How to Get Kids to Eat Tomatoes (Cucumbers too!)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

It's not easy convincing kids to eat something that you've just picked fresh from the vine in the backyard, especially in today's fast food world. If it didn't come out of a wrapper of some sort, or from a pot in the kitchen, most young boys are going to stick their noses up and say "no thanks," or give you nothing other than a shake of the head.

I know from experience. I was one of those boys. And I frustrated my mother to no end.

After all -- I was an excellent gardener. Even at a young age, I knew my way around with a rototiller, understood the use of compost, and could turn a patch of weeds into a tempting garden space. I could grow champion tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and radishes.

But eating that haul was an entirely different matter. I didn't eat what came out of the garden. I grew it for my mother and family, but I refused to touch any of it. And my mother tried just about everything under the sun -- even cash bribes -- to get me to sample just one slice of a vine-ripened tomato. Nope. I would have none of it.

I was even that snot-nosed kid who took slices of tomatoes out of a hamburger before consuming it. I was that bad.

So, where did it all change? At what point did Bill Bird suddenly drop his guard and agree to eat what he had grown in the backyard. I don't remember what year it was exactly, but I was probably a young teenager -- maybe 12 or 13 years old. I might have even been tad younger. And my mother hit upon a revolutionary recipe that I continue to use to this day.

I guarantee you -- if you're looking for a recipe that most kids cannot resist when it comes to home grown produce from the yard -- look no further. It's right here.

In today's day and age, you can find just about every salad dressing already pre-mixed and ready to serve on the shelf of your local supermarket. Want Italian? Blue Cheese? Ranch? Fat free Italian? Not a problem.

In the 1970's, however, that WAS a problem. The pre-mixed dressings were not widely available and cost a pretty penny. A penny that the Bird family didn't have, and couldn't spare, especially since Mom could whip up a zesty dressing with oil and red wine vinegar fairly quickly. And that was the key to this simple little invention that finally cracked my anti-tomato eating barrier for good.

The harvest had been pretty good to us that weekend. We had several ripe tomatoes and cucumbers fresh on the vine, and mother was convinced that she had to get me to eat them this time. So, she set up her cutting board, sliced those tomatoes and cucumbers, and arranged them neatly on a plate like you see here. You see, it wasn't just the food that was important. My mother had come to discover that *presentation* of the food in question was just as important when it came to my tastes.

Not only that, my mother had something else special planned. She had mixed together a standard Italian dressing of oil and vinegar and put it over the top of these tomatoes. And then, she added something a little special. She gave the plate of tomatoes and cucumbers a dusting of salt and pepper, and then finished the product off with a coating of oregano from the spice rack.

I'm not sure what it was, but something appealed to me very much in that special plate of garden goodies that mother had prepared for me. And, before I knew it, that entire plate was gone. Consumed in the space of five minutes -- I finally admitted this was one of the best things I had ever tasted.

My mother nearly dropped to the floor from Mycardial Infarction when I not only brought the empty plate into the kitchen, but then had the audacity to ask for more. And she did prepare that special dish, once again using the same ingredients she had used the first time. And, sure enough, in quick measure, that plate was gone as well. Who needed burgers I reasoned? I had vine-ripened tomatoes and cucumbers.

I've never forgotten this incident. From that point on, not only did I start eating tomatoes, I couldn't get enough of them. The same applied to cucumbers. And, I quickly discovered that you could do the same thing with bell peppers, another garden staple. Bush beans and pea pods were suddenly delicious, and more importantly, in demand.

I still can't get enough of this recipe. I've
been making variations of it for years, but only last year did I discover that I was missing an important ingredient -- the dried oregano flakes. It gives raw vegetables a real kick.

So, if you're looking for a hook -- an angle -- a recipe -- anything that will convince kids to eat a plate of tomatoes, remember the following:

1. Presentation
2. Oil and Vinegar
3. Salt and pepper
4. Dried oregano flakes

Now, I'm not telling you this is the magic ingredient that will suddenly convince your fast-food addicted children to suddenly sit up and fly right. They might even reject it the first time. Who knows? I may have rejected it the first time around myself as well. But, keep trying. Be patient. In time, that little boy and girl will notice that everyone at the table is reaching for that plate of home-grown garden stuff first. They'll get the message. I certainly did.

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