With characters like Cayenne Carrot, Savannah Spinach, and Trevor Tomato, it’s hard not to fall in love with Devin Alexander’s delicious new book for kids, The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables. But making all foods enjoyable is nothing new to Devin, a celebrity chef and New York Times bestselling author. We spoke with Devin about her book, her adorable daughter, Cayenne, and why life is something to savor right now.
Can I just say how much I love your book, The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables? It’s educational and so entertaining for both kids and parents.
Many, many years ago, prior to my daughter, I was helping families help get through their kids’ food issues. I was trying to make the kitchen fun, which is always what my brand is about. I realized that made kids eat the foods wasn’t us telling them to or playing games (although that does help). What it really was to get them to choose the foods on their own. So when I was looking for a book like this, I must have seen 30 books like, “Little Johnny doesn’t like his vegetables,” but why do we want to put that message out there?
I’m so much about manifesting what we want and living your dreams, so I dream that moms stop labeling their kids “picky” because if your child has an issue, you’re going to look for the solution. And with eating, somehow instead of finding the best, we just label our kids. I mean, I get it. Dentists would probably freak out if they saw the terrible job I sometimes do with my daughter’s teeth, because I don’t enjoy it, I don’t know how to do it, and it took finding a Super Dentist toothbrush that sings to her to actually embrace doing her teeth. I just want to be a source of fun for people and this book is a step in that direction.
I totally get it. If you tell your child, “Oh, I know broccoli doesn’t taste good, but eat it anyway,” what kind of message are you sending?
I talk about this a lot. We as a society put ice cream, cake, and fried chicken in our kids’ play kitchens, which is fine, but we also often don’t put the vegetables in. We create all this play, take them out for ice cream, and that’s fun. With my daughter, we literally had mommy/daughter tangerines at the beach and watch the sunset. People mistake that for not having fun with her, and I’m like, “No, that is fun.” If you watch any of my videos on fitmomfitkids_, you’ll see her singing, “Give me the kiwi!” She’s not deprived; it’s not a diet at all. It’s a way of life.
And like all kids, she goes through phases. She’ll love spinach, and then she’ll hate spinach. And for me, this is my fun, like, how do I outsmart her? [laughs] She gagged on avocados when she was a baby, and I had to get an occupational therapist to get her through it. At the time, the only thing she could eat was applesauce. It was the occupational therapist who pointed out to me, “Let her play in her food no matter what.” She then started to eat it but stopped, but she got really into dinosaurs, so I started making dinocado toast. I took a dinosaur cookie cutter, made the avocado toast, she ate the dinocado toast, I ate the scraps, and everyone was happy!
But wouldn’t you say that it’s all about the memory?
Absolutely. I play this game with my daughter called “Roll the Radishes.” We used to eat watermelon radish fries but they’re a little bitter for kids if you’re just eating them straight. But sometimes I shave them and put a little extra texture in a salad. She boycotted them and I knew that she liked the fries so I was like, “Let’s roll the radishes and see if you can catch them!” And I would literally roll them across the counter and it was like playing air hockey. The next thing I knew, she was biting into them.
And then I play this other game: CBG (Celery Brussels Sprouts Golf). You take a celery stalk and a Brussels Sprout and a mini golf hole and you have your 2-year-old push it. One and two-year-olds will put everything into their mouths, so they’ll put the golf club in their mouth, which just happens to be celery and they eat it for the first time. It wasn’t like I was thinking, “I’m going to get her to eat celery.” It was more like, “Let’s go play!”
How was the actual process of writing the book?
It was fun. It’s a rhyming book and I had to do research on what the vegetables did for you. And in all books, you need disclaimers so I put a fun fact that some of the vegetables are fruit but they’re not. In 1978, who knew, Congress deemed tomatoes and avocados vegetables.
Are you serious? Aren’t they just fruit?
Because people utilize them more often as a vegetable than a fruit, Congress decided to make it both. But those are some fun facts for the super parents reading the book.
So you’re not into sneaking veggies into a meal, then? You want kids to know if they’re eating a carrot or a zucchini.
No. I’ll make a Monster Smoothie with spinach and my daughter will put handfuls of spinach in it. Or like I’ll make butternut squash fries with cinnamon, salt, and olive oil for my daughter.
Let’s talk about your girl, Cayenne.
Ahh, the love of my life. She’s 5 now.
Going on —
- [laughs] Spicy as you can imagine.
You’ve been very open about your adoption journey. You’ve had her since she was 3-days-old.
I got so lucky. I actually manifested her, which is the craziest thing. I wanted a baby, I had worked too much, I was a self-deemed workaholic, and I was getting older. Unfortunately, I was in a car accident and had a traumatic brain injury. I was told that I would never work again, but they were wrong. During that time, I realized that I had worked too much and had missed out on being a mom.
So I started doing research on how to foster a child. I had done a lot of volunteering in that space and so I really wanted to find out how to mitigate my odds to take a child who really needed someone. I sped through the process and created a wait list to get into the classes faster. I do a vision board party with girlfriends every year and I found a picture of this little chef baby sitting in a bowl and I was like, “This is my baby.” I started the process in June 2017 and everyone knows that this process takes forever. She was in my arms in November that year. I had also put on the vision board, “Baby for Christmas” and I knew that I would have her for Christmas. I got the call the day before Thanksgiving; I was certified but not on the list right and one of the social workers who was a friend of a friend called me and said, “If you can be at the hospital in the next couple of hours, we have a baby.” It was a magical thing, and as it turns out, she looks just like the baby I had on my vision board. I recreated the shot later on and people thought it was the same baby.
In a weird way, I’m so glad I had the accident because as much as it slowed my career, I was always going to be one of those people who was never going to be fulfilled if I wasn’t a mom. I’ve said this before, but she’s cuter, more cuddly, and way more fun than most of the guys on Match.com. She really does feel like the love of my life. She loves cooking and she’s like a little master chef. At the age of 2, she was telling me I didn’t put enough lemon on her salmon.
Devin, what are you planning moving forward?
I’m in a bit of a transition period right now, because I don’t want to miss out on these years with her. I love doing videos with my daughter, and I’m also thinking about a bicoastal life now to be with family during their later years. I’m very excited about the book, the great response it’s gotten, and all the possibilities. It’s truly been a very fulfilling time.