Friday, February 3, 2012

Picky eaters series for local parenting blog - triple post!

Picky Eaters Series - Strategies for Peaceful Mealtimes

I have picky kids with food sensitivities and allergies, so planning meals that they can eat and will eat is a challenge. However, that doesn't mean that we're doomed to eating hot dogs and chicken nuggets every night!

Strategy #1. Hide the good stuff
This strategy gained national attention when Jerry Seinfeld's wife Jessica published a cookbook called Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food. I own a copy and use it as inspiration for boosting nutrition in the meals I already cook rather than as a straightforward cookbook. She includes ways to sneak purees of veggies and fruits into meals, snacks, and even desserts (Brownies with carrot and spinach hidden!). If you've got a baby, you can use the purees for baby food and to fortify the rest of the family's nutrition. My kids like her chicken nuggets that are dipped in veggie puree before being coated with breading. This strategy works best for kids who truly cannot abide the sight of veggies in their food. My oldest was this way and actually required occupational therapy for eating as a toddler.

Some examples of other sneaky strategies include using garden vegetable spaghetti sauce and pureeing it first before serving it over pasta or on pizza. Many breads can be baked with shredded zucchini when that's plentiful in the summer. Rather than using regular juice, try the juices with vitamins blended in. Smoothies made with blueberries can also have leaves of fresh spinach in them. One my favorite strategies is making and freezing a Central and South Amercian cooking sauce called sofrito. It's a chunky puree of green peppers, a red pepper, an onion, garlic, and cilantro. To use it, sautee 1/4c sofrito in oil, then add rice or beans or meat, then cumin, chili powder and paprika. It goes great with any Tex/Mex food!

I also make whole wheat waffles with pumpkin puree. They're full of fiber and vitamin A, and the whole wheat is very filling. The pumpkin pie spice makes them smell fantastic, and with just a drizzle of maple syrup they are like a treat. When I can, I make some to store in the freezer for a quick breakfast. They heat up great in the toaster or microwave!

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Waffles (adapted from

Mix in one bowl
•2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
•2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
•1 teaspoon baking soda
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•3 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I double this!)

In a separate bowl mix
•1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
•4 large eggs
•2 cups well-shaken buttermilk (or milk with 2t vinegar, or yogurt)
•1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin (or make your own pumpkin or butternut squash puree for a twist)
•3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

Mix the wet and the dry ingredients together, and bake as your waffle iron directs, and you may need to oil the iron.

For another sneaky veggie treat, check out I make a double batch, and they never last long!

Strategy #2. Be a good example and allow a range of choices

We can't expect our kids to eat well if we don't! And don't we deserve healthy bodies too?

For the reluctant child, Jessica Seinfeld recommends putting raw veggies out with a healthy dip while dinner is cooking. This provides a healthy appetizer that won't spoil anybody's dinner and takes the pressure off of a kid to eat veggies during mealtime, where the showdown typically occurs. My kids like this because they want to see what I'm doing in the kitchen, and they snack on the veggies or fruit I put out while we spend a little time together before dinner.

At mealtime, my kids have a choice between eating the veggie side that I serve or eating a handful of organic raw spinach. My boys usually choose the spinach with no dressing or dip. I try to keep in mind for my toddler girl that a serving of vegetables for her age is really just a few tablespoons, so if she eats a few peas, most of the corn, and all of the carrots from her mixed vegetables, then she has made a good effort. All my kids will eat broccoli, but my toddler who is not fond of green veggies will only eat the very tops of them. I figure that's where the nutrients are, so great! The key is that she is willing to touch and to try the vegetables. When I make soup, the kids have to eat at least half of what is in their bowl. They're getting a lot of the vitamins in the broth, and they find that the veggies are more palatable when the flavors have all mingled.

A friend of mine recently reminded me of her afternoon years ago with my firstborn, who was a preschooler at the time. He was my kid who had sensory problems and was terrified of the feeling of vegetables in his mouth. She had a house rule that everyone had to eat a small amount of veggies before they got down to play. No big deal. For my son, this led to total meltdown! Years went by, and she now has a child with sensory difficulties and who can't handle food textures. She understands completely!

The best strategy in this case is a gradual approach to introducting new foods, even if the child is school-age. My son had to smell a new food, touch it, kiss it, lick it, and finally taste it, possibly several attempts later. This worked great for us, and he now eats a wide variety of foods. He's still picky, but he rarely melts down over dinner at age 8. I also allow my big kids a few "no thank you" foods. They may be exempted from eating a very short list of things that they have tried as long as they are polite about it and agree to try it again later. If the child wants to put honey, ketchup, salsa, barbecue sauce, cinnamon, or any other favorite flavor onto the food, it's fine by me! It's not worthwhile to fight with kids over food, so it's best to avoid power struggles.

I will admit that we occasionally have a grown-up meal and feed them what we call "kids pick". This is for when we want to eat something that is utterly delicious and totally not kid-friendly. Our kids hate curry, and they don't have an appreciation for Mediterranean food. Fine, more for us! You can have your nitrate-free all-beef Kosher hot dogs, kiddos.

Here are two practical ideas for a way to serve a meal that allows each family member to choose what foods they like best but still eat the same meal. Keep in mind that with practice these are quick meals. I make them regularly during afternoon chaos while parenting 4 kids, 8 and under.

1) Pasta Bar
Boil an appropriate amount of pasta for the family (try whole grain!)
Provide pasta sauces such as marinara and alfredo
Bake and slice one or two chicken breasts
Sautee a green pepper, an onion, and a zucchini with some garlic and olive oil. Season it with Italian seasoning and maybe a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
Provide parmesan cheese

This way, family members can customize their dinner with their favorite pasta toppings. My husband doesn't like pasta, but he took the rest of the leftovers to work the next day.

2) Chipotle Night - no need to make all of these unless you want a little leftovers!
Provide wholegrain tortillas and tortilla chips
Shred some melty cheese like colby jack
Open a can of black beans, drain them, add a little salsa and cumin, let warm on the stove or in the microwave, then mash them
Stir fry an onion and a green pepper
Scoop out an avocado, add salsa, cumin, cilantro, and lime juice and blend for guacamole (stick blender rocks!)
Bake or sautee a sliced chicken breast or two. Marinate or cook in a mixture of soy sauce, lime juice, garlic, olive oil, and chili powder. Grilling makes this spectactular!
Make Chipotle rice with lime and cilantro. This recipe uses basmati, which cooks very fast!

This meal can be made faster and cheaper than a trip to Pittsburgh for Chipotle, and it is so delicious!

Strategy #3 - Include them in shopping and prepping meals.

I know, I know, this one is a PAIN. If you ever see me with my kids at Mt de Chantel Kroger or Jebbias, you'll know us by the noise and chaos swirling around my cart. However, I feel like there are many good lessons to be learned in the store with my kids. When they ask for a treat, we look at the box and try to find the ingredients to make it at home and make it healthier. They are more likely to eat vegetables and fruits that they have helped to select. I have my kids each choose a fruit and a raw vegetable that they like, and it's amazing how fast the food disappears!

I'm hoping that this year is the year we start gardening here. My kids have enjoyed helping with a vegetable garden in the past, and I can't wait to try this spring! The anticipation of yummy food they have helped to grow will make the food more delicious and will give us a fun outdoor activity.

The big struggle I have is with letting kids help in the kitchen. My 8 year old likes to help with grinding wheat for bread (yeah, I'm crazy), and my 6 year old is fascinated by our compost pile, but letting any of them help me in the kitchen means that the oldest 3 will all be crowded around me, and the baby will be strapped to me, so I have to set some ground rules. Only one helper at a time, and only if the baby is sleeping. Everyone must wash their hands, and no fingers are to go into their mouths or their noses (strange what rules I have to make these days!). King Arthur Flour has a great post on baking with kids this month

Note: no giveaway on this blog. This is just where I write my rough drafts! This post will be 3 separate posts that will go up tomorrow.

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