This post is the second in our series on food and literature.
Convincing children to eat decent diets isn’t always an organic bowl of cherries. If yours balk at anything other than Cheese Puffs and Fruit Loops, you might turn to the world of literature for help.
In Lauren Child’s I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, Lola, a very fussy eater, isn’t about to eat what’s on her plate. Carrots, says Lola, turning up her nose, are for rabbits, and peas are too small and too green.
There follows a long list of things that Lola is not fond of eating, ending with the particularly hated tomato. Creative big brother Charlie then reinvents carrots as orange twiglets from Jupiter, peas as green droplets from Greenland (they fall from the sky), mashed potatoes as cloud fluff from the top of Mount Fuji, and fish sticks as ocean nibbles. (Mermaids eat them!)
Lola, tickled, is soon eating everything, even – “Pass me the moonsquirters” – tomatoes.
In Russell Hoban’s now classic Bread and Jam for Frances, Frances – a little badger – will eat nothing but bread and jam. At breakfast, she rejects her soft-boiled egg; at lunch, she trades away her chicken salad sandwich; at dinner, she refuses her veal cutlet and string beans – all for bread and jam. Her parents decide to play along, and soon Frances is having nothing but bread and jam, three meals a day – until eventually she discovers that she’s getting awfully sick of jam. Frances’s transition to a varied diet is helped along by her friend Albert.
“I have a cream-cheese-cucumber-and-tomato sandwich on rye bread,’ said Albert. “And a pickle to go with it. And a hard-boiled egg and a little cardboard shaker of salt to go with that. And a thermos bottle of milk. And a bunch of grapes and a tangerine. And a cup custard and a spoon to eat it with. What do you have?”
Frances opened her lunch. “Bread and jam,” she said.
In Michael Sharmat’s tongue-in-cheek Gregory the Terrible Eater, Gregory, a little goat–in lieu of respectable goat meals of tin cans, cardboard, and cast-off clothing–wants fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish, bread, and butter.
“It’s what I like,” said Gregory.
“It’s revolting,” said Father Goat.
Dismayed, Gregory’s parents take him to the doctor, who has treated picky eaters before. He suggests introducing new foods slowly–perhaps one a day until Gregory learns to eat properly.
Mother Goat starts out with spaghetti and a shoelace in tomato sauce; then string beans with a chopped-up rubber heel. Soon Gregory, taken with his new regime, is gorging on everything in sight–including eight flat tires and a broken barber pole from the local dump. After recovering from a stomachache brought on by too much junk food, Gregory has learned food sense.
“What would you like for breakfast today, Gregory,” asked Father Goat.
“Scrambled eggs and two pieces of waxed paper and a glass of orange juice,” said Gregory.
To the Goat family, that sounds just right.
In David LaRochelle’s How Martha Saved Her Parents From Green Beans, Martha’s family has green beans for dinner every Tuesday night and Martha hates green beans. Green beans, says Martha, are very bad. Nobody knows just how bad, however, until a gang of wicked beans stalks into town, decked out in black hats and sporting wicked curly mustaches. The beans terrorize everyone in sight, and finish up by kidnapping Martha’s parents, leaving an ominous note behind. (We have your parents. The Beans.)
Martha and her dog (who has an amazingly expressive pair of eyeballs) go to the rescue and find her parents tied to a rock, surrounded by hundreds of malevolent green beans (laughing and dancing and singing off-key).
“Let my parents go…or I will eat you!” says Martha. And – pinching her nose – that’s just what she does.
The moral of the story, however, is not that Martha learns to love green beans. Instead, her parents lighten up and start serving other healthy choices like broccoli, corn on the cob, and leafy salads – none of which, according to Martha, are bad.
For slightly older readers, Daniel Pinkwater’s hysterical Fat Men From Space features overweight alien invaders in knit ties who have come to devour all the junk food on earth, with a plan to enslave the populace and force them to make more and more. Luckily young William, forewarned of the invaders’ intentions by picking up radio transmissions through a filling in his tooth, foils the plot – but once the aliens are gone, there’s nothing left to eat on the planet but healthy meals of vegetables, milk, and whole-grain breads.
Serve up all of the above with a plate of orange twiglets from Jupiter.