Lately, it seems, I have been the go-to girl for family nutrition. People approach me all day long to ask why their children don't eat the foods they are supposed to. Working at a grocery store, especially one that is aimed toward a healthier crowd, I hear every dislike every child has ever muttered. Ethan doesn't eat his vegetables. Emma won't touch food that is green. Max gags on meat. Jonah spits out any and all fruit. Jaden is not a fan of anything crunchy. Ava despises anything creamy. William makes his icky face when he sees beans. And Grace won't even be in the same room as a tomato. And, they all loathe lollipops. Just kidding, that last one has never happened, in history.
Food is so important to me and my family. Jason often mocks me because I spend so much time researching, listing, turning down pages, Googling, marking, highlighting and talking about our own kids' diets. Yes, I think about it alot. Maybe too much. Maybe an unhealthy amount, which would be fairly ironic. The point? Well, there are several.
First, none of us parents are immune. Like you read in this post, my children go through phases also. They've spit out their fair share of brussel sprouts. But, here's the thing; I never said, "Oh, the kids don't like brussel sprouts so I'm not going to buy them anymore." Kids are complex creatures, far more so than we give them credit for. I believe that most of their preferences at younger ages are merely a way to garner just a teensy bit of control. It's a power play, really. Give a kid something safe like a hot dog, chicken nuggets, chips, french fries or a peanut butter sandwich and it's easy for them to eat. They stuff it into their tiny mouths without having to think about tastes and textures. They're in their comfort zone, everything tastes the same as it looks. No surprises.
Take a kid out of their comfort zone and they will exercises their right to choose in an attempt to show you that they wield some power. After all, you chose to give them Curried Eggplant. And, you are going to pay for it. If you fall for the trap and make them a hot dog after they refuse your expertly seasoned Curried Eggplant, they will continue to wield the power every mealtime after. Or, as long as you allow. There is a painful, but simple way to achieve success if you are caught in the middle of this scenario. Serve the Curried Eggplant. After they refuse it, you gently tell them, "This is the only option we have for dinner tonight. So, eat your yummy eggplant so you don't get hungry." If you've been in this tug-o-war with your child for some time, it may take months to get out. But, you will. If they continue to refuse the Eggplant, let them know if they aren't willing to eat dinner then they can leave the table. Don't give in and supply them with a small handful of saltines because you think they may wake up hungry in the middle of the night. Yes, toddlers get hungry. It happens. But, their appetites are so small, if they skip a meal it will not affect their growth or overall happiness. It's not ideal but you're working towards a greater goal. Several meal-less nights may result in an adventurous eater in the future. So worth it, if you ask me. So, stop worrying. If they were truly hungry, they would eat the eggplant. Remember that. If you were starving, you would eat your least favorite food, wouldn't you?
In addition to this attitude, you need a guided menu to help you branch out their "likes." I have many dishes that I serve at least once a month, if not more. Most of these meals include ingredients that I can keep in my pantry (alongside fresh produce) and don't take hours to prepare. That way, I can quickly prepare a meal that everyone will slurp up. No excuses.
Lentil Rice came in to our lives a year ago. It was a chilly night and I was flipping through the pages of this cookbook, which has come to be one of my favorites. I hadn't gone to the grocery in days and was struggling for some divine dinner inspiration. I was actually looking for a Lentil Soup recipe but didn't even have the carrots that were required for a good soup base. On the opposite page was this recipe. It's simple. It's savory and faintly spiced. It can be served alone, with a salad. Sometimes I put a fried egg on top to increase the protein. It can also be served alongside some grilled sausage or fish but it is so warm and filling, I hardly ever go that far. Sometimes, I cook some carrots (in cream) because Beckett adores them.
Lentil Rice recipe by Tessa Kiros
I will note that we all like our Lentil Rice topped with a dollop of whole milk yogurt and either a generous squeeze of lemon or a puddle of red wine vinegar. If your name is Jason, your puddle will look more like a pond.
5 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Large Red Onion
2 Cloves Garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Sweet Paprika
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1 1/2 Cups Brown or Green Lentils, rinsed and picked over
4 Cups Water, plus one Cup
1 Cup Long Grain White Rice
2 Tablespoons Butter
5 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Parsley
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion over medium-low heat, stirring often, until it is golden and sticky looking. Add the garlic, cinnamon, paprika, and coriander, and stir until you can smell the garlic. Remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, put the lentils in a large pan, cover with 4 cups of water; and bring to a boil. Skim the surface and then simmer for 30 minutes, adding some salt halfway through.
Scrape the onion mixture into the lentil pan and add the rice, butter, half the parsley, 1 cup of water, and a dash more salt. Stir well and bring back to a boil. Cover, turn the heat as low as possible, and cook for 15 minutes or so, until all the water has been absorbed, and the rice is cooked through.
Remove from the heat and fluff up. Cover the top of the pan with a clean dish towel, put the lid back on, and leave it for about 10 minutes. Add the remaining parsley and fluff it up again before serving.
Creamy Carrots also by Tessa Kiros
I find this preparation of carrots to be rather indulgent. I actually prefer them roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper in a very hot oven, most of the time. And we eat them like that, most of the time. But, on a very cold night when the body craves comfort and the little blond haired boy looks up and says, "Cay-uts peeese," these carrots sound just about right.
8 Medium Carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch rounds
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 to 2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, chopped
1/2 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
Simmer the carrots in salted water for 10 to 15 minutes until they are quite soft and fraying on the outside, but still just a bit firm on the inside. Drain and put them in a large nonstick frying pan with the butter and parsley. Saute over medium heat until the butter starts to sizzle and turn a little golden, then pour in the cream. Let the dream bubble up and reduce a little, then serve hot.