Since I live in Vegie Smugglers-land all the time, I forget that some folks are new to me and my blog. The ambiguous name of this website seems to cause a bit of confusion amongst visitors, so with a surge of new readers stopping by it seems like a good time to explain myself a little.
In the interest of unbiased journalism, I’ll interview myself, in the third person. That won’t be weird, will it?…
[Fake journalist] Hi Wendy, I’ve been a big fan for a while now, but I’m keen to chat and find out more about this website. And by the way, your hair is looking GREAT today.
[Me… slight uncomfortable titter] Oh well thanks FJ! Where shall we start?
[FJ] Why did you start Vegie Smugglers?
[Me] Back in the late 2000s I was in all sorts of hell, trying to get my fussy kids to eat fresh vegies. Each night was a tense standoff and usually I was the loser who finished dinner by scraping thrown food off the floor and into the bin. One night I stopped and decided, ‘THIS IS ENOUGH.’ I was determined to find the right recipes that could help me reclaim dinnertime as a happy family time. And as a massive lover of food and cooking, I wasn’t going to let two toddlers dictate the menu.
[FJ] So you created a range of recipes that contained hidden vegetables?
[Me] My major concern at the time was to get some nutrition into my kids. Both were irritable and constantly sick. I was sure that their limited diets were not helping matters. Since neither would eat reliably, I was determined that each spoonful of a meal should be packed full of nutrients so that the few bites they would eat were beneficial. It took a while, but I came up with a range of recipes that did the trick.
[FJ] Then you have no ethical problems with hiding vegies and lying to your children about their dinner?
[Me] No. None. Their health was more important to me than the truth. To break the cycle I was happy to be as sneaky as need be. All cooking is manipulating ingredients to get a delicious result. When I eat in a restaurant I’m not bothered if I don’t know all the ingredients so long as the meal tastes good.
As soon as I had my kids eating a wider range of foods, I relaxed. It triggered a whole domino effect of positivity. They ate better. Their health was better. Their behaviour and sleep patterns were better. My sanity returned and once the immediate food issues subsided I was able to move them onto phase 2, which was teaching them about the joys of healthy eating.
[FJ] And how do you do that?
[Me] Well, obviously hiding vegies is a short term solution. The aim is to transition kids from baby to adult food and this is a long and exciting journey that is totally guided by the parents.
[FJ] In what way?
[Me] Parents are the food leaders in the household so it’s up to them to continue challenging their kids try new foods and accept new flavours. They can do this by learning to cook new recipes, including the kids when buying vegies, getting them to help cook, teaching them basic nutrition and growing food in the garden. It all creates a positive and fun food environment.
[FJ] So what makes a perfect Vegie Smugglers recipe?
[Me] Firstly it must be something that everyone can eat. Possibly you can make alterations for the militant toddler, or add extra ingredients to make it more ‘adult’ once the kids are served. But everyone needs to be eating the same dish. For two reasons really, firstly, in this busy world, no one has the time to cook multiple meals and secondly, there’s no better example for kids than seeing their parents tucking into the same dinner.
Generally a Vegie Smugglers recipe needs to have easily available ingredients and be simple to make. Not all parents are keen cooks, but that’s no impediment to eating well. Rarely does a VS recipe have two stages. Some are quicker to make than others, many can be prepared ahead on a less busy day. Many freeze well and all are full of healthy ingredients.
[FJ] I’ve heard criticism that you don’t actually hide vegies in many dishes.
[Me] This is true. As I said, once the immediate nutrition concerns are being taken care of, it’s time to progress the kids onto the next stage. So you might start grating every carrot, or blitzing it up, but slowly over time you need to move to dicing things finely, then in larger chunks, until they’re accepting adult-style meals. This can take ages, and some vegies might need to be hidden for years longer – at our house we still smuggle zucchini and mushrooms – each household can prepare ingredients to suit their situation. The recipes on the blog and in the cookbooks reflect this journey and are as flexible as possible. All contain vegies, but the amount they’re ‘smuggled’ ranges from totally, to not at all.
[FJ] What are five quick vegie smuggling tips for parents?
[Me] 1. Start by chopping ingredients finely and combine them into dinners that smell and taste great. When kids can’t see and identify ingredients, they’re less likely to pick them out and complain.
2. Use lure ingredients. Like croutons submerged in a soup or pasta smothered in vegetable sauce. The kids will go for the thing they like and taste the meal on the way. Hopefully to discover that it’s worth tucking into.
3. Be realistic about your child’s current stage of development and how it may be affecting their appetite. Toddlers eat less because they’re busy doing other things and food just isn’t interesting every day at set times.
4. Give yourself the best chance for success. If your kids hate green stuff, don’t serve them pesto pasta. Start with a red capsicum sauce or creamy chicken. If they like bread, serve them pancakes, or if they like meat, pack meatballs full of good stuff.
5. Relax. I know it’s incredibly hard to do this, but remember that this is another phase, that if handled well, will pass. Keep a variety of healthy foods on offer, don’t succumb to their demands. Stay in charge of the menu and cook meals that you’ll enjoy even if they reject them.
[FJ] So your kids eat well now?
[Me] Miss F is almost 10 and is still naturally fussy. She dislikes most spice but has come to trust that I always cook things she should enjoy. She will eat every meal on the blog. Some she loves, some she’d rather do without, but she understands that our family food culture doesn’t revolve around her whims. Nutrition-packed dinners are still a priority since she is a light eater. If it was up to her, she would still exist on cheese, fruit and pasta. Luckily I didn’t give in, or I’d be dealing with a fussy 9 year old with malnutrition issues.
Mr M&P was more regular and has grown out of his fussy eating stage beautifully. He is now 7 and tackles everything.
Both have a full understanding of food, where it comes from, how it’s cooked and the role it plays in our family traditions. Neither currently have food, weight or nutrition issues. Both are thriving and I’m not talking myself up too much when I say that my determination has played a major role. When I see them tucking into sophisticated meals, I’m so thrilled and am totally convinced that vegie smuggling has been worth every single bit of effort. For me, food is the crucial building block that contributes to all other aspects of child development.
[FJ] And finally, do you avoid sugar or gluten or use organic produce only? And why is this blog called ‘Vegie Smugglers’ when you cook with meat?
[Me] I use vegies in everything, but am not vegetarian. This site is about encouraging a love of fresh produce in kids (and adults). Variety is my main mantra, so some recipes are vegetarian and some use meat. Many might rely on a touch of sweetness to make them kid-friendly since toddlers’ taste-buds strongly prefer this. If a teaspoon of sugar helps a whole heap of vegies get gobbled, then I’m all for it. You can ween them off it as they get older. Some recipes are gluten-free, some are dairy-free. On a blog this size, I can’t cater for everyone, all the time. I encourage people to join in on the recipes that suit their dietary regime. Organic produce is always a great idea, but I understand that not everyone can manage this.
[FJ – stretching out his long, muscular legs] Well thanks Wendy, I’ve enjoyed our chat and have enjoyed getting to know more about the ideas behind your blog. Are you free for a drink? I believe you don’t mind a wine or two?
[Me – shyly smiling, whilst flicking my super long and lustrous Swedish-blonde hair] I’ll have to say no FJ, but I’m flattered, you’re a very attractive man. Luckily I’ve got a lovely husband who’s asked me to sit and watch ‘Escape to the Country’ tonight. So I best dash off to meet him.
[FJ] No problem. And gosh, you’re obviously a great parent. Your kids haven’t interrupted our conversation even once!
[Me – smiling graciously] Well thanks! And after you leave, I’ll even let them out from under the stairs…. now… where did I leave that key?
Vegie Smugglers’ Kitchen Collection has arrived! Packed full of 125 recipes that cover…
– basics like poaching chicken and stewing fruit
– lunchbox bakes & ideas
– everyday dinners
– meals suitable for slow cookers, pressure cookers or conventional ovens
– easy ways to feed a crowd and how to cater for entire families
– special celebration recipes for birthdays, Easter, Christmas and school fetes
– four weeks of visual meal plans
Many of the recipes are freezer friendly, many are allergy friendly. I’ve deliberately kept a wide mix of ingredients and methods so that there’s something for everyone. Download samples and a full recipe index here. Check it out in the shop.
Thanks for stopping by today. I’m proud to be an Australian independent publisher. As with most ‘mumpreneur’ businesses, I survive on tiny budgets and rely heavily on word of mouth to promote my products. I hugely appreciate all of your kind words and social media mentions.
To say thanks for reading through this whole post, I am offering you a special ‘catch up’ deal on my new book and a few other products! Click here to check it out….