GUILFORD, Conn.—Pierce Pappert of Guilford may be only 4 years old, but he has yet to meet a beet he didn't like. Or a stalk of broccoli, for that matter.
At an age when most kids are stuck on a strict self-imposed diet of macaroni and cheese, pizza or chicken nuggets, Pierce is asking to munch on stuff like kale chips. (Those are fresh kale leaves, sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt, and then roasted in the oven until they're crisp.)
Ask him what his favorite fruit is, and he'll tell you it's strawberries. And then a banana. Or, wait -- blueberries! Blueberries mixed with spinach!
His mother, Shannon Pappert, isn't surprised a bit. It's long been her theory that young children actually like good, wholesome foods if they're prepared well, and that somehow we've let the food industry create the myth that older babies and young toddlers ("boddlers" she calls them, and she's trademarked the name) will only eat high-processed foods that come in containers with cartoon characters on them.
She says she started serving Pierce fresh, natural foods when he was just a baby. "One day, I was feeding him bananas from a baby food jar, and I looked at all the fresh bananas I had in the fruit bowl, and it hit me. Why are these bananas in a jar supposed to be better for him? That's when I started giving him real food that I mashed up."
She didn't think there was anything so revolutionary about what she was doing, until she noticed that other kids weren't being fed those same kinds of foods. On the playgrounds, most small children were being given processed snack foods.
"It surprised me. Parents are so good at researching everything about babies -- the right kind of crib, and car seat, and highchairs, the best sleep positions -- but when it comes to food, once the kid isn't eating baby food anymore, I think parents kind of fall off a cliff," Pappert says. "Maybe we're all just told that kids are picky eaters and won't like the healthy, real foods, so we shouldn't even offer it to them. But why?"
She says she thinks we're doing a huge disservice to children by not introducing their palates to so many tastes and textures early on, and that the large amount of fat and sugar they're given contributes to childhood obesity.
"Why not just give them good food and teach them about it?" she says.
It was when she'd take her son to the playground that she noticed that the other mothers were curious about what Pierce would eat.
"They were amazed," she says. "I'd pull out a little container I'd made up of some canned pumpkin with a drizzle of molasses and some grated-up apple -- something that had taken just a minute to put together -- and they'd watch in surprise because he loved it. People started asking me for recipes, and I'd e-mail them menu ideas."
Pappert, a stay-at-home mom who had formerly sold real estate, decided that this was lots of fun and maybe she'd like to put some of her kid-friendly recipes into a cookbook. Then a friend persuaded her that there were plenty of cookbooks out there, even kid-friendly ones, and that she should think of something more interesting.
That's when she came up with the idea for "Foods in a Flash: Boddler Bites," a flashcard-type kids' board book ($19.95 plus shipping and handling, available on Pappert's website, http://www.boddlerbites.com). The flip book, similar to many fun books that parents take along to keep their children entertained during waiting times, displays a letter of the alphabet on each page, with great foods for each letter. Best of all, there are recipes on the back of each page -- simple, quick recipes that Pappert says are perfect for busy moms.
"I'm not suggesting that parents need to spend hours and hours in the kitchen," she says. "But I do think that often it's easier than most people think to come up with wholesome meals and snacks that actually do our kids good. For instance, it's fine to serve macaroni and cheese, but maybe throw in some butternut squash, too. Put some avocados and onions in the scrambled eggs. Pierce loves that!"
What if you have a genuinely picky eater? This is where the flashcard book comes in handy, Pappert says. She advises taking it along to the grocery store and letting your child pick out vegetables from the pictures, and then discussing how to cook and eat them.
"When they get to participate, they often get more excited about eating the food," she says.
Pappert made a prototype of her flashcard book and took it to R.J. Julia when celebrity chef Rachael Ray was making an appearance a few months ago. To her delight, Ray was thrilled with the book, asked for a copy, and then featured it in the April issue of her magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray, on newsstands now.
The orders are starting to flood in, Pappert says. And some other parenting magazines are expressing interest in featuring the flashcards in their pages as well.
Pappert is delighted. "I don't preach about this," she says, "and I'm definitely not the food police out to change anybody's mind about nutrition. But I just think it's common sense. If you're making sweet potatoes for yourself, make some for your kid. And it's not that your kid has to like every vegetable. But if you find three new vegetables he'll eat that he wouldn't have eaten before, then that's a success."
Information from: New Haven Register, http://www.nhregister.com/