Wednesday, December 5, 2012

replacement kid-friendly food magazine

So since Everyday Food wrecked my cooking-with-kids plan, I've been on the lookout for a replacement and/or supplement to the now-quarterly-instead-of-monthly format for EF. I may have found a contender:

Chopchop: the fun cooking magazine for families

I've requested some issues from the library to see if they will fit the bill (or have anything in them that I would be willing to eat if my kids cook it). As it is only a quarterly publication, I could see using it and the now-quarterly status of Everyday Food together to advance our project.

There's also a series of chef skills on that I plan to go through with each kid. They are more open ended and fundamental skill based than following a recipe and so require a bit more planning on our part than simply opening up a magazine and following instructions. So I'm thinking it will be better to try and accomplish these during school breaks, rather than in the midst of the chaos of a school week.

I looked over four issues of Chopchop and it isn't going to cut it for my kids. It's more pitched toward a younger age group (say 5-8 year olds) and for kids who are far less suspicious of food than mine are. Even with engaging writing and nice step by step instructions you aren't going to convince my kids to make kale smoothies (hell, they won't eat a basic smoothie) or anchovy vinaigrette (since they won't eat that most basic substance: ranch dressing). The recipes lean towards the excessively healthy--always substituting greek yogurt for sour cream, hardly any salt used--and I wasn't convinced that some of their recipes would taste good (a bean soup so basic that it didn't look too appealing to me). It's probably terrific for a different audience (one of my son's friends, who loves food and cooking, would have probably really enjoyed the magazine when he was little), but I'm still on the lookout for another publication.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I'm feeling rather pissy. I just got a notice that they are stopping Everyday Food and turning it into a quarterly supplement for regular Martha Stewart Living. The monthly magazine was perfect for my kids-learning-to-cook project and MSL sure as hell won't be (talk about fussy....).

So, is there a similar monthly magazine that anyone can point me to? The recipes need to a) have a photo b) be relatively simple in the cooking technique department and c) be pretty short d) not be too adventurous in the flavor department (tasty, but not edgy or spicy).

I know there are plenty of kid-friendly cookbooks out there, but the novelty of the subscription arriving was really part of the appeal to the kids and I liked that, unlike web sites with recipes (which I actually prefer over cookbooks these days), the kids could spend time looking over the offerings and making a choice. They wouldn't have the patience to do that online.


Sunday, October 14, 2012


I don't want to curse this but the kids picking a recipe from Everyday Food and taking the lead in cooking it for a family dinner is actually working. Tonight Ian (with assistance) made this:
Turkey Sloppy Joes with Kale Chips

And here's the best part that you might not be able to see in the photo: the sloppy joes have a whole minced sweet potato in them and both kids ate it without complaint. Kale and sweet potatoes are two vegetables I would be *thrilled* to get into their diet regularly and I'm still feeling a little stunned that this successful consumption came via a kid-selected recipe. I was sure that when Ian actually read the recipe and saw the sweet potato that he'd reject it, but it didn't phase him one bit (though he was annoyed at how hard sweet potatoes are to cut into a small dice). I don't know if Fiona even knew that they were in there. And they both ate a ton of the kale chips.

We made a couple of changes to the sloppy joe recipe: tomato sauce instead of diced tomatoes since it makes it a little saucier and because Fiona is a tomato-phobe who may have rejected whole pieces of tomato in her food, whole wheat buns instead of potato buns, and 20 oz of ground turkey instead of 16 oz (because that's how much there was in the package).

Last month Fiona made this garlic lemon pork dish and it was good so we made it again a couple of weeks later (and she helped again). And Ian made some pretty basic tacos but was willing to make some pico de gallo for Brian and I to add to ours which made them a little more interesting. I found it pretty satisfying to see him learn that dicing a tomato is very different from chopping cilantro.

The kids still have a way to go when it comes to cooking independence and confidence and Ian has a tendency to stir things so vigorously that they wind up spread across the stove top (Brian is doing the dishes and just reported that the kettle "took one for the team.") But maybe in a couple of years, if we keep up this practice, they'll be able to make a whole healthy dinner, start to finish, on their own.

Oh yeah, and eat it too.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Diversification and control

I've been trying to find simple recipes that my kids can cook (with assistance) that will serve the dual purpose of diversifying what they will eat and increasing their cooking skills. I've printed out recipes from blogs, checked out kids' cookbooks from the library and asked if there are any favorite recipes that I make that they want to learn how to cook.

It didn't really take off. They certainly didn't feel motivated to do research to pick out new recipes (it doesn't help that most of my cookbooks are in storage while we are doing our house construction) and on the few times they did, the cooking skills required were too complicated or dangerous. I'm not ready for them to be hauling homemade pizza out of a 500 degree oven (they do help roll out dough and top it) and they don't have the patience to slowly stir a white sauce until it thickens enough to add cheese. So it was a struggle and they weren't participating fully. Not a winner of a combination.

But I've found what I think will be the perfect tool for both diversification, kid-selection (very important for these two who need to feel like they've chosen a recipe instead of having it imposed upon them) and simple enough cooking skills:

I got a free subscription to Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine (through a program called Recycle Bank that my town has just recently discontinued. I found out that you can use your Recycle Bank points to get free magazine subscriptions and this was one of them.)

This is the perfect magazine for food-suspicious kids with limited patience and cooking skills. Every recipe has a photo. Every recipe is short (none more than one page). And pretty much every recipe requires only basic cooking skills--no complicated techniques, no obscure equipment or ingredients.

I got the first issue, explained to the kids that they each had to pick out one "real food" recipe (no snacks or desserts) that they thought they could make with my help for a family dinner. They turned the pages of the magazine warily at first, but then they were squabbling about who got to hold it and my hopes lifted.  The girl picked out a recipe for garlic lemon pork. The boy picked out a basic ground meat taco recipe.

The boy even marked two additional recipes (one for a snack and one for a dessert) that he wants to help make and I am thrilled that he is voluntarily suggesting more cooking because even the unhealthy recipes expand his limited cooking skills. Hell, I first got motivated in the kitchen making cookies, brownies, pancakes, etc. I sure didn't start with the motivation of making spinach quinoa pilaf...

I'm hoping that since the magazine will be delivered to us every month it will keep us consistent with this project: every month I'll hand over the magazine and every month they'll pick out some new stuff to try and cook. I'll report back.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Family Policy

This summer, while the kids had plenty of time and very little stress (no homework, very limited scheduled activities), I tried and implemented a policy that is a) way overdue b) actually seems to work ok and c) that I'm adopting as a permanent standard.  

In the past when I've made food I know the kids won't eat for dinner (like last night's spicy sauteed kale with lots of garlic under a heap of soupy canellini beans with rosemary and parmesan) I made something else for them. It was something simple, like a bean and cheese quesadilla and apple slices, or a turkey burger and peas or broccoli. 

It wasn't that much more work and it meant no yelling or people telling me that what I cooked was disgusting. But still, it was more work for me and even if the cooking was easy, the multitasking of timing two totally separate meals left me feeling frazzled.

But this summer we've been all about increasing competency and comfort with regular tasks. I explained to the kids that now that they are growing up and more capable, my parenting is shifting from doing things for them, to teaching them how to do things so they can do it themselves. Some skills they already had, like cleaning the bathroom, folding laundry and mowing the lawn. Others were things I taught them once and didn't really follow up on, like doing the laundry and vacuuming. But there were big gaps in basic cooking skills like how to safely use sharp knives or adjusting and monitoring temperatures of burners. If you don't feel comfortable doing this, you are pretty much limited to reheating stuff in the microwave.

This misson to increase their competency was not met with cheers of enthusiasm.

In fact it was met with lots of complaining and whining and even a bit of yelling (on both their side and mine). This only convinced me that I should have started this back when the boy was the girl's age (they are 2.5 years apart in age), though it is a lot easier to teach them both at the same time since usually one of them is in a good mood and that propels the other one to keep at it. 

So this summer they have followed basic recipes, they have used sharp knives to chop up vegetables (many of which they won't eat, but at least they know how to cut them up...), they have been coached on when to adjust stove top temps and how to see if something is cooked through.

They still need a lot of coaching. It still isn't easy to cook with them. But it's a start. And it means the new dinner policy is possible to enact.

Now, I warn them if I'm making a dinner that I know they will despise and it is up to them to decide what they are going to make and take charge of making it. (If I'm making something that I consider accessible, I still want them to give it a try; if they hate it then we can figure out what they'll make themselves). I'll help them with the cooking, but they have to tell me what they need help with rather than me telling them what they should be doing. Not all options are always available since I don't always keep all the ingredients around, but there are always at least 3 or 4 from which they can choose. 

I'm happy to report that helping them cook, when they have to take the lead and either I or their dad is just assisting, is much less stressful than trying to get two different meals on the table at the same time. And the more they do this, the less (I hope) we'll have to pitch in.

Here's what we wrote up and have posted on the fridge:

What you can make if you don’t like what’s for dinner
(ask for help if/when you need it)

Pick one main course:
  1. bean and cheese quesadilla
  2. pasta with olive oil and parmesan cheese
  3. turkey burger
  4. tuna melt or sandwich
  5. grilled cheese sandwich
  6. baked beans
  7. omelette or creamy eggs and toast
  8. english muffin or pita bread pizza
  9. homemade chicken and rice soup
  10. miso soup and tofu
  11. peanut butter and jelly (sandwich or toast)

Add two fruits or vegetables:
frozen peas
frozen broccoli
apple (half a large or a whole small)
apple sauce
dried apricots

pour yourself a glass of milk


Saturday, June 30, 2012

Seasons change

Now that it is Summer, I've had to shift some of my strategies. You would think that Summer would be easier as far as encouraging fruit and vegetable consumption since so much more of it is available fresh. That may be true for vegetables in our house (fresh asparagus, peas, mild flavored lettuces), but for my two kids, it doesn't hold true for fruit.

They both eat copious quantities of apples and sadly, apples are beginning to be pretty crappy: their favorite supermarket apples (Pink Lady, Honey Crisp) are no longer available so we're down to Fuji's and Gala's in the apples-that-aren't-mushy department. The girl's other regular fruits: grapefruits and navel oranges are also at the end of their season and it is a crap shoot when you cut one open as to whether it will be good or not. (I've been transforming the sour grapefruits into a really delicious cocktail with gin, lime juice and elderflower concentrate but that isn't an appropriate recipe for a "feeding-the-kids" blog!)

There's still watermelon and the occasional other melon (for the girl) and red grapes (for both) to lean on. I've made them try (again) small tastes of summer fruits that they have previously rejected (strawberries, plums, peaches, bing cherries) and all were gagged down and declared undesirable.

And yet, in all this talk of failure, there has been one modest success. I figured out a way to get both kids to consume some of these:

Neither of my kids likes bananas straight up (and this is one area that I tend to agree with them--I will occasionally eat a plain banana but usually sort of choke it down when I feel I am potassium deficient). So finding ways to mix them into stuff is a good way to increase consumption from zero to (at least) minimal. We still regularly make our high-protein banana chocolate chip muffins, but when you divide two bananas over a big batch of muffins, well, the fruit impact is pretty minimal. 

Enter the power of the freezer. A recipe on Pintrest for healthy fudgesicles caught my interest so I gave it a try. 

In a blender you whirl together: two very ripe, small bananas (the kind that would be too mushy to eat straight--their texture is disgusting but they are very, very sweet and perfect for this), 1 T cocoa powder, 1/2 C coconut milk and 1 T agave nectar. Pour into popsicle moulds and freeze.

In our smaller popsicle mould, there is a 1/4 of a banana per pop. In our larger mould, it's a 1/2 a banana (!).  The rest of the ingredients are pretty benign so I don't have a problem with the girl eating 4 at a time if that's what it takes to get a whole banana in her. 


It took a while to get the boy to agree to try one but finally I declared that he couldn't have any other frozen dessert (and he is a big ice cream lover) until he did. We engaged in a stare down for a few days, but after his sister vouched for their edibility, he tried one and thought it was fine. He wouldn't choose it over ice cream, but I'm pitching these as a healthy snack they can have any time, not as a dessert substitute. Context can make all the difference.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Progress with the tomato hater

I made one of my favorite soups, a creamy tomato soup (recipe below), and the girl had not one, but two (small) bowls of it. I left out the crushed red peppers that I usually add to the soup and settled for just sprinkling my portion with cayenne which was an acceptable modification.

To give you a sense of the momentousness of this please consider, she has:

  • vowed never to eat a raw tomato
  • won't eat tomato sauce on pasta
  • only barely tolerates tomato-based pizza sauce
To keep it interesting, the boy, who has no problem with (smooth) tomato sauce on pasta and sauce on pizza (no raw tomatoes for him, though) tasted it and threw his arms up in the air with an expression on his face that I can only call a rictus of alarm. It was only one step up from when he ran to the trash can and spat out the lentil soup I asked him to try. (And yes, I was tempted to make him try another taste just to see if he would repeat the response, sort of like a tap-to-the-knee reflex. I'm a little sick that way.)

Creamy Tomato Soup
adapted from this recipe from Food and Wine, March 2004

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 medium or 2 small onions, sliced thin
3 or 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed or chopped
2 big 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes in their juice
1 c water (use it to swish out the bits of residual tomato in the cans)
1 heaping T sugar
1/4 t crushed red pepper (leave out if you are dealing with sensitive palates and put some cayenne on the table w/in reach of those who like spice)
1/4 t celery seed
1/4-1/2 t dried oregano
2/3 - 1 C cream, half and half or whole milk (depending on how much acidity you want to off-set. For my sensitive kid, I went with cream)
salt and pepper (the latter is, again, optional)
chives, for garnish (optional)

In a saucepan, melt butter with the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes until soft. 

Add tomatoes and juice, water, sugar, crushed red peppers (optional), celery seed and oregano. Bring to a boil and break up the tomatoes with a knife or back of a spoon.

Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Puree in batches in the blender until smooth. Then stir in cream.

Snip some chives on each serving, unless, of course, there will be blood-curdling screams at the sight of something green.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Breaking News

My kids ate Kale Chips! And didn't scream (at me, each other, or the universe in general)!

Thanks to Tricia for reminding me of this way of getting green stuff into their mouths. I made these for them once before, but I think I kind of burned them. I liked them (but then I dig around in the potato chip bag for the burned ones and like my toast just short of black) but the kids didn't and so I dropped it.

This time I made sure that I put them in a cooler oven (275), used plenty of olive oil to get them crispy and checked them often so I could pull them before they browned.

For those of you who know the hell my kids put me through when it comes to new foods I present the only thing you will believe: photographic proof (and no, I don't have sophisticated enough photoshop skills to have fudged with these.)

I'd be lying if I said they were clamoring for more than the smallish portion I gave each of them, and I doubt that they'd gravitate to them if they were, say, on a buffet where they could serve themselves. But who cares! They both ingested kale! The girl even said (after her first taste) that they would be good to have instead of popcorn when watching a movie! Not sure she'd eat a whole big bowl full, but I'll definitely make these again.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Just a few updates on our progress:

  • The boy eats homemade salsa and likes it! 
  • I have to adjust some of my shopping habits: I'm used to buying asparagus for 2 people not 3. 
  • The girl likes (and regularly requests) maroon carrots. Since regular carrots are one of her acceptable vegetables this is not a big surprise, but the flavor of maroon carrots is closer to what I'd call a homegrown taste: a bit minty and stronger than the one-note sweetness of supermarket orange carrots.
  • Both kids are willing, though not hugely enthusiastic, to eat sauteed sugar snap peas. I'm planting extra in the garden this year.
  • The girl will eat a small amount of roasted cauliflower and has been willing to taste strawberries and pears. She also dealt with dried cherries in the oatmeal chocolate chip pecan cookies and was willing to eat cinnamon raisin bread without yelling about the raisins.
  • Both kids tolerated the appearance of a few mushroom slices on their homemade pizza.
  • Not much progress on getting the boy to accept asparagus or either kid to accept green beans or kale (even with a lot of butter)...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fiona recommends

Fiona has been getting into the idea of eating a more diverse selection of foods and making sure they are healthy foods, too. Here are some of her recommendations.
  • TEDtalk with Jamie Oliver video on youtube. "It really gets you aware of how much we're eating and how the wrong stuff can really hurt people." "ow."
  • Print out your school lunch and breakfast menu after watching the video and circle the healthy stuff and cross out the unhealthy stuff (we don't eat school lunch, but it helps with awareness).
  • Look at the foods/recipe categories listed on the NY Times Recipes for Health page and note which ones you eat and which ones you are willing to try.
  • Part of being a healthy eater is learning how to cook. All our cookbooks are packed away right now because our house is under construction so we've been looking on-line for recipes and ideas. So far Fiona's favorite one is Eating Well's Healthy Kids recipes (a bit meat heavy in the main course department, but plenty of side dishes listed below).  I should note we haven't tried any of these recipes yet, but she finds the presentation appealing (half the battle, in my opinion) and she's going to go through and pick some out for us to make together.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Particular, not picky

I'm going to have to revise my statement about having two picky-eater kids. I have one picky eater. And I have one particular eater.

What's the difference, you ask?
You can't call a girl who eats asparagus picky. Especially when she asks for seconds.

She's still not an easy creature to feed, but wow is this blogging thing working! I told her about the blog and as she's such a people person, she wants the people who read this to see her in a positive light (so anyone local--if you run into us, praise her to the stars. I swear, she will glow. And maybe even eat some zucchini).

Since I started the blog she has:

  • Eaten chocolate with raisins in it (and yes, previously she would not have eaten the chocolate because the raisins made it toxic.)
  • Small tastes of salsa, guacamole and sour cream at a Mexican restaurant.
  • Tried asparagus with no fuss. Asked for more. Asked for us to buy more at the store. Had it for dinner tonight and again asked for seconds. (!!!)
  • Ate a small portion of peas with butter.
  • Ate pasta and alfredo sauce with peas in it, though there was a little griping since I was sticking something not-so-welcome into one of her favorite foods. That seems pretty understandable.
  • Ate cooked carrots and pronounced them "ok."
  • Tried homemade mushroom soup (and didn't spit it out, maybe even sort of liked it. I'll make it again soon and we'll see.) 
  • Tried a piece of pizza with mushrooms on it.
  • Tried a leaf of baby red swiss chard with no complaint.
  • Ate some salmon and asked if we could have it again (and told the boy, "it tastes like chicken.")
For the record, the boy is also aware of this blog though he doesn't care as much about what anonymous readers think. He does, however, care about what his friends and his friends families might think if he was at their house and wouldn't eat their food.  Since we started he:
  • Ate half a serving of broccoli (there was some loud noise about finishing it. I'll try again though I don't think he'll be happy about it).
  • Tasted a small piece of asparagus (and hated it, but no noise)
  • Lots of (mild) salsa at the Mexican restaurant.
  • Has tried carrots in four different formats: carrot sticks, raw carrot ribbons, sauteed carrot pennies, and baby carrots. Still not a fan. But the ribbons went down the easiest.
  • Tried a leaf of baby red swiss chard with no complaint
  • Tried the salmon without fussing, though I'm not sure he's ready to be served an entire portion of it for dinner yet.
What's up next?
  • I'm going to buy some mild salsa and make some Mexican food this week and see if we can reproduce the Mexican restaurant success (I don't expect him to eat my homemade salsa since it is pretty spicy. Maybe this summer, if they are eating it regularly, I'll make a mild batch for the kids.)
  • Whole steamed artichokes. I know, not exactly a food they are going to be served everywhere, but I think the novelty of eating a large thistle and copious quantities of melted butter might just do the trick.
  • Roasted cauliflower. I love it. I can't imagine anyone not loving it. Of course, I might get a little surprise in this matter. If so, more for me!
I still haven't figured out a way to improve their fruit consumption... maybe we'll give smoothies another try and see if they can tolerate tiny strawberry seeds in a drink (it failed before, but it has been a while since I tried).

A boring lunch is a good lunch

Here's one thing that it took me a long time to wrap my brain around:

My kids want their lunches to be boring.

Familiarity=speed. They have twenty minutes for lunch. Variety is not appreciated by the food-suspicious--it takes time to look it all over and choose what to eat and that is time that they aren't eating.  The thought of the same lunch everyday is a nightmare for me, but not for them. It took me a long time to accept this and I kept trying to pack "interesting" lunches which they would bring home entirely uneaten.

But even with the same foods packed every day*, there were days when they still weren't eating lunch. Maybe this wouldn't be a big deal for some kids, but both my kids are thin and their moods plummet precipitously along with their blood sugar (which I totally relate to: Brian refers to it as the emergence of the Kate-monster when I need to be fed as in "Someone throw the Kate-monster some food!") Some kids can not eat and still have a decent day.  Mine can't. (And the pediatrician will scold me about the boy's weight because yes, there have been times when the lines on his height and weight charts were going in dramatically different directions. And he wasn't getting shorter...)

So I've come up with a sort of system that seems to be working and who knows, some facet of it just might work for you, too.

  • I pack 5 things in their lunch box (at least 2 of which are fruits or vegetables) and they they have to eat 3 of them. The choice factor was really important, even though I've noticed that they usually eat the same 3 items. 
  • It has to be quick to eat and pack in the calories. 
  • The understanding is that they have to eat the 2 remaining items as soon as they are home from school. That way there is no "forgetting" to have a snack (since the boy's disinterest in food continues at home), or the girl snacking on less healthy stuff. You only get popcorn if the lunch box is empty.
  • When the boy was younger and we first started this we had to institute a reward system to get his attention: if he ate three of the five things in his lunchbox then he got a sticker on a chart. If he got five stickers in a week then he got some predetermined reward: a small lego kit ($5 or so) or something like that. If he didn't get all 5 then no reward (I didn't let him roll over stickers from one week to the next--I wanted him to eat his lunch *every* *single* *day*.) Of course I had to do this with the girl too, who is picky, and thin, but not skinny.  I phased out the weekly rewards after the first year. Now, we have an understanding about dessert: finish 3 out of 5 things and you get a treat in your lunch the following day. Eat all 5 items at school and you get 2 treats (this has happened maybe 2 times for the boy and 10 for the girl). This seems to work even though the boy often doesn't eat the treat. 
  • When we started the 3 out of 5 items deal, I also put note in their lunch boxes reminding them of our "deal" and sometimes mentioning the reward.  I had to do this for almost a year when we first started. Now I hardly ever do.
Here's the list from which the 5 are chosen (G is food the girl eats, B is food the boy eats):

  • cheese stick (B)
  • yogurt tube (G)
  • fruit leathers (a small container packed with Trader Joe's Ends and Pieces; stock up when you see them because they aren't always available) (B and G)
  • raisins (B)
  • baby carrots (G)
  • apple sauce (B and G though not the same brand)
  • small chunks of watermelon (G)
  • an apple (have you seen this trick for cutting up and apple and keeping it from browning? I think this woman is brilliant! My kids want their apples sliced but of course they reject them when they have oxidized so this is a perfect solution. And it looks kind of cool.) (B and G)
  • a mini peanut-butter and honey sandwich (G)
  • a granola bar (B) 
  • a container of homemade granola (G)
  • a small container of roasted and salted pecans, pistachios or sunflower seeds (G)
  • cheese and crackers (B)
  • high protein banana chocolate chip muffin (recipe here) (B and G)
  • a thermos of whole milk (B and G)

*We don't eat school hot lunch. This isn't snobbery on my part (though the menu looks depressingly like the hot lunches we got back when I was in elementary school just with whole wheat buns substituted for the white ones). I'd be happy to pay once a week even if the food is crap if they'd actually eat it. But I'm not paying $2.50 for a meal where my kid only eats one food listed for the day. Not a good use of $ and they need to eat in order to not be completely crabby by the end of the school day.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Goal #1: Lower the Drama

I've been trying to think of what would constitute success in this venture.

On the most fundamental level I want to lower the drama around food. Some of this doesn't have to do with the food itself, but with the behaviors expressed when a perceived undesirable food appears in front of the picky eater.

They've improved from the days when "Gross! Get that off my plate!" was bellowed at the top of their lungs, but that doesn't mean the stress of eating with them is gone. It's just different. Now there's usually some whining to start with, followed by (boy) getting up and pacing the room and being asked repeatedly to return to the table, sometimes followed by more whining with the occasional explosion or tiny sampling of unfamiliar food followed by extremely dramatic response. The girl is (usually) quieter and she tends to try the wait-it-out principle. She knows that her dad and I will often finish eating before her, get up and start cleaning up the kitchen so she can clear her plate and quickly scrape the offending items in the trash without anyone noticing

Except sometimes we do notice. And then she is doubly mad that she was served food she perceived as undesirable and that she got caught.

Here's what I'd like:
When confronted by an unfamiliar food, they will (calmly) agree to try one bite. They will give it a chance (the boy in particular sometimes psyches himself out so much that I don't think he actually tastes the new food). If they don't like it they will (calmly) tell me. And if it is, say, the only vegetable on their plate they will suggest an alternative and get it for themselves. If it's the main course, they will offer to make themselves peanut butter toast or a bean and cheese quesadilla--something fast and easy that I consider a healthy alternative. 

My hope is that even if they don't enjoy the food I cook, they won't ruin my enjoyment of it by emitting a toxic behavior fog into the atmosphere of the dining room or by expecting me to drop my fork and go be a short order cook.

They'd still be picky, but that doesn't mean they'd be unpleasant to be around when eating. And that would go a long way to improving dinner-time at our house.

The Texture Issue

One thing that continually surprises me is the boy's sensitivity to the textures of foods. There are plenty of times when I've come up with something that I think he'll be able to tolerate flavor-wise and color-wise (bordering on bland and beige) and it has been rejected based on texture. One prime example: red lentil soup.

I love this soup (recipe below). It is easy, it is fast, it is tasty and it is one of the recipes I turn to when I haven't been to the grocery store and need to cook from the pantry. The only fresh-ish thing it really requires is a lemon and you could get away with a little sherry vinegar if you didn't have one. It also doesn't have anything green in it that might set off the visual alarms of many picky eaters. The girl will eat it sometimes, though not in large quantities. To me, the red lentils are particularly nice because they break down more than their green, brown or black counterparts so the soup is almost creamy with no pureeing required. But my perception and the boy's perception of the texture of this soup are miles apart.

I've tried to serve it to him multiple times and (multiple times) he has run to the trash can to spit it out. It's not like he has this reaction to all members of the legume family: refried beans are a staple of his diet. He occasionally tolerates baked beans and whole pintos. But he says that the texture of this soup is like sand in his mouth.

This has also been a limiting factor with both kids with fruit. Neither of them can stand the way tiny seeds feel when they are crunched between your teeth so they have rejected strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and kiwi for this reason.  Pears are also too "gritty." And they don't like slippery textures (what they call "slimy") so that eliminates bananas, ripe peaches, plums and nectarines.  I might try them on some under-ripe stone fruits once summer rolls around.

What textures are problems for your picky eater?

After the "sand" description you might be reluctant to try the lentil soup, but it's fast and easy and worth a shot. Maybe it'll fly under the texture-radar of your picky eater.

Easy Middle Eastern Style Red Lentil Soup

1 medium yellow onion chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1 T olive oil
1 carrot, grated (optional)
1 T tomato paste (optional)
1 and 1/2 C red lentils (NOT brown)
7 C water
1 t salt
fresh ground pepper
1 T ground cumin
**Juice of 1-2 lemons (depending on the intensity of your sour-pleasure center)

In a big pot, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until the onion is soft. Add the tomato paste and grated carrot (if using), lentils, water, salt, pepper and cumin and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for at least 40 minutes (more is fine--if you are going to simmer for a LONG time then put a lid on the pot so all the water doesn't evaporate). Just before serving add half the lemon juice (at least one lemon's worth) and then taste to see if you want any more lemon juice, salt or pepper.

**If you don't have any fresh lemons in the house, bottled lemon juice or a little sherry vinegar will suffice.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Starting small

No recipes today. My first task is to get the kids to expand their "acceptable" fruits and vegetables to what their sibling eats. Since that's a small list for both kids this won't take long.

Boy eats:
plain lettuce
red grapes (occasionally)
clementines (occasionally)
cooked frozen peas
dried apricots
dried apples

Girl eats: 
plain lettuce
red grapes (occasionally)
red grapefruit (occasionally)
clementines (occasionally)
cooked broccoli
raw carrots

Today they are going to switch and eat two of the fruits or vegetables that their sibling eats. The boy will try raw carrots and cooked broccoli. The girl will try raisins and cooked peas.

If this works then each will have increased their acceptable fruit and vegetable options by about 25%, particularly if you cull from the above list the ones they only occasionally (ie not reliably) eat. And just as importantly it will reduce some of the short-order-cook-feel that I sometimes have. I know it isn't a big outlay of labor to put a handful of carrots on one plate and a handful of raisins on another but it's the principal that makes me crazy: they start to expect people to cater to their particular likes and dislikes so that nothing that they are just so-so about ever lands on their plate.

Not bad for the first day. Girl ate raisins, no fuss. Boy gagged on carrot sticks, but then ate some carrot ribbons (long thin strips made with a vegetable peeler). In the coming week we'll try shredded carrots and maybe super thin carrot pennies since I think the slightly woody texture of the carrot stick was what turned him off. Dinner was ok--she ate the peas, he ate only the dark green tops of the broccoli but wouldn't eat the stems and he did get a little dramatic. But he did it.

Mission Statement

I've got a new mission and I am finally determined to pursue it.

I am going to ease my two picky kids toward some degree of normalcy in the food realm.

I've joked for years that their pickiness is my punishment for being overly fixated on food. I've attempted to face this down in bursts but then would fall back to old patterns. I've had massive temper tantrums in the kitchen and at the dining room table when they defeat me with their stubbornness. (I always thought no one was more stubborn than me. Turns out that they not only inherited it from me but have amplified it with their own distinct and strong personalities.)

Why do I think I might have a chance this time when they have defeated me in past attempt? Well, they are getting older (9 and 11). And that means that they are getting (a little) more logical. And recently they have shown small signs of adaptation: they both tried salsa when they were at a Mexican restaurant. They both will eat a little plain lettuce (we started with iceberg, that gateway-lettuce, but now they'll eat romaine and Boston and green leaf, too.) And there are a couple of other individual specific reasons too:

The boy like to travel. Loves it, in fact. I bluntly stated to him that there are places in the world which I won't take him until he starts eating more foods because I don't plan to go to, say, Spain, and have his eating habits be a restriction on our movements. [Not that I have the $ to take him to Spain--he doesn't need to know this. And much as I'd love to, a trip to Thailand or India or China isn't in the works for any of us, so we're talking about mainly different European and Latin American types of dishes.]  I described to him some of the cool places I've been and then told him that while what they regularly eat may be unfamiliar, it is something that a person with a flexible attitude can adapt to. This seemed to get through to him.

The girl likes people. And I told her if you want to spend time with people and not annoy the crap out of them, you need to eat what is available. Friends aren't going to invite you to stay to dinner if you won't try what is on offer. It doesn't mean you have to love it. It doesn't mean you have to eat a lot of it. But it does mean that you can't get distressed when it is something unfamiliar and that you need to broaden your repertoire of "safe" foods so that there is a likelihood that you will encounter at least one of them.

Things I'm willing to do:

  1. Keep it mild. I love spicy food and don't plan on giving it up, but I can make spicy sauces on the side or add spice at the end after serving them.
  2. Make a good amount of the new stuff side-dishes so they don't have to freak out at everything on their plates. Since I've recently gone low-meat, and they are decidedly pro-meat this isn't too hard. I don't mind making a turkey burger or plain chicken breast for them so long as the big pile of roasted fennel, sweet potatoes, carrots and potatoes that I make for my own main dish is a small-portion side dish to them.
  3. Add the unfamiliar to the familiar. Like putting a small amount of salsa and sour cream on their quesidillas and expecting them to tolerate its appearance.

I am going to try and document things that worked both to share with other people who may be in the same predicament as I'm in* and to keep track and use this blog as a crutch for my lousy memory. If you are faced with a picky eater of your own, I hope you'll join me and make this a group effort to ease the picky eaters of the world toward a place where they don't drive the rest of us bat-shit crazy.

*I realize that when you've met one picky eater you've picky eater and we all have different definitions of picky. I actually heard one parent describe her child as picky when he wouldn't eat kohlrabi. Ha!