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pesto for all

I feel like my kids are turning a corner with food, as my friends promised me they would. Finn ate the celery or carrots in his lunchbox, five days in a row. At dinner on Tuesday he only dry-heaved twice while eating a green bean. On Thursday, Tate ate two fistfuls of broccoli when I looked past my fear of celebrity chefs to try Jessica Seinfeld’s admittedly delicious recipe for Beef with Broccoli.

I can hardly breathe for the excitement. But I’ve gotten excited at my kids’ minor dietary improvements in the past, scared them by going overboard (see, spinach-garbonzo bean fritters), and ended up worse off than before. This time, I’m pacing myself.

So, pesto. My friends Patrick and Mollyanne brought some pesto for the kids when we went on vacation. Patrick is a chef, so I’m constantly watching his kids eat stuff that makes me want to flip a table over, in rage and jealousy. But Tate, who I suspect would be an adventurous eater if he didn’t see his big brother reject foods on a daily basis, ate up Mollyanne’s pesto, quick as a wink. Finn, that wretch, refused to try it. But Finn’s recent forays into new foods had me hopeful. So yesterday, I made my own batch of spinach-basil pesto, heavy on the spinach.


Look at the color!! A bright and sexy jade green. Almost unidentifiable as a food object, in the best possible way.

Unfortunately, Finn’s not impressed with the color green, especially as it relates to food. When I brought the pasta to the table, he actually cried. I’m accustomed to it now, but still, there’s no crappier feeling than cooking something that reduces someone to tears.  I made a five-pound turkey meatloaf once that had Tom crying for a week.  I know it’s not right, but when it happens, my first impulse is to dump the food on the head of the person who is crying, or to smash their face into their plate.

In any event, this isn’t my first ride on the merry-go-round. At this point, the crying has to be pretty intense to faze me–like, there have to be hiccups.  I ignored Finn’s tears and put three pieces of green pasta on his plate, and told him he was to try it. After his second bite, his grimace relaxed into a confused expression. And then, the clouds parted. “I like pesto, Mama.” He ate two bowls for dinner, and a cucumber from the salad (dry heave: 1). All told, he probably had a single serving of vegetables. But still, better than nothing.

That’s not even the clincher. When I tucked him into bed later that night, Finn requested pesto in his lunchbox the next day.

I may have cried a bit myself when he said that. Tears of motherlovin’ joy.

No Tears Spinach-Basil Pesto

1 cup packed spinach leaves (more or less won’t hurt)

1 cup packed basil leaves (ditto)

2 T pine nuts

1-2 cloves garlic

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1. Combine ingredients in a food processor. Whir until blended into a rough paste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately or refrigerate with plastic wrap touching the top of the pesto, to retain the color. Store up to three days.


25 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ohmygosh, I must try this recipe! Thanks for this

    September 25, 2012
  2. janey #

    My friend, now 21, has spent her entire life avoiding anything the colour green. Me and all her friends tell her to eat her vegetables but she hates them so much. In a bowl of noodles or something, she picks out EVERY SINGLE THING that’s green. I don’t think you can even taste it but nup, she picks them out. I think her mum has just given up LOL She’s grown up fine but I don’t know if she has good bowel movements to be perfectly honest (that might be a bit too much information)

    I’ve just started following your blog I spent about several hours one night just reading all the posts because its so so funny but also so real 😀

    September 19, 2012
  3. Did you know most pesto can be frozen? Wouldn’t hurt to try! (I freeze mine in small batches for quick kiddo lunches; as a bonus, it saves on the washing up when a bigger batch is made in one fell swoop.) You can also substitute a variety of green leaves – rocket, kale, etc. I have a friend who makes nettle or nasturtium pesto but let’s just celebrate small victories for now!

    September 18, 2012
    • i totally did not know that. i just spent two hours making little batches of jessica seinfeld’s veggie purees (she assured me it would take an hour, but she clearly has servants), so now i will freeze some baggies of pesto. and arugula pesto sounds fab

      September 18, 2012
  4. I was a very picky eater myself and have come to realise that I am not alone as I hear of children who will only eat jam sandwiches or pink food, in other words, highly coloured biscuits and cakes. In my case my pickiness was down to my father – I’ve probably told you this before – a man in his fifties going through the dry heave routine after my mother had spent hours cooking a meal. I don’t know what went wrong in his case because he was one of the UK’s wartime generation who experienced food rationing and our attitude must have baffled my mother who grew up knowing real hunger in Portugal. I spent Sunday afternoon at an event at the local skate park watching hundreds of kids wear themselves out and I suspect they were so hungry by the time they got home that they would have eaten roadkill. I don’t think there’s a lot 21st century parents can do other than strand their offspring on desert islands until they’ll eat absolutely anything. I’m not suggesting that you starve yours into submission but you must feel like doing it sometimes. Not sure if it would help but have you come across “Mission Explore Food”? Might be of interest. In the meantime, whatever you think is actually happening, your kids are hale and hearty, you are doing really well.

    September 18, 2012
    • there’s something to hereditary pickiness, or at least, adaptive behavior based on what the kid sees. i’m thinking of tom, picking at salads, rejecting meatloaf, etc. he’s made a huge effort to overcome his natural preferences for the good of the order, and i am highly appreciative

      September 18, 2012
  5. Molly McKenna Weldon #

    This post is hilarious! The mother of three boys, I feel your pain. Our policy is you have to at least try ONE bite.

    September 17, 2012
  6. “my first impulse is to dump the food on the head of the person who is crying, or to smash their face into their plate.” Bahaha love it! Pretty much exactly how I feel on a daily basis at dinner time. I get the “yuck!! That looks gross!” quite often as well. Nothing makes me want to rage more. But I keep offering the healthy choices and they are SLOWLY starting to come around. I like to make comments like ” too bad you’re not going to eat your veggies, your sister ate hers so she is going to stronger and faster. I guess you won’t be able
    to run faster than her…” That usually gets the 3 year old thinking and then he will scarf down a few veggies. 😉

    September 17, 2012
    • yes! having my second child really brought the competitive eating angle into my life, in a good way. every morning in my house, you can hear this: “finn, your brother ate all his eggs. guess he’s going to be bigger than you one day.” i realize i only have a few months left of this but it’s working

      September 17, 2012
  7. I don’t typically get tears or gagging (at least, not anymore) but around my house silence is pretty much the equivalent.

    Everybody here is an adult (at least chronologically) so dinner gets eaten one way or another. But. If I fish for compliments when none were freely offered? I’d best be prepared for a damned by faint praise response at best. “It was….OK.” “Not my favorite.”

    You might read those comments and think hey- how skin thinned IS this lady if she gets riled by the merely noncommittal but both those comments came after eating a meal I spent a combination of hours shopping for special ingredients, refining recipes and then specially preparing. All of that, for “eh – It was…OK”.

    Nobody offered to help clean up after, either.

    If I could be assured of a trial by jury of my actual, true peers? There would’ve been one, maybe two less mouths to feed in this world. End topic.

    But Yay! Yay for pesto eating boys!

    September 17, 2012
    • the “meh” response is way worse than the actively negative responses. because at least the latter shows some guts and spirit. the former is just ungrateful and passive aggressive

      September 17, 2012
  8. thevirtualrealityofstaci #

    That is an amazing story, I saw Jessica Seinfeld on Anderson last year she does some amazing things with veggies and picky eaters. I was never a picky eater as a child so I can only sympathize….well except for the pears I refused to eat when I turned 8 and decided I didn’t like the texture and Liver was never counted as something I was picky about my dad just knows when I come to visit liver and onions is not on the menu.

    September 17, 2012
    • yeah i’m really embarrassed but i’m trying two more of her recipes this week. i’m not sure how much of a nutrient boost a half-cup of veggie puree really adds to a meal, but whatever, it makes me feel better, and that’s really what this entire battle is about, i realize that

      September 17, 2012
  9. Looks delicious! I am going to make this for a dinner party this week. Thank you for sharing!

    September 17, 2012
  10. I love fresh pesto on pasta. Your post has me craving it now!

    September 17, 2012
    • me too. i made that batch for the photos this morning and i’m trying not to think of it sitting in my fridge

      September 17, 2012
  11. LOVE this – we are birds of a feather, my friend. It makes me laugh (and cry) because I was raised in a household with junk food aplenty and never HAD to eat anything. I am healthy, a decent weight and there is NO food under the sun (save tripe) that I don’t like. But, in typical American motherhood pride, I semi-force my kids to try veggies, eat their proteins and force down a chia or two. Am I on a road to nowhere?

    September 17, 2012
    • well hearing about a background like yours does make me feel sheepish about all the vegetable anxiety. but i can’t take my chances. what if they grow up into that adult we all know who only eats chicken tenders or only wants ketchup on his burger? my worst f-ing nightmare

      September 17, 2012
    • also i do feel we are in cahoots because i also put my foot down at tripe. not even living in florence changed that. also, sweetbreads. neither sweet, nor bread. i realize it means i am not a true foodie, but sweetbreads make me want to hurl

      September 17, 2012
  12. Courtney #

    I really don’t think that there’s anything more insulting/hurtful as a mom than having your kids reject your food. And, like you, it just makes me really angry. Sounds like this train is headed in just the right direction, though! Yay!

    In Deborah Madison’s Farmer’s Market cookbook, she has a recipe for marjoram pesto that is just the best thing I’ve ever had in my life. You should check it out if you all are pesto people (the cookbook is definitely worth having.)

    September 17, 2012
    • deborah madison is the best. fried fennel with aioli, ridiculous. but i don’t have that particular cookbook, i will check it out!

      September 17, 2012

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