Start with the Broccoli
Inspiration for life from a toddler’s meal plan
It is a truth universally acknowledged that becoming a grandparent is by far the easiest way to learn all the things you did completely wrong as a parent.
I have watched with shock and delight the path my granddaughter has taken to become a consumer of Actual Foods. Her path bears absolutely no resemblance to the one we were taught some thirty-seven years ago. Then, the strategy for transitioning a baby from breast milk or formula to solid foods was to gradually add some rice cereal flakes to their beloved beverage to create a lovely gruel. Add a splash of apple juice for a more enticing brew. Move on to pureed pears or apricots. Once Baby was happily slurping those foods off her nylon-coated spoon, we could try pureed sweet potatoes, then yogurt and handfuls of dry Cheerios scattered across the tray of the highchair.
The day we offered anything in the Green Food Group was rarely a pleasant day. The grimaces, the shudders, the spitting and outraged flinging of liquified green beans certainly made for hilarious home movies but did little to broaden Baby’s nutritional landscape. And really: why should we have expected enthusiasm for tart or bitter or savory when we’d carpet-bombed those developing taste buds with sweet, sweet, and more sweet?
The solution is obvious. Start with the broccoli.
I had three chances to come up with this Obvious Solution and never did. But my Firstborn got it in one with his first child. Mind you, the pureed broccoli at six months still got us a funny video of grimace and shudder, but it was one of surprise and novelty — broccoli is quite different to breast milk, after all — and not an expression of disgust and fury. Almost two now, she has been successfully exposed to all the classic Allergy Foods and she happily scarfs down steamed green beans sprinkled with nutritional yeast, black beans with cumin and garlic, roast chicken dipped in her favorite tzatziki sauce. (My daughter-in-law has remarked on occasion that the toddler’s garlic breath could easily remove paint.) Snacks are berries, diced kiwi, and yes: fistfuls of Cheerios. She has never had ice cream, never had a cookie or chocolate or candy of any sort. She isn’t deprived. She doesn’t miss them because she doesn’t even know about them.
I was marveling at the brilliance of this strategy and thinking it was similar to the Nicolas Chamfort advice:
“Swallow a toad in the morning and you will encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day.”
It’s a great line — so great that it was tweaked (the toad became a frog) and misattributed to Mark Twain and then became a metaphor for time management (“Eat That Frog!”) and about doing your biggest, possibly most unpleasant task first so it isn’t hanging over you all day.
But I soon realized that I was doing broccoli a grave injustice. Broccoli isn’t a frog or a toad and introducing it as a First Food isn’t a means to get the Icky Stuff out of the way early on. It’s creating a path where broccoli is recognized and honored as the Good Stuff and the Cap’n Crunch doesn’t enter into the equation at all.
The better comparison is the second of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits:
“Begin with the end in mind.”
“Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began…”
It’s the motivating principle for so many of us every New Year’s Day when we rise early and eat our broccoli and do a vigorous walk and maybe not drink and not smoke. When we open our crisp new journal and write down three things for which we are grateful and fire up a meditation app and sit mindfully for ten minutes. When we set aside time to read a book, talk with a partner, play with a child.
We have an “end” in mind. We can clearly see our Future Self: fitter, healthier, smarter, with enviable personal relationships and a deep, spiritual connection to the universe. We begin the year as we absolutely mean to go on. And for a week or maybe a month or two, we revel in our New Path, the one that will lead inexorably to a New Us.
But. The second part of Spurgeon’s advice is always the kicker: “go on as you began.” Too soon we hear the siren song of the doughnuts and the sofa and Hulu and all the things we’d intended to forsake. They all still live in our house. They haven’t forsaken us. They’ve been waiting for us. Ready to call us back to the easier, sweeter road. And one day of doughnuts and Hulu isn’t such a bad thing, is it?
Maybe not. But James Clear is quick to remind us that
“Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.”
So maybe we should just give up? Try again next January?
Here’s the thing to remember: it isn’t just a Year that starts anew. Every day is a chance to begin again. To remember your Future Self, still out there, counting on you. To begin as you mean to continue. Start this day — this Tuesday, this Arbor Day, whatever day is at hand — and eschew the two hours of doom-scrolling on your phone. Toss any remaining doughnuts and refuse to replace them. Go for that walk. Revisit that meditation app. Eat some broccoli.
Then do it again tomorrow.
Will my granddaughter live her entire life sugar-free, loving every vegetable she encounters? I don’t know, but she’s been given a good beginning. I like her chances.