If you are in charge of feeding someone who will only eat pizza, or only wants food that is the color white, or refuses anything but those little globes of bagel dough stuffed with cream cheese from Starbucks, the answer is not to badger, cajole, or try to sneak pureed spinach under her hot dog.
Bring her to a farmers’ market, fruit stand, or the produce section of a good grocery store. Tell her to choose three unfamiliar things (or five, or seven), anything she wants. She doesn’t have to eat them, just select them at whim, lift them with her hands and drop them into a bag. If she loves fruit but won’t touch vegetables, have her choose vegetables. (But don’t be Cruella Deville about this. Ask her to choose vegetables and then whatever fruit she wants, too).
Save enough money before you go that you’ll be able to buy whatever she chooses without balking at prices. You want the mood to be one of extravagance, of plenty. Save, too, your habit of favoring what’s local. For now, you want her dazzled by the cornucopia of what’s available, to include the dragonfruits and jicamas and who knows what other wonderful things. (If you choose a farmers’ market, of course, you avoid this dilemma, and maybe there are also local popsicles and local music there to tip the scales.)
Bring home your haul. Pull a chair up to the kitchen counter for him to stand on. Say he chose avocados. Make sure they’re nice and ripe. Slice one in half, remove the seed and hand over half to him. Show him how to slide his thumb between the skin and flesh so it separates like a sheet from a bed. Give him a butter knife and show him how to chop. If he’s like my four-year-old, he will be elated to be entrusted with a knife. Show him how to keep his fingers out of the way, with one hand on top of the other for leverage. Have him pinch over some coarse salt, squeeze over some lime, and mash it all with a fork into a big bowl with plenty of room for zealous mashing. Maybe scoop in some full-fat Greek yogurt. Or sour cream. Or ranch dressing. Or (leaving out the lime juice) sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. Or ketchup. (Don’t be a snob.)
His first taste might be the breakthrough you’ve been hoping for. If not, eat the whole bowl yourself, in front of him, with relish. (Follow the same procedure tomorrow, and the outcome might be different.)
Maybe she chose a cauliflower (all the better the spectacular Romanesco that looks like Kryptonite, or a purple cumulus cloud), or sweet potatoes (or any kind of potatoes), or bell peppers, or carrots, or a head of broccoli. The treatment here will be the same: you’ll roast it on a sheet pan, the same one you use for cookies. This time, you do any chopping. Ask her to break the broccoli or cauliflower into florets with her hands. Marvel aloud at how strong she is. Hand her a bottle of olive oil (preferably one you let her choose herself at the store) and ask her to pour it all over the vegetables on the sheet pan. Don’t worry if more oil escapes the bottle than you would have poured. It’ll be delicious. She’ll be ecstatic to be manning the bottle. Ask her to pinch over some salt, and grind over some pepper, and show her how to toss it all together with her hands. Then roast at around 400-425, until a fork glides right through and the edges are a little black. (Or maybe not quite. It’s up to you.)
You could add curry powder, or smoked paprika, or five spice powder, or turmeric, or fresh chopped garlic if you think she might enjoy adding and/or eating these. Remember that the immediate goal here is not to get her eating this food, but to get her enjoying the process of choosing and preparing it. If there’s joy in the second part, the first will follow.