Those with a sales or marketing background may be familiar with the "yes-able" proposition. It's a negotiating technique designed to achieve a successful outcome – a "yes" – to the proverbial "offer they can't refuse." Specifically, it's a proposal with a high likelihood of being accepted because it takes into account the other party's needs. According to the Hugh MacDonald in his book, "The Arts of Influence," a yes-able proposition involves "anticipating questions and objections and pre-empting them."
Diplomats have used yes-able propositions to negotiate complex peace treaties. Tycoons employ the concept to negotiate multi-billion dollar corporate mergers. Advertising execs use yes-able propositions to get consumers to buy their products.
But the true test of the yes-able proposition's utility must surely be this: Can you employ it to improve your children's acceptance of vegetables?
I believe so.
The trick is to follow MacDonald's directive: Anticipate a child's objections to the vegetable and pre-empt them. The best offense, after all, is a good defense! To that end, here are some tricks I've employed to make vegetables yes-able to my kids ... at least some of the time (though admittedly, not this week).
Tame the Texture. Trying an unfamiliar new food that isn't sweet or fatty is a big enough hurdle to overcome for kids. But if that strange new food also has a tough skin or texture that doesn't easily give to the pressure of mini teeth and jaws, the endeavor is instantly judged not to be worth the effort. The first rule of making veggies yes-able is ensuring that a kid can bite off and chew the dang thing on his first attempt without breaking a sweat.
• Raw carrots: Grate on the finest side of a box grater; let kids pinch piles of the fluffy carrot hair with their fingers, and eat it by hand.
• Asparagus: Break off the woody ends, and peel off the tough outer skin along the remaining stalk with a vegetable peeler. (Choosing skinnier stalks helps a lot.) Cut stalks into 1-inch segments and "steam-sauté" in a wok – as in, melt a dollop of butter, and toss until coated, then cover for a minute or two to allow some steam to help cook the asparagus. Remove cover, and stir for a bit before covering again. Repeat until it's bright green and tender but not mushy. Season with salt and/or grated Parmesan cheese.
• Brussels Sprouts: Trim the tough bases, and blanch sprouts for a few minutes in boiling water to tenderize before proceeding to steam-sauté as described above, cooking until bright green and very tender but not mushy. (As a bonus, blanching will also reduce their bitterness.) Season with salt, grated parmesan cheese and/or smoked paprika to taste.
• Cauliflower: Tame it by "ricing" in a food processor. Let kids help you feed florets into a food processor as you pulse. The resulting cauliflower confetti is roughly the size of orzo once sautéed in olive oil and can easily be eaten with a spoon. Season with favorite herbs (salt and dried thyme in our house) as you cook; the small pieces soften in no time and have a more familiar texture than an intact floret would.
[Read: How to Be a Healthy Hostess.]
Blunt the Bitterness. Kids are naturally sensitive to astringent, bitter flavors, which is why veggies are generally an acquired taste. Thoughtful selection and preparation of vegetables, therefore, can make the end result more yes-able to the under four-foot-tall set.
• Be wary of out-of-season selections: Locally-grown asparagus in spring and fall tastes wildly sweeter than mid-winter asparagus shipped from Argentina. For tomatoes, you'll get better results with the super-sweet cherry tomatoes in August than with bland, mealy January ones. If you can't always buy in season, consider some frozen selections; picked at the peak of ripeness, they can often taste better than out-of-season fresh.
• Try blanching: A short (2-3 minute) soak in a pot of boiling water leaches some of the vegetable's bitter compounds before cooking. This works especially well for Brussels sprouts (cut them in half first to maximize leaching) and dark leafy greens.
• Consider roasting: Roasting caramelizes vegetables' natural sugars, giving them a sweeter finish and a bit of a crisp along the edges that may appeal to chip aficianados. This works especially well for root vegetables (beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, rutabagas), small cauliflower florets, Brussels sprouts, sliced zucchini and even kale leaves.
• Offer sauce: Peanut sauce, cheese sauce, tomato sauce, pesto, ranch dressing, melted butter, honey mustard ... not only does a little bit of fat enhance vitamin A, E and K absorption, it helps mask bitterness even further. It's not cheating if a condiment makes your veggie yes-able.
Get them emotionally invested. When it comes to eating veggies, parents are always more emotionally invested than their child. And once your little Machiavelli picks up on this balance of power, he will wield it mercilessly. Getting kids involved in veggie selection and prep, however, levels the playing field and increases the odds they'll be interested in partaking in the fruits (or veggies) of their labor.
• Toddlers can: help plant, water and grow veggies in gardens and window boxes; pick out veggies at farmers markets and supermarkets, and put them into a bag for purchase; feed cauliflower florets into a food processor; pull the strings off of sugar snap peas; snap the woody ends off asparagus; use a potato masher on cooked, peeled yams; mash avocado with a fork onto toast; sprinkle cheese or garnishes onto cooked veggies or veggie soups; operate the salad spinner; wash cherry tomatoes; and mix pumpkin puree into pancake batter.
• Preschoolers and school-aged kids can: shuck ears of corn; scrape skins off cooked beets with a spoon (choose golden beets over red ones if you have white furniture); snip green beans with child-safe scissors; scrape the "noodles" out of a cooked spaghetti squash with a fork; spear cut veggies onto skewers for the grill (well-supervised); and arrange veggies and olives artfully on a crudité platter.
[Read: 10 Ways to Raise Healthier Kids.]
Choose interactive veggies. Kids have short attention spans, particularly at the dinner table. Fortunately, some veggies have built-in entertainment value.
• Artichokes: They're a pain to prepare and cook but an absolute delight for kids to dip into melted butter or garlicky olive oil and scrape with their teeth. Bonus: Artichoke has a compound called cynarin, which makes everything eaten later in the meal taste sweeter!
• Edamame (young soybeans) in the pod: Frozen edamame take about five to seven minutes to cook, and even toddlers can learn to squeeze the pods until the beans jump out. Some kids will actually even eat the beans they liberate.
If your attempts to make veggies yes-able still don't seal the deal, don't be discouraged. By including vegetables at every meal – and including your children in the preparation process – you're making a lasting imprint on their conception of what a "normal" meal should look like. Whether or not your kids eat the veggies offered at a given meal, your efforts are an investment that will pay nutritious dividends down the road.
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Tamara Duker Freuman, MS, RD, CDN, is a NYC-based registered dietitian whose clinical practice specializes in digestive disorders, Celiac Disease, and food intolerances. Her personal blog, www.tamaraduker.com, focuses on healthy eating and gluten-free living.