Foodie Friday: Quitting the Recipe Quest for My Picky Eaters

Fresh carrots

Photo Credit: Distant Hill Gardens

My friend Karl once told me that there’s a good reason that children develop pickiness in their food choices around age two. Around that age, hunter-gatherer kids would start to stray farther from their mothers. Their dislike of unfamiliar (and I assume a bunch of familiar) foods protected them from sampling poisonous leaves and berries when mom wasn’t looking.

As I discovered with breastfeeding, “natural” doesn’t mean “easy.” A picky kid, normal though she may be, is a pain to deal with. It seems ridiculous that in a time where nearly any food is available to us at any time of year, we struggle to get our kids to eat a well-rounded diet.

I have egg on my face from my bragging about what great and varied eaters my girls were during the early stages of solid food.

J is a little picky. She hates anything in sauce… unless it’s pasta in red sauce, dryish macaroni and cheese, or ranch dressing. The toddler who inhaled yogurt, bananas, fish and curry has turned into a school-age lover of pizza, sandwiches and mac and cheese. She won’t sit near anyone eating yogurt. She’s recently decided that all cheese is “slimy” unless it’s grated, so I’ve had to start leaving cheese out of her sack lunch sandwiches. She’ll eat most kinds of fruit and raw vegetables, although she’s anti-pear and anti-banana. She likes chicken fine and loves fish. She loves bready things of all sorts: sliced bread, rolls, muffins, tortillas, pancakes, waffles. We stick with whole-grain at our house.

M is much pickier. Like Sissy, she hates sauce textures, although she will eat applesauce and has recently branched out to marinara. She even allowed herself a taste of yogurt the other day! We’ve come a long way from dealing with her texture aversion in feeding therapy. She’ll eat several kinds of raw vegetables: broccoli (stems only), spinach, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, jicama. She’ll also eat boiled or canned corn.

She loves apples.

"I love my mom because she always lets me eat apples when I want to eat apples."

Seriously, the kid loves apples. My Mothers’ Day gift was a declaration of love for me based on the fact that I “always [let her] eat apples when [she wants] to eat apples.”

Other fruit? Don’t bother, unless it’s a purple seedless grape. Green grapes are a no-go in the under-30 set at our house.

Protein is easier. Like J, M will eat chicken, pork, fish and eggs. And breads… she loves her bread. The kid would live on pancakes, apple slices and breakfast sausage if I let her, occasionally eating a croissant for dessert.

These children have inherited my sweet tooth, but that’s a tale for another day.

For years, I’ve sought out recipes that will tempt my children’s palates. When M was a toddler, I came to terms with her odd rhythm of living on milk for a couple of days, only toying with her food at mealtimes. She’d then eat a single gigantic meal before returning to 2 days of a liquid diet. I’ve learned to accept that the things that my kids will eat taste bland and boring to me. I’ve learned to focus on nutritional balance over variety. And I’ve learned that I’d rather spend time talking to my kids about their observations of the world than arguing over food.

In recent months, I had a flash of insight. If my kids prefer their fruits and vegetables raw and separate, why do I seek out vegetable recipes? My love for rich combinations of flavours and textures doesn’t mean that different concoctions and preparations will tempt my children. They can have their veggies raw. At least they’re eating them.

Now, instead of coaxing my kids to try the latest and greatest vegetable solution I’ve come up with, I lay out a raw vegetable or collection of veggies at meal time. The girls can assemble their own salads or keep their carrots from touching their jicama if it’s that kind of day. J can have her ranch while M and I forgo dressing.

Do they like what I like? Not yet. Are they getting their fibre and vitamins? Yes. Are they learning to make good food choices? Yes. Would I rather we could all enjoy Cajun okra or curried cauliflower together? Absolutely.

What’s your children’s take on fruits and vegetables? Do they eat them cooked? Raw? Not at all?

Cooking for a Crowd: Easy Meals for Feeding Multiples

Every parent with more than one child has experienced the frustration of making sure things are fair and equal, and this pressure can be especially amplified at mealtime. From the number of meatballs on top of spaghetti to the closeness of the peas to the chicken breast, nobody notices minute differences between dinner plate quite like kids. And of course, parents of multiples will probably feel the mealtime-fairness pressure more than anyone!

Cooking can be overwhelming in itself, but cooking for kids can be even more of a challenge. The following make great go-to meals for parents of multiples, no matter what size brood you’re feeding. Not only do they all allow everyone to easily get his or her fair share at dinner time, but they’re perfect for making in big batches when you’ve got multiple hungry mouths to feed! Try out the following lunch and dinner ideas to eliminate one less stress at the dinner table.

Melts

Making individual sandwiches, subs or pita pockets for all of your multiples can be repetitive and time consuming. Instead of customizing personalized cold cuts, try melts instead. Simply place pitas, English muffins or slices of bread on a baking sheet, top with slices of tuna salad, chicken salad or turkey and stick a slice of cheese on everything. Stick the tray in the oven for a few minutes and you’ll have a tray full of open faced melts ready for everyone at the same time.

Assembly Lines

Avoid the argument of “she got more than I did” by having your kids serve themselves instead of having you divvy up portions. Create an assembly line on your kitchen counter and have everyone build his or her own plates. This method works well for meals like tacos and baked potatoes—plus, it will reduce cleanup for you.

Sliceable Options

One of the easiest ways to feed a large group at once is to choose meals that can be easily sliced and diced. French bread pizzas and flatbreads are easy dinners that can be stuck in the oven and cut into a large number of strips or slices at mealtime. Quesadillas are another good option; make a few big ones and then simply cut them into as many triangles as you need.

One-Pot Meals

When it comes to feeding a crowd, one-pot meals are a parent’s best friend. There are hundreds of dishes that can be cooked up in one big, mess-free pot, and it’s incredibly easy to double, triple or even quadruple these types of recipes—just get yourself a bigger pot! Look for pasta recipes, easy chili recipes and comforting casserole bakes; they’re perfect for feeding big families.

This list is a good starting point for moms looking to cook easy meals for their kids, but it certainly isn’t exhaustive! What are your favorite meals for feeding your multiples?

 

This is a guest post by Meredith K. on behalf of ReadySetEat. To explore easy recipes for dinner, visit www.readyseteat.com.

The Soda Culture

The first graders at my daughters’ school took a field trip to see Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. I’m all for field trips. If this one got kids excited about Dr. Seuss and reading, so much the better.

There was one thing about the field trip announcement that bothered me, though. The movie snack pack would include popcorn, soda and a treat.

This note describes a school field trip to see The Lorax.

Am I alone in the universe in thinking that giving 5- to 7-year-old children soda to drink crosses a line? The popcorn, and even the candy, don’t bother me much. We eat both these things at home, in moderation. Adding soda to that, though, seemed like too much. All the more astonishing to me was that my girls weren’t even offered water, even though I’d jotted a note on both their permission slips requesting water for them. At lunch, too, they told me that they were only offered sodas.

J and M’s first exposure to sugary sodas was soon after we moved to El Paso. They were given it at daycare. They then stopped going to daycare, and fast. Once they’d had a taste, I didn’t think that forbidding sugary drinks would accomplish the goal of good decision-making. Instead, we struck a deal. When I drank soda, they could drink soda. This has been keeping us all honest. We limit ourselves to a sweet drink, other than juice or milk, once a month, just as we limit chocolate and other candy to once or twice a week.

Obviously, kids drinking soda is part of the culture here, but is it any surprise that we have an obesity problem? How can I encourage the kids to choose healthy options when their peers often don’t?

How do you go about bucking trends or local culture when you want your kids to choose differently?

Sadia, her husband, and their twin 5-year-old daughters, M and J, are still learning about the culture of the Borderlands, following a move to El Paso from Central Texas in August 2011.

Teach a Child to Grocery Shop…

My husband has a very physical job, and our daughters, M and J, are incredibly active kids. It takes a little more effort on my part to fit exercise into my day, since I have a desk job, but I do my best. I will admit that I haven’t been good about working out since we moved to El Paso, so I’m thankful for Goddess in Progress‘s weight loss contest giving me the push I need to get back in shape. I like aerobics and Pilates, with the guidance of exercise videos in the privacy of my home. The twins and our cat join in with differing levels of effort.

Alongside intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, social responsibility, and self esteem, my husband and I believe that it is our responsibility to teach our children about physical well-being.

Unfortunately, our daughters’ school isn’t helping. Although they have daily physical education, they’re teaching the kids all about junk food. Cookies and slushies are available to purchase at lunch time. No carrots. No sliced apples or bananas. After school, there are cupcakes and cookies on sale, tempting the kids right before they exit the school and are handed over to their parents. On Halloween, each child was asked to bring a bag of candy for the school trick-or-treat event. Every classmate’s birthday heralds cupcakes with neon icing.

The other day, J volunteered to accompany me to the grocery store while M stayed home with Daddy. As I reached for the box of Cheerios M had requested, J asked whether she could choose her own cereal.

“Sure,” I told her, “But you have to choose one that has 6 grams or fewer of sugar per serving. Any more than that makes it a treat cereal instead of a breakfast cereal.”

I showed J the nutrition facts on the side of cereal box I was holding, pointing out where the sugar grams were. She picked one brightly coloured sugary cereal after another, rejecting each one for having too much sugar. I suggested that she’d have better luck if she looked at some granola boxes. She finally settled on Kashi Honey Sunshine.

ServeImage“Mommy,” J asked me, “can I teach M how to look at sugar next time when she comes shopping with us?”

She had her chance tonight at dinner, when M asked for a third serving of Welch’s sparkling grape juice. My husband told her that he thought she’d had enough sugar for the day, and offered her water instead. J showed M how to read the label and exclaimed, “38 sugars! That’s a whole bunch.”

“That’s true,” I told her. “This juice is a treat. We drink it for the flavour, not because it’s feeding our bodies. It’s fine to have a treat every so often, but it’s very important to make sure that we get all the different things our bodies need. We need protein to be strong, and fiber not to have hurty poops. Our body needs some fat to stay healthy, but not too much.”

For the rest of meal, the girls pored over the nutrition label on the juice bottle, asking about the different nutrients. My favourite was J’s reading of calcium as “Colosseum.” There was something quite lovely about the image of ancient architecture bolstering our bones.

I taught myself about healthy eating in my early 20s. Both my parents developed high blood pressure in their 30s, and I didn’t want to go down that path. Rich, fatty Bengali curries with massive quantities of rice must have contributed to their cardiovascular issues and my father’s subsequent Type II diabetes.

It certainly helps that both my husband and I love to cook. It’s hard to put too much junk in our bodies when we’re aware of every ingredient we eat. We don’t tend to count calories, and we’re not averse to eating out, but we try to be responsible, while allowing ourselves our treats. I’m fond of chocolate, and my husband of red wine.

I hadn’t planned to teach our girls to read nutrition labels at 5. I imagined that the model we set at home would show them how to make good food decisions. Peer pressure, though, is a strong force, and M told us today that she had bought 6 cookies at lunch to share with her friends. We don’t want the girls to feel like they need to diet or deny themselves the occasional sweet treat. However, we do want them to understand that while eating is a social and pleasurable activity, nutrition is the primary role of food. Food for taste alone is an extra, and to be taken in moderation.

Are you surprised to hear that junk food is being sold in elementary schools? What would you do if you discovered this in the school your children were to attend?

Kids in the Kitchen

Every time that I start to stress about J and M’s eating habits, I remind myself of our parenting goal: Healthy, happy, whole adults.

Of course I want our children to have a healthy diet in the here and now, but it’s far more important to me that they be equipped to make good food choices even when I’m not around. I’ve taken three basic approaches that have worked for us:

  1. Educating our daughters on what makes up a balanced diet, and how different foods contribute to their healthy growth.
  2. Including them in food purchase and preparation decisions and activities.
  3. Demonstrating that listening to their bodies is valuable and taking a non-combative approach to food.

I keep meaning to copy a friend’s brilliant idea of displaying the USDA food guidelines—the old pyramid, or the new plate—on the refrigerator.

ChooseMyPlate.gov image of a healthy food breakdown.

Even though we don’t have the picture up, we have always talked about meals in terms of needing a protein, a fruit or veggie, and a starch. We’ve also talked about the need for dairy, but since the girls drink milk morning and night, I haven’t required that they include dairy in every meal. I try to keep my explanations of why food choices are important accurate, but simple. We need protein for strong muscles. Fruits and vegetables help our bodies fight germs, and help us with healthy skin, hair, eyes and nails. We need carbohydrates from energy. Milk products help our bones be strong. Our body needs some fat so that it can get all the goodness out of other foods, but too much can be unhealthy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with sweet or fatty foods, but they are just for flavour, rather than nutrition. I’ve rarely turned down the girls’ requests for sweets, because they ask for very reasonable portions: a cookie or a single piece of chocolate.

Our whole family enjoys food: eating it, preparing and cooking it, even playing with it. If only mine wasn’t the Great Black Thumb, we might enjoy growing it. The kitchen is the heart of our home; I’m old-school like that. It should come as no surprise that our daughters have always been welcome in the kitchen.

My husband may have shortened my life by a year or two by placing our infants in their bouncy seats on the kitchen counter while he cooked. In retrospect, though, I’m glad we’ve always had them with us. Once they could sit, I’d pull the girls’ highchairs into the kitchen, and give them each a plastic bowl and spoon to bang while I made our meals. When I had cleanup time on my hands, they would help me stir. If I needed to get my hands dirty, J and M could splash their hands in the bubble-filled kitchen sink.

As they approached age 2.5, M and J could be trusted not to put everything in their mouths, so their kitchen repertoire broadened significantly. They could help me measure out ingredients, even plan meals. I’d let them choose between fish and chicken, for example, or rice and couscous. Another great option was chef’s salad. I’d chop up lunchmeat and cheese, boil some eggs, grill some croutons, and present a selection of vegetables. As long as they included some of each food group, they were good. It’s easy to do the same with sandwiches, too. We baked cookies and muffins, too, but that was more of a game.

Now, at 5, J and M often help me plan our weekly grocery list. M recently observed that lasagne is a balanced meal in itself. J refused dessert at lunch yesterday because she was full. She knew there would be another ice cream opportunity soon enough. The girls came home from daycare recently telling me that they had been given soda at school. (Let me tell you that we’re not going back to that center.) They were as horrified as I was, but confessed that the cola was “sweet and yummy.” I told them that soda was a sweet treat, and they could have some when I did, a couple of times a month. There was no argument.

When the girls are full, we let them leave the table. If they’re not hungry, they don’t have to eat. They know that they won’t get anything until the next snack or meal. My husband and I both fight the urge to nag at them to eat more or clear their plates. I think it’s a natural parental impulse. We just have to keep reminding ourself that we want our daughters to stay as healthy, happy and whole as they are now.

How do you include your children in the kitchen?

Ask the Readers: Handling Picky Eaters

It’s been a while since we’ve Asked the Readers. Please, help us out in the comments!

What is your favourite trick for tempting a picky child at mealtime?

I was quietly ecstatic when my kids first took to solid food. Fish, spinach, fennel—they loved them all. I thought they were set for a lifetime of adventurous eating. I hadn’t read far enough into child development books, though.

At around age 2, kids tend to get pickier in their eating habits. It makes sense. The hunter-gatherer argument is a compelling one. 2-year-olds stop putting anything and everything in their mouths, including many foods, because that is the age they would start straying farther from their mothers in hunter-gatherer societies. This pickiness is a survival instinct that lasts until they are old enough to make mature choices regarding what is safe to eat.

Whether their pickiness is explainable or not, picky eaters present an enormous challenge to parents. When M was at her pickiest, she could go two days on nothing but milk if nothing struck her fancy. I worried that she would starve. She’s only recently begun enjoying food again.

Please share how you deal (or would deal) with picky eaters.

brotherly love

P and G, September 2004

P and G, September 2004

When I was pregnant with my twins, I remember reading something that warned parents of multiples against thinking their babies needed them any less because of having been born a multiple. I was bummed when I read that.

We did our best to parent our twins as we had our oldest. I nursed them, they were fed on demand, we co-slept, we tried to hold them when they cried. 

Their first few words were Mama, Dada, ball, and baby. The twin who woke first from a nap tried to rouse his brother, calling, “Bebeh! Bebeh!” They summoned each other this way to examine new toys or things they shouldn’t get into. When G had croup and I took him to the ER, he saw his reflection in a window and thought it was his brother. He got excited and started calling out to him — “BEBEH!!!” They started calling each other by name when their little sister was born.

Sometimes when one gets in trouble, he’ll sit in time out crying for his brother. The other day, I scolded G for being too rough with our kitten. He ran to P, who then came to confront me for “being so mean to Diffin.”

P and G, January 2010

P and G, January 2010

They fight and hurt each other’s feelings sometimes, but the bond between them is more than I ever dreamed it would be. And while there is no substitute for a parent’s love… I’m not always sure my boys would agree. 

***

P: Diffin, what are you gonna be when you grow up?
G: I am gonna work in your restaurant with you!
P: But you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to.
G: I will, so then I won’t have to be away from you.

- Overheard 02/01/10 

When Jen isn’t creepily photographing her children in their sleep, she blogs at Diagnosis: Urine.

Smoothie Addicts

My children have a problem. An addiction. Something they ask for morning, noon, and night. (Even more than they ask for TV.)

My kids are smoothie addicts.

Smoothie Addicts

It’s all my mom’s fault. She’s the one who introduced the smoothie into our lives. And indulged the kids’ every-morning request when we stayed at her house for the holidays (and last summer, and the winter before that).

Smoothie Addicts

Truth be told, it’s probably my very favorite toddler addiction.  To them: majorly awesome frozen sweet treat.  To me: fruit and calcium.  And it couldn’t be any easier.

The specifics, as we make them at my house, in case you’ve never made a smoothie yourself:

  • 4 (ish) strawberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1/4 cup (ish) frozen blueberries
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1/3 cup (ish) yogurt, any flavor or plain
  • 1/3 cup (ish) milk

Clearly, you can see I’m not scientific about this, I just dump stuff in the blender.  If I’m using fresh strawberries, I’ll often throw in a couple of ice cubes to keep things nice and cold.  Switch it up and throw different kinds of fruit (fresh or frozen) in there. Or, as we did at my mother-in-law’s house when I was improvising, a little scoop of mango ice cream.  You can’t go wrong, and aside from the occasional ice cream, you can’t argue with its nutritional value.

So, as long as my blender pitcher is dishwasher-safe, my kids can have a smoothie any day of the week.

P.S.  If grandpa is there when you’re making smoothies one day, and tells the kids to “hold their ears” because it’s loud, your son may do this every time you make one:

Smoothie Addicts

Quick and yummy eating options

Jenna’s post yesterday got me thinking about food. And eating. And the continual challenge of finding the time and energy to get food on the table that doesn’t come from our local Indian food restaurant (or sub shop or pizza place…you get my drift).

Fun summer activities make us too busy and tired to cook

Fun summer activities make us too busy and tired to cook

While  I used to enjoy some cooking, I find it difficult these days to dredge up the energy to prepare something exciting. The recipe below is our favorite, super quick and easy, solution to the dinner dilemma. I posted in a year or so ago, but it’s good enough for a repeat.

Slow cooker chicken tacos

4 frozen chicken breasts

16-24 oz jar of salsa

1 packet of taco seasoning

2 15 oz cans of beans, any type

1 Tablespoon sour cream (optional)

Tortillas

Put first four ingredients in the crock-pot. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Before serving shred the chicken inside the crockpot, the chicken is so tender it just falls apart.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of sour cream and voila… it’s done! Put in a bit of shredded cheese, some chopped tomato and lettuce and you have the tastiest meal ever.

How about the rest of you? What’s your favorite quick meal solution? Share, please! (Abigail’s new favorite phrase, uttered whenever someone else is eating. Especially when her brother has more cake/ice cream/treats left on his plate since he didn’t gobble it up as quickly as she did).

I dream about family dinners

This post is taken from a blog I write about introducing solid foods to my children – Solid Food Adventures.

*****

I’m continually hearing in the media and reading in parenting books and magazines that family dinnertime is one of those important routines that influences children well in to adulthood.  My husband and I both agree that sharing a meal as a family is something we value and something we want to include in our lives, yet moving from the theoretical to reality can prove challenging….

Breakfast at our house is usually eaten in shifts.  If I get up early to have some time for myself, like today, then I eat by myself, often in front of the computer.  When my son (age 2.5 years) gets up I’ll serve his breakfast and then work in the kitchen doing dishes, or making something else for me to eat, or I’ll feed babies (4.5 months old twin girls) in the living room. If it is a day he is going to the dayhome, I’ll serve him and then try to get babies in carseats while he eats.  As soon as he finishes we head out the door. I eat breakfast after dropping him off.  The babies get fed then too.

Lunch is also eaten in shifts. My son usually eats fairly early and goes down for his nap. Then I feed babies and then eat by myself, or eat by myself and then feed babies.  This allows me a little more flexibility in what I eat for lunch.  We often only have enough leftovers for one lunch so my son and I don’t always eat the same thing.

At supper, we all try to sit down together.  We usually serve my son first.  He starts eating while we finish serving our meals.  By the time we get settled, he is often ready for seconds.  If the babies cooperate, then we all get to sit down for a few minutes together.  If the babies are awake, we put them close to the table to include them.  But, dinner is usually interrupted by the babies who need to fed or want attention.  I often eat with a baby on my knee or I’m rushing through so I can feed them. Daddy and I are often done before my son, and it is really easy to get up and leave him to finish while we start the dishes, pack lunch for tomorrow, change the laundry, settle a baby, etc.  Mealtime often ends with my son sitting alone at the table while I feed a baby and Daddy prepares lunch for tomorrow. I don’t like leaving dirty dishes on the table, but the days when Daddy and my son start bathtime right after dinner and the dishes get left until later seem to better reinforce the essentials of a family dinner.

I imagine the confusion will only grow when we add two babies in booster seats to our family dinnertable.  I imagine we’ll feed them first, and then sit down to our meal until they are old enough to feed themselves finger food. It will mean more interuptions, more serving others while my food gets cold, and more wipping dirty hands and faces, but it will also mean our family is growing together and sharing a meal. Sticking with it even when it is challenging will make it that much harder to loose that time together.

***

Our girls have been eating solid foods for about a month now, and they are sitting up with us three meals a day. Preparing, eating and cleaning up after a meal can literally take hours.  How do you ensure your family sits down for meals together as often as possible?