The Great Spinach Lasagna Mutiny

Generations, Fayette Woman, December 2009

Fayette Woman, December 2009

June 1, 2009. With dismay, I survey the wreckage. The kitchen is in its usual messy state after I’ve cooked a big meal; tonight, there is a pot with sauce dripped down its sides on the stove, shredded mozzarella and spices littering the countertops, and food-coated utensils randomly scattered around. Nothing new there.

Our dining table tells a different story this evening, though: full plates of food at my children’s seats (and empty ones where my husband and I sit). Dried-up garlic bread, cold and desiccated after being in the bread basket for two hours. A splatter of sauce and cheese on the floor, evidence of a plate being knocked down during my daughter’s anguished fit. Bunched-up napkins with unspeakable remains of dinner inside them. It looks like a battlefield, and it is: my husband and I have just survived The Great Spinach Lasagna Mutiny.

Now, just about every parent I’ve talked to has a been-there, done-that story about trying to get their kids to eat veggies. There are theories, philosophies, even entire schools of thought, elaborated in parenting handbooks and reasoned through in ubiquitous magazine articles.

I’ve tried them all on my nine-year-old, Anika, and my six-year old, Ethan. Everything—from the laissez-faire “Just keep giving them veggies; even if they refuse to touch them now, they’ll eventually try them some day,” to the fascist “Don’t let them up from the table until their veggies are eaten,” and whatever else you can think of in between. Making smiley faces out of vegetables. (Anika and Ethan’s response: We don’t care if it’s supposed to be cute, we’re still not eating it.) Sneaking pureed vegetables into random foods. (“What the heck are you putting into the spaghetti sauce?” protested the biggest kid of the house, my husband, thereby giving away the whole “sneaky” enterprise.) And so days, months and years have passed by, with nary a veg crossing the lips of my children.

Needless to say, my kids’ insistence has made it difficult to serve anything with vegetables inside. Casseroles of pretty much any variety are unequivocally unwelcome. Even that old standard, chicken pot pie, is met with resistance. “Mom, what’s this green thing? Is that a PEA? How can I eat this if there are peas in it?!”

Their never-ending complaints have led me to what I can only describe as “Compromise Cooking”: for every meal I make, there is both a grown-up version and a kids’ vegetable-free version. Stir fry, hold the vegetables. Cookout on the grill, hold the veget

ables. (Ever hear this one? “But mom, we do have vegetables. Potato chips are vegetables!”)

Anyway, that June afternoon, as I assembled the ingredients for dinner, I thought ahead to the spinach lasagna I was about to make and how delicious it would be. Sautee the spinach with some butter and garlic, I recited to myself. Mix it with ricotta and cream cheese. That layer was the secret to the rest of the lasagna recipe, and the results were always fantastic.

Then, as I went to pull out the second casserole pan for the kids’ spinach-free version, something in me rebelled. I don’t know if it was my history of complete failures on the veggie front, or wounded pride over Anika’s and Ethan’s refusal to appreciate my best recipe, but I had a revelation. If they were hungry, and didn’t have a “kids’ version” option, they might taste the meal in front of them. And if I could get the kids to just eat a few bites, they would love it. And I would have a veritable vegetable breakthrough—with spinach, no less.

Two hours later, Anika and Ethan tramped into the house, tired from playing outside and ravenous. “What’s for dinner?” they asked. “It smells great!”

Innocuous entree or justification for a food fight?

“Lasagna,” I replied carefully, and sent them to set the table. I was waiting for the right moment to elaborate on the green, folate-rich details of dinner.

It didn’t go very well. Once the kids discovered that a.) there was a veg in their dinner, and b.) it was spinach, and c.) there was nothing they could do to successfully remove every last nasty dark green spinach particle from their plates, they were in an uproar.

And when they learned that no, they couldn’t eat just garlic bread, and no, my husband and I were not going to allow them to have peanut butter sandwiches instead, mutiny and chaos ensued. There was shouting (Ethan’s), tears (Anika’s), a plate knocked to the floor (Anika’s), and threats to leave our family and move in with the neighbors (Ethan’s).

Luckily, the tears and shouting subsided, the plate didn’t break (it was Tupperware), and the kids did eventually get a snack of crackers and cheese before bed. (Ethan, however, is still waging an active campaign to move to our neighbors’ house, where the food is better and they have more Wii games.) I am back to Compromise Cooking, for the time being.

But then again, there’s this really great eggplant parmesan recipe I’ve been wanting to make.

Set the table, kids. No, tonight we’re using the Tupperware plates.