about this sea change, but a few weeks ago he started asking for new toys. We’d been doing pretty well, avoiding The Gimmes post-holidays, but now we’ve entered that awkward period where his new toys don’t feel so new anymore, yet his birthday’s still six months away. Enter the incentive. I told him that he could get the toy he was clamoring for if he ate a new vegetable every day for two weeks. Honestly, I only said it because I thought it would make him shut up about the toy—I never imagined he’d take me up on it. But he agreed immediately, so we made a chart on green construction paper and hung it on the wall over the kitchen table. (That’s why those drawings are so, um, rough-hewn: I was writing sideways against a wall.)

Each day, we’d discuss what the vegetable would be. I shlepped to the farmer’s market in Union Square, just so I could find something new and interesting—because of course, my son didn’t choose to become adventurous during the summer, when the abundance is staggering. No, he woke up to new flavors in February, when the vegetable farmer doesn’t even bother coming to my neighborhood market. But fine, I went with it, and so did Harry.

Some nights were more challenging than others, mostly when I dared to combine the vegetable with something else by using it in a soup or stew. On those nights, he’d leave the chosen vegetable on his plate while he ate everything else around it; he seemed to think that if he saved it for last we might give him a pass. Nope. One or two nights, there were tears—he let the single mouthful of food become such a big deal that he nearly scared himself out of it. But most nights, he enjoyed discussing the choices with me and willingly tried things. A few times he asked if he could taste something raw, like rutabaga, so he could compare it to its cooked state.

Tonight, we filled in the last box on Harry’s chart. He ate a single mouthful of my Fast White Beans & Greens Stew—which included a cannellini bean, some diced tomato, a chunk of carrot, and some wilted baby greens. (That recipe’s coming, I promise.) It was dramatic, mostly because he really, really, really didn’t want to eat something with so many flavors combined. But Stephen and I pushed back, pointing out that he’d come so far to get his toy, it would be a shame to blow it now.

He put it in his mouth, and chewed on it for a good half-hour. (It still hasn’t sunk in that the faster he swallows something, the faster the flavor will dissipate; instead, he’ll chew and chew and chew, tuck it inside his cheek, and then chew some more before washing it down with diluted apple juice.) Finally, he swallowed, to great huzzahs and hugs from his parents.

Who knows if the whims of my child will swing back in the other direction. I take nothing for granted. But tomorrow, UPS arrives with his reward, and Harry’s already debating what to go for next.