“I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it!” – E. B. White, caption for an old cartoon in The New Yorker

You have to admire the First Lady’s campaign to get kids to eat their vegetables. It’s certainly a worthy goal, but judging by recent reports it doesn’t seem to be working everywhere and a lot of healthy food is ending up in the trash. Down South, they are upset about losing their fried chicken. In New Mexico, they’re saying No mas! to whole wheat tortillas and in Tennessee they want their flaky white biscuits back. Frustrated schools are asking for the right to opt out of the health food regimen and return to pizza and nuggets. This should not be surprising. Getting kids to eat their vegetables has been the impossible dream of mothers down through the ages. A lot of thought and menu planning has gone into it and many strategies were deployed, with varying success. Here are a few:

Vegetables 03The Carrot – no pun intended. This usually took the form of an ultimatum: “If you don’t eat your (spinach/broccoli/other noxious veggie) you can’t have any dessert.”  Naturally the success of this plan v/aried with the attractiveness of the dessert. Ice cream caused a lot of broccoli to be consumed; pound cake, not so much. It also varied with the nature of the vegetable in play. Green beans disappeared pretty promptly, but teams of French pastry chefs have not yet devised a petit four sufficiently delectable to make an 8 year old eat Brussels sprouts.

The Stick – Dad would be deputized to enforce veggie decrees and his blunt instrument approach often took the form of making the refusenik remain at table until the veggies were consumed. But since this cut into his catch-a-smoke / watch-the-news / take-a-nap time he was often left to literally pound the table hard enough to cause the salt and pepper shakers to rattle and shout “Eat your vegetables!” Viewing this as bad for digestion, Mom, who was always more willing to entertain a plea bargain, might relieve Dad from guard duty whereupon a deal could be struck under the terms of which a certain number of beans, carrots or broccoli florets would be consumed before the offender could be released from custody.

Guilt – The “starving kids in India / Africa / Guatemala / Wilmerding” story might work once or twice, but once you saw your older brother rolling his eyes you caught on. You didn’t want to get smart-alecky and ask the folks to name the starving kids, though. Dad might swing into table pounding mode. It did sort of get you wondering why the Brussels sprouts weren’t sent directly to the skinny kids with the empty bowls on UNICEF posters.

Stealth – Some parents were skilled at disguising vegetables in imaginative ways. Soup is an obvious ploy. Or a kid might ingest a few spoonfuls of spinach soufflée before the dawn of recognition. To the best of our recollection, the word, “soufflée” was never uttered in the Idler’s household, but we can remember our own sainted mother’s devious plot to conceal turnips in the mashed potatoes. This did not go over well with her dining public. The problem with a turnip is that no matter what you do to it, it still tastes like a turnip.

We’re not sure if any of these strategies are appropriate for a national campaign but we wish the First Lady luck and hope she succeeds. If we were a betting man, however, we’d be buying stock in McDonald’s and Little Debbie.

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