The Great Spinach Rebellion

When I was twelve years old, I dared to launch what I like to call The Great Spinach Rebellion, one of the few times I truly confronted my parents.

My mother had a habit of serving boiled spinach. No butter, salt or seasonings, just a great lump of shriveled greens sitting in a bowl bathed in green liquid. She was a great believer in greens, my mom: spinach, beet greens (equally loathed) or dandelion greens picked from the lawn (I won’t even go there and you’re welcome).

Usually I just choked the spinach down, because my father was a chair, CEO, and director of the Clean Plate Club. We were all members, required to eat all the food on our plates at every meal. It took years to undo the effect of that rule!

One Friday night, Mom served us our usual fish, dictated by the Catholic Church, along with a bowl of spinach. I wasn’t happy with the fish, but ate it out of Catholic guilt.

I didn’t eat my spinach, which teamed with the fish, made the meal totally unappetizing. Dad insisted. I demurred. Dad insisted again, louder. I said no. My brother smirked.

“If you don’t eat that spinach now, you will have it for breakfast, cold. And NO dessert,” he bellowed.

So be it. I could be stubborn, too. “May I be excused, please?”

“You may go to your room.”

 I got up from the table without waiting for another comment, and I could hear him making ‘wasting perfectly good food comments’ all the way up to my room. At least he didn’t bring up the starving children in Africa.

There on the table for breakfast the next morning sat the bowl, now containing ice cold spinach, sitting like a lump of accusation.  I regarded it with loathing while everyone else ate pancakes my father had made. Deliberately. I stayed resolved and the spinach remained untouched. After breakfast, Dad told me, “You will have it for lunch. Go to your room.”

Fortunately, I didn’t feel particularly hungry at that point but I did overheard my mother pleading with my father to forget the spinach. Something about my being a growing girl and needing food. My father was intransigent.

Cold spinach for lunch. Same reaction. Only this time I smiled, because it occurred to me that I could be as stubborn as my dad. When he asked why I was smiling, which ticked his temper up another notch, I just asked to be excused.

By midafternoon, my stomach had started to rumble and Mom was getting frantic. I could hear her begging my Dad to let her give me something to eat. When I came into the kitchen sometime later, Mom said, “I left the spinach out, so it’s not cold. If you only eat one bite, I’ll tell him you ate it … please?”

She looked so distressed, I decided I could manage one bite, just for her. I sat down, picked up the smallest amount I could and still have it qualify as a bite, and popped it in my mouth.

Mom smiled and took the bowl away. “Would you like a cheese dream?” she asked. That’s a toasted cheese sandwich in our family, in case you’re wondering.

I nodded, got up from the table and casually walked to the downstairs bathroom. Where I closed the door, spit the spinach into the toilet, and flushed.

I think we’d managed a compromise, but Mom hardly ever served spinach after that, and never on a Friday.



32 thoughts on “The Great Spinach Rebellion”

  1. That sounds so familiar – but well done you!
    My dad loved spinach served with poached eggs on top. It never came up as a ‘family’ meal, since we all ate at different times in the week, work and school times being totally uncoordinated (and commuting). So I don’t remember spinach being a problem for me, although pletny of other things were… mushrooms, onions, fat on meat, … What I left on the side was generally gobbled up by my brothers (my mum whisked the aft onto hers).
    But poached eggs…. I absolutely refused to eat poached eggs. It’s only the last five years I discovered that you can actually cook poached eggs so they are set, and even hard. My dad had his runny. So runny the whites were still clear. Come to think of it he liked his boiled eggs that way, but he had been taught to cook the rest of the family’s properly (He was in charge of Sunday breakfast eggs). But anyway, it wasnt until recently I realised that poached eggs could actually be edible. And I have lovely recipes for spinach in Indian meals 🙂

    1. I do love poached eggs but seldom take the time to make them. But never runny with unset whites! Because of the clean plate club, there isn’t much I won’t eat – cilantro is one thing I have to avoid, though. It makes me nauseated. I think the reaction is genetic!

  2. A great story, Noelle. We never made an issue about food. In fact one rule was no drama at the dining room table. It was a safe zone for the family and a place to eat and share the days activities.

      1. Oh good. I remember when I was a kid I had to eat my broccoli I hid it under a potato skin and got away with it until the dishes were done. “Very clever ” was the evaluation. “Don’t do it again,” was the admonition.

  3. I wasn’t very good with vegetables when I was child (I liked lettuce, tomatoes. and salads in general, and green beans, but not much else, but I did like spinach). Your mother would have a made a good negotiator, for sure. And I understand your taking a stand. I hope you’re reconciled to spinach. After years of dieting, I am fond of most vegetables by now (although I’ve never liked celery and don’t care for cucumber much). Happy new year, Noelle!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Olga. I love all vegetables – and did even as a child, except for spinach. I have a son and son-in-law who both don’t like celery and my daughter has avoided raw tomatoes for a long time. Go figure. I hope you new year is aprosperous and healthy one.

    1. Thanks, Priscilla. There was a time when I avoided Brussels spouts but would eat them if on the plate. Now we grill them or serve them with sour cream (how I got my kids to eat them!)

  4. petespringerauthor

    Having had my fair share of Catholic guilt growing up, I could totally empathize with you, Noelle. I also felt for your mom because she was in a tricky situation. She came up with a solution that left both you and your dad not having to declare the other the victor. I’m glad you added the part of spinach being rarely served after that point, because I wondered about that.

    I learned to choke down disgusting foods with a lot of milk.

    1. Thanks, Pete. I never thought of using milk as a mitigator! But the result of all the must-eat veggies was that I now eat practically all of them and enjoy them. Except for cilantro, which makes me nauseated. I heard it was genetic!

  5. What an entertaining story, Noelle (although I’m sure it felt far from entertaining at the time), LOL. Spinach and beets are probably the only two veggies I wouldn’t eat as a kid. I loathed spinach. My parents never insisted because I ate every other vegetable they set in front of me. Beef was another story, but since I ate veggies they never made a fuss I wouldn’t eat steak. 🙂

    1. You wouldn’t ever turn down steak! Are you a vegetarian? I do eat spinach now and I adore beets. But we do share the loathing of spinach as a child.

      1. LOL! I’m not vegetarian, but I don’t do red meat. I’ll eat chicken and turkey (white meat only and boneless), and I eat all kinds of seafood and veggies, but beef and I are NOT friends. And steak? Oh, that’s the worst! 😆

  6. I wouldn’t have dared to leave anything on my plate, Noelle, too afraid of my father. So I am in awe. Thank goodness spinach was never on the menu, though. Looking through the comments it seemed some enjoyed this veg. It would be lovely if anyone could suggest a recipe – husband bought some of the frozen variety by mistake (he shopped when forgetting his reading glasses – we had some odd meals that week) But I still have the spinach!! I take it out of the freezer – think “No”, and put it back.😊

    1. We don’t use frozen spinach much, but what I would recommend is thawing it and draining it well – I usually wring it out with a paper towel because it has SO much water. Then you can saute it with onions and mushrooms and whatever spices you like!

  7. LOL. What a great story, Noelle. My family was also a member of the finish-everything-on-your-plate club. Lima beans were my downfall. Oh my they were dry and mealy and horrible. Thank goodness for compassionate moms. It seems you can laugh about the experience now. One question… do you still dislike spinach?

  8. Wow – what a story, Noelle. Spinach is the worst (although I like a spinach salad now). My mother hated spinach, going back to the days when her mother made her eat it. So we were off the hook with that. But milk, oh how I hated milk. And my mother LOVED milk. There were many a days I snuck into the bathroom and poured it down the sink.

    1. I was not a HUGE fan of milk but we got a glass with each meal and were expected to down it. Water was only for picnics or lemonade. I don’t drink milk now but do drink a lot of water! And I eat spinach now, in salads or sauteed with mushrooms and onions, or in casseroles and frittatas.

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