In her book released last fall, Deceptively Delicious, Jessica Seinfeld slips chickpeas into her chocolate chip cookies and purees butternut squash into her mac and cheese. The general premise is that kid food is fried and white. But if you can slip in something on the sly—say, cauliflower into mashed potatoes, or sweet potato into pancakes—then you can trick your kids into eating the stuff you want them to, minus the tantrums and tears.
Jessica, who is married to the comic Jerry Seinfeld, has been in the news of late because Missy Chase Lapine, who authored a similar book, called The Sneaky Chef, insists that Deceptively Delicious is nothing but a riff on her ideas. The Seinfelds contest that.
But whatever. The problem isn’t whether Jessica was the first mother to hide flaxseed in chicken nuggets and then write about it. The problem is, as Wall Street Journal‘s Raymond Sokolov wrote a few weeks ago, “These women treat vegetables the way Victorian mothers treated sex, with silence.”
Or, as Stefania Pomponi Butler says, “The bottom line is this: I don’t want my food to be deceptively delicious. I want it to be delicious. Full stop.”
In other words, instead of encouraging kids to try new foods, or simply including them in a meal, the cookbooks infantilize kids’ tastes by both removing choices and pandering to the lowest common denominator in their developing palates, Stefania and others suggest. Instead of simply setting vegetables on the dinner table, gloriously naked and recognizable, the authors suggest that you pull one over on your kids and veil the veggies as something else entirely: macaroni, nuggets, pancakes. You know the stuff.
Food is only part of it. A year or so ago, Verizon and Sprint launched new cell-phone service that alerts you if your kids wander beyond a perimeter that you set for them. Around that time, the Boston Globe wrote about how state and national ruling bodies for youth soccer leagues have recommended that scores and standings not be kept in under-10 leagues, saying it’s best not to track “winners” and “losers.” My 11-year-old daughter’s town soccer team doesn’t keep score, either.
All of these seemingly unrelated things actually are linked. They seem to speak to good intentions gone slightly awry: as if our need to protect our kids has morphed into a tendency to infantilize them. I wonder—about my own two kids and their friends and the generation at large—are we doing them any favors? Is all of this supervision and control and hiding vegetables helping them grow up? Or is it really keeping them young?
At 11 and 16, my own two kids have little of the freedom I did at their age. It’s not that their afternoons are packed with lessons and tutoring and practices. Because they aren’t… although we have our share of all three. It’s just that their lives are more choreographed and coordinated than mine ever was. The older one has a cell phone, and on those free afternoons when he is on his own, he must check in with me when, for example, he walks from the park to Sean’s house. If he does that, Sean’s mother must be home, because I will ask him to hand the phone to her.
Occasionally I compare this to my own 16-year-old self: When I was his age, I had a lot more freedom (and flat-out free time). I’d already made some teenage mistakes and learned a thing or two from them; I’d already experienced a few things in life that I’m certain—more or less—my son hasn’t. Nothing truly serious, but enough to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.
With access to the Internet and technology, my son may be more sophisticated than I was at his age. But, frankly, I was wiser.
Which is frustrating for a parent to realize, and it makes me wonder about the ripple effects of our supervised playtimes, hidden vegetables, and cell-phone leashes. It also makes me wonder what the downside is to a culture increasingly skewed toward staying younger longer.
Sure, 40 is the new 30. But does that make 18 the new 8?
Sokolov writes, “Very few childhood bedwetters go off to college with rubber sheets. Picky eaters also mature….”
That is, if we let them.