'If It Tastes Good They'll Eat It,' Says Vegetarian Cook

Ready to abandon Hamburger Heaven for a Vegetable Valhallah? But your offspring flatly refuse to give up their Happy Meals? Don't despair, says New England baker Ken Haedrich, author of "Feeding the Healthy Vegetarian Family" (Bantam Doubleday Dell, $15.95) coming out in May.

"Of all my books, this one is the most natural extension of my family," says Mr. Haedrich. His whole family is vegetarian so "the book grew out of my day-to-day cooking."

When asked how his book is different from the bumper crop of veggie cookbooks lining bookstore shelves, the tall, bearded chef laughs and underscores the last word in the title with his finger: family. While he says that vegetarian cooking has become much more sophisticated and less heavy-handed since the tofu and brown rice days of the '70s, some of today's books are "rather precious.... They're not grounded in the day-to-day feeding of a family. I can honestly say with all these recipes, they've passed the kids test."

Haedrich became a vegetarian when he worked as a cook for a group home for physically abused children in New Hampshire that espoused a vegetarian diet as part of its curriculum.

His four children are all lifelong vegetarians, he says, so he's "never had the challenge of trying to switch from one sort of diet to another." But after five years cooking for children at the New Hampshire school, he's had his share of kids who weren't going to touch that "rabbit food," only to discover that bunny chow doesn't taste so bad, after all.

Haedrich advises going slowly and starting off with meals like pasta and rice pilafs that are familiar and easy to do. Brown rice cooked in vegetable broth with some tamari or soy sauce shaken over, for example, is a favorite with his kids.

But, he cautions, it can get tricky weaning your family from meat. If your children just have to have meatballs with their spaghetti, don't force it. "Imposing any kind of rigidity on your kids can backfire on you," he says. "Your relationship with your child is more important than any diet. If you have to cook some meat just for them, go right ahead."

Another key, he says, is not to hand out a list of ingredients with the menu. "You don't always tell them right away what's in it. Let them eat it and decide for themselves," he says. "Honesty is important. Full disclosure is another thing."

Ultimately, he says, the recipe for success is simple: "If it tastes good, they'll eat it."

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