How Bunnies Learn to Love Veggies

Posted December 4, 2011 by jimhigley

My five-year-old Halloween had all the ingredients to be the best ever. At the time, however, it felt like the worst. And in the end, it probably was one of the top “teachable” moments of my childhood.

This was the Halloween my mom made me the costume of all costumes. I was a bunny. (And before you start making jokes, let me remind you that Bugs Bunny was very popular back then!)

I still remember going to Woolworth’s with my mom to pick out the bunny costume pattern, select the light blue soft fuzzy fabric and a softball-sized furry bunny tail to finish off my back side. Mom worked for days to stitch my trophy costume together. And in the end, with floppy feet and floppy ears, I was destined to be the cutest Trick-or-Treater west of the Mississippi.

Being a kindergartener, I wore that costume to school all day. And while the other kids were dressed like football players or hobos, it was pretty obvious who rocked the costume award in Mrs. Newkirk’s morning class. I loved my costume so much.  I never took it off all day. And like any five-year-old in costume heaven, I couldn’t wait to go out that evening with my dad to promenade around the neighborhood.

The only thing standing in the way of my evening of fun was a quick dinner – specially prepared (as my happy mother proclaimed) “for our bunny boy.”

That special meal had some of my old familiar favorites including pork chops and mashed potatoes. But it also included this bunny’s least favorite of all vegetables. Carrots.

“All good bunnies eat their carrots,” said my smiling mom.

I thought I was going to bunny gag. And I refused to try even one teeny, tiny nibble.

Unfortunately, the mama and papa bunny in this story had the upper hand.

“No Trick-or-Treating if you don’t eat your carrots,” reminded my dad.

But I dug in my hind paws even deeper.

And after several rounds of gentle prodding from my parents, I found myself alone in my room with the potential promise of no Trick-or-Treating that year.

There is nothing sadder than a bunny, laying on his bed, with tears rolling down his furry face smearing the painted-on-whiskers all over bunny cheeks.

Of course, my time in the bunny trap was cut short when my mother came in with a tissue, a bunny hug and a plate with a tiny serving of warmed-up carrots.”

“You know what? I made these a special way for you tonight,” she told me. “They’re ‘Trick-or-Treat’ carrots and they almost taste like candy!”

I reluctantly succumbed to one baby bunny nibble. Then two. And eventually, of course, I ate the entire serving.

Mama bunny was proud. Papa bunny was relieved.

And this bunny learned an important lesson that evening.

That’s a long way of explaining why I wish my parents were still around to see that floppy-eared five-year-old being named to a panel of 12 parents (and two of the first dads!) in the country to serve on the Hidden Valley “Love Your Veggies” parent panel. I’m part of a team of moms and dads committed to helping spread the message of the importance of showing our kids the path to eating healthy and loving their veggies!

Our team of parents will also be involved in an amazing event to benefit the White House-led effort to improved childhood nutrition and school lunches. Hidden Valley Original Ranch Dressing is teaming with the American Culinary Federation  and will be hosting the “Lunch Break for Schools” fundraiser in key cities throughout the country early next year. Parents like me will be teaming up with celebrity chefs – including superstar  Cat Cora – to host awareness and fundraising programs to support this incredible program. I can’t wait to tell you more about who I’m working with in Chicago!

So stay tuned for more updates and information on my work as a spokesperson for these two exciting programs. (And so I don’t appear to be pulling a rabbit out of the hat, I’ll always make sure you know these posts are part of my official duties with my friends at Hidden Valley!)

In the meantime, nibble on a carrot or two and enjoy my top five tactics to help every kid learn to love their veggies!

Blur the Borders! When I was a little kid, I remember sitting down to my mom’s wonderful meals, taking one look at the plate, and thinking to myself, “I’ll eat the meatloaf, the roll and the mashed potatoes. But there’s no way the peas are going in my mouth!” As a dad, I came to realize that a lot of kids play the same mind game when their food is presented to them. Some kids—when they see food segregated into obvious food groups—immediately draw a line in the sand as far as what they’ll eat.  One way to periodically overcome that is to turn the meal into an assortment of hors d’oeuvres including popcorn chicken, shrimp, cherry tomatoes, steamed broccoli florets, or tater tots (be creative!). Top those treats with fun, fancy curly que toothpicks, add a dipping bowl filled with Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, and your kids will find themselves founding members of the clean plate club in no time!

“A” is for Artichoke! My kids all started eating artichokes at a very young age. To this day, it’s one of the most appreciated culinary treats I can put in front of them. I’ve also introduced this domesticated thistle to countless other kids—99% of whom have never experienced the fun flavor or experience waiting for them in the meat of its leaves. Easy to prepare (boil or stem) kids love the process of removing the leaves and dipping them one at a time in a variety of choices including melted butter, vinaigrette, freshly squeezed lemon juice, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, or just plain-old salt!

Roasting to the Rescue! There’s something magical about roasted vegetables. It’s a cooking process I had never tried until a few years ago. But once I discovered it—especially with vegetables—there was no going back. You can roast so many veggies (just stay away from the watery ones and those that are really dense). Most kids I know gobble up roasted cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, squash and brussels sprouts without even thinking about what’s going in their mouth. All you need is a really hot oven, some olive oil (make sure you use enough to cover the entire veggie surface because the oil conducts the heat), salt and pepper and you are ready to serve up a real crowd pleaser!

DIY Japanese! Kids are fascinated by the experiences awaiting them at Japanese restaurants. They love watching the chef entertain them while their meal is being prepared right before their eyes! Funny enough, most kids tend to eat almost everything put on their plate when it comes from the magical grill right in front of them. So I started experimenting at home on my own using nothing more than a stove top pancake griddle. It’s easy. It’s tasty. And you can let kids mix-and-match their own selection of meats, chicken, fresh vegetables or seafood! My personal favorite is ready-packaged shredded broccoli slaw (it has red cabbage and carrots as well!) with chicken, some sunflower seeds and teriyaki sauce!

Color is Key! This is one of my favorites, perhaps because I really don’t consider myself to be blessed with strong cooking skills! What I do have, however, is a fun and creative imagination. Give me some Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, an assortment of food coloring, some steamed or raw veggies, and I can turn any kid’s plate into a playground for their mouth! I’ve made rivers, checker boards, and even a pretty bad rendering of our pooch, Lucca. It doesn’t really matter what you do! Kids appreciate the silliness and happily eat away. And if you’re not up for some of my crazy antics, just mix a little food coloring into a dipping bowl of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, and your child will think you just gave them their own personal rainbow!