Family Dinners, final edition.

So far so good in keeping the family dinner blog going. But I believe we’ve come to the point where you’d rather cut your toenails than read about turkey meatballs again.  Therefore this is the final edition, for now.

Things are not running as smoothly, however, in farm to preschool land.  I’ve had everything happen in only 1 weeks time since the markets started…from losing my assistant after 1 market day to having no farmers at all on what was supposed to be the first market at one center, to getting in a car accident for the second time in about 6 weeks while driving home from a market that was cancelled when we arrived to a closed child care center. Whew.  I just keep breathing and knowing it will all work out, and just riding the bumps in the road like I own them.  Just keep on keepin’ on. Before I begin, I didn’t really take any good pictures this week, so here’s one of my son buried in the sand at the beach, just for fun.  He stayed like this for a really long time.  A guy walking by almost stepped on his head.

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So here’s some dinners for this week:

Sunday: Meatballs (same recipe but with ground beef this time), brown rice pasta, homemade basil pesto, roasted radishes, sliced cucumbers, raw sugar snap peas.

Monday: I worked.  Leftovers for the boys.

Tuesday: Olive oil and Spike oven roasted chicken drumsticks, wild rice blend (Whole Foods brand- and they changed their recipe, it’s not salty anymore!), corn on the cob, honey glazed carrots, raw carrots.

My son helped me cook a little tonight, he boiled the corn and lifted them out of the water with the tongs.  He also helped cook the carrots, grate the orange zest over them, add the honey, and stir it up. Did he eat it? No sir.  Too bad for him, it was delicious.  You should try it.  It was my farmers market recipe this week.

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Wednesday: Quinoa Pizza Bites, marinara sauce, fresh mozzerella, roasted red pepper, and basil salad, black cerignola olives, sauteed broccoli, watermelon.

The pizza bites were delicious, I will definitely make them again but go lighter on the salt.  My son took a teeny nibble and said they were delicious, but didn’t eat any more.  Just 4 slices of watermelon.  Nothing else.

Have you had cerignola olives? My fave.  Huge and not too salty.  Might be good for a kid’s first olive.

I’ve been working on mastering broccoli with garlic and oil like they do in the Italian restaurants.  Here’s my method–cut a head of broccoli into florets, saute the garlic for a couple of minutes in olive oil. Add the broccoli and about 1/4-1/2 cup of chicken broth.  Turn the heat up pretty high, cover the pot, and let it cook about 5 minutes.  Test for doneness–should be tender crisp and still bright green.  Season with salt and pepper.

Thursday: I worked late-ish and the boys went out for burgers.

Friday: Chicken sausage, quinoa, peas, apple slices

Saturday: Frozen chicken nuggets (yes we eat them, but only the Bell and Evans white meat, real uncooked chicken ones), kale chips, watermelon, sliced cucumber.

OMG best kale chips I have ever made! I used half a huge bunch of regular green kale, removed the stems, tore them into large pieces, washed, and dried them in my salad spinner.  I tossed them with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a drizzle of honey, about a tablespoon or 2 of nutritional yeast, and some salt and pepper. I laid them out on a cookie sheet and cooked them for about 10 minutes on 375 degrees.  They do better on a little less hot, but thats what the nuggets needed.  I would do them on 325-350 under normal circumstances.  Flip them once during cooking and watch them CLOSELY! There is only a few moments leeway between them being limp, chewy and underdone, being perfectly light and crispy, and being burnt and bitter.

For more family dinner ideas, check out this post, or this one, or this one, OR even this one.

And please feel free to share YOUR family dinner ideas here, obviously I’ve run out.

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Family Dinner Week 4

So we were away all weekend and came back late Sunday night.  I had guests in town, and I was working on another project etc etc etc, which left me zero time to plan or shop or cook.  So all bets are off this week as to how the meals will turn out.  I had some stuff hanging around and some meat in the freezer and my incredible talent of being able to create a decent meal from a seemingly empty refrigerator.  I did finally manage to get to TJs on Tuesday, but don’t think the planning phase is going to happen this week.  So here goes.

Monday: Had to work.  Boys went out for pizza.

Tuesday: Grilled chicken breasts, curried grilled cauliflower, guacamole, salsa, blue corn chips, sliced cucumber, cherries.

I just seasoned the chicken breast with Spike and olive oil and they came out nice.  I think I have finally learned not to overcook chicken breast after overcooking about 6,236 chicken breasts over the past 10 or so years.

The cauliflower had incredible potential.  I wanted to do something a little different so I tossed the florets with some olive oil, curry powder, salt, and black pepper.  I grilled them in a grill basket and they were looking really nice until I turned up the heat at the end just to finish them a little more and something caught fire inside the grill and pretty much ruined it and gave a really bitter flavor to the cauliflower.  But I would try this if I were you, it would have been delicious I think, had it not caught fire. Doh.

AND score a silent point for me, my son actually ate and loved cherries tonight after trying to persuade him to eat them for many years.  I was eating them and conspicuously (though not intentionally) spitting the pits out onto my plate.  This struck my son as funny and he grew curious and agreed to try a cherry.  He was pleasantly surprised that not only was it great fun to find the pit in his mouth and spit it out, but that cherries are also incredibly delicious.  He said he loved them, and I simultaneously cheered silently while also sitting on the edge of my seat hoping he didn’t choke on the pit.  It was good times.

Wednesday: Frozen fish sticks (TJs), homemade tartar sauce, pasta, leftover homemade pesto, salad bar (romaine, carrots, sugar snap peas, almonds, raisins, roasted red peppers).

Another shocker from my boy–I can’t even remember the last time he ate a fish stick, and he just bellied up to the table and ate 4 of them without even batting an eye or making a comment.  Like he’s been eating them forever. I also haven’t served them in months either.  But there ya go. Crazy.

Salad bar is a big favorite in my house.  I used to serve salad all together in one big bowl, but my son would never touch it.  Now I serve it all up separately-lettuce in one big bowl, and all the toppings in small bowls around.  This way my son can pick and choose what he likes. It makes a little more dishes but is otherwise just as easy to prepare.  Looks nice too!

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Thursday: Pulled pork in the crock pot, brioche rolls, potato chips, broccoli slaw, sliced cucumber, sliced apples.

I am just learning to like pork products other than bacon, and this pulled pork is super easy and yummy.  I like to dip mine in a little barbecue sauce too.

Friday: I went out with the girls! Rejoice. Boys had pasta and meatballs.

Cherry update: The night my son tried a cherry he said that he would like to eat cherries every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  When I served them again a day or two later, he looked, declared his love for cherries and didn’t eat a one.  I’m not sure he’s had one since that night.

Family Dinner Week 3

This was a very hectic week indeed.  And have to say that when I am not around, not a lot of dinner cooking gets done. Even if I leave plans.  Oh well.

So without further ado, and because my time is so limited this week:

Monday: I was out at a meeting and then meditation class, the boys went out for pizza.

Tuesday: Homemade turkey meatballs (they were so good last week I had to do it again, though I have to admit they weren’t as good this time, maybe because I left out the parmesan), homemade pesto (with basil that I grew myself-yahoo!), brown rice spaghetti (the one from Trader Joe’s is really quite good!), blanched broccoli from the farmers market.

I blanched the broccoli quickly in the pasta water before I boiled the pasta, then threw it in a bowl of ice water to keep it nice and green and still a little crisp.  My former broccoli lover still didn’t eat it…

Wednesday: Homemade beet hummus (it was so good, I don’t know why I buy hummus, it’s never very good), tortilla chips, bread, leftover broccoli, cut up carrots, celery, and radishes, avocado.

For the hummus I used 1 can of garbanzo beans, 1 small roasted beet, a few tablespoons of tahini, the juice of about 3/4 of a lemon, 1 clove of garlic, a glug of olive oil, fresh chives and parsley, and salt and pepper.  I’ve never been able to get my son to eat beets but he loved this hummus, it was a gorgeous hue of red/pink and was delicious too.  He loved it! He also made himself a broccoli and carrot sandwich. Ha.

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Thursday: I was working and husband was away, so I had to pack up lunch AND dinner for my son at the sitters house.  Whew.  At least I got in lots of fruits and vegetables.

Friday: Annie’s gluten-free mac and cheese, fresh mozzerella, roasted red pepper and basil salad, roasted beets, roasted asparagus and carrots, roasted radishes, corn on the cob.

This was a clean-out-the-fridge night meal.  We are going away tomorrow and didn’t want to waste all those beautiful vegetables! I have to say I never thought of roasting radishes, and it was SO delicious.  I will definitely do it again.  I like radishes but only in small amounts, and I can never use them up before they go funky.  I can’t remember where I saw the recipe, but it was so simple.  Slice the radishes thin and throw them in a baking dish with a tablespoon of butter and some salt and pepper. I roasted mine on 375 (though most recipes call for a bit hotter) and when the butter melted I just stirred it around a bit.  I roasted them til they were soft and shrively and a little brown, probably about 25 minutes.  Yum.

Another week of family dinner, and a recipe (sort of)

Well, I’ve been managing to keep up with my weekly meal planning so far, and even writing it down for you all! I sincerely hope some of you are getting some good ideas from it.  I’d love to hear what you are making too. We can all use some new dinner ideas once in a while (or all the time).  I’m working on taking some pictures too, for your viewing pleasure.  But don’t expect any fancy schmancy food styling with cute colored napkins or anything.  Ain’t nobody got time for that ’round here.  So without further ado, here are last week’s meals:

Sunday: Homemade turkey meatballs, penne pasta, jarred Sauce, roasted asparagus, carrot sticks, watermelon.

These were possibly the best batch of meatballs I have made in a while.  I should probably write down the recipe for you guys one of these days, but I think it comes out best when I wing it! I will try and give some basic instructions here and hope you can have great turkey meatballs too!  I think it had a lot to do with the pile of fresh herbs I put in..I am growing fresh herbs in front of my house, and they are doing well.  Maybe I do have a green thumb after all!

So I served a lot of choices this meal, which isn’t always the case.  I happened to have some carrot sticks left over from lunch, and watermelon that needed to be eaten up, so I put it out there, still in the containers from the fridge.  We’re not fancy, and sometimes a few extra choices are good for a picky little one.  Though this is one meal he’s pretty into.

Ok meatballs–1 or a little more pounds of ground turkey thighs, a big squish of tomato paste, 1 egg, about 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs (I used Ians gluten free panko), about 1/4 cup of chopped fresh herbs (I used oregano, basil, parsley, and chives), some garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and a dash of cinnamon.  Roll those puppies up and put them on a parchment lined baking sheet, bake for about 20 minutes on 375, turning occasionally.

Look at this crazy purple carrot!

Look at this crazy purple carrot!

Monday: Mexican sweet potato and black bean bake, salad bar (green leaf lettuce, cucumber, bell peppers, shredded cheddar cheese, cherry tomatoes), guacamole, salsa, sour cream, blue corn chips.

This dinner did not work out so well.  I planned this without realizing that it needed to bake for about 50 minutes total, and didn’t get home until 5:50, and for some crazy reason, I was still determined to make it.  So we had some guac and chips and then had bath and hang out time.  The sweet potatoes were STILL not cooked, and I ended up having to cook the dish for an extra 30-40 minutes.  So we ate extra late and frankly I didn’t enjoy it that much, so I won’t share it with you here.  Lesson learned; don’t try to bake sweet potatoes into a casserole, roast or steam them first.  By the time they were finished the corn tortillas in the dish were dry in some spots and mushy in others, and the cheese in the dish was dried out.  Blah.  All that waiting for mediocre results.  Oh well, you win some, you lose some.  We still sat together and ate, so thats cool.

BUT I did find out that if you cut plain corn tortillas up into quarters and bake them at 375 for about 10 minutes, turning once, they get pretty crispy and delicious! Throw a little salt on them and you have a non-fried, non-packaged tortilla chip! I will definitely do this again, because I have an incredible weakness for tortilla chips, and can easily eat WAY too many in one sitting.  I haven’t gotten into making my own corn tortillas, though that is definitely on my radar…

Tuesday: Spicy Sesame Honey Chicken in a Crock Pot, Basmati rice, peas, strawberries.

This was great because it was all done when we got home.  However, I think it would have been better with the sesame and scallion garnish.  No time for garnish tonight.  Next time I would change the sauce up a bit I think; more honey, less tomato, add ginger, maybe a little mirin or sherry.  And if you have the option I would stick with the recommendation to cook 5-7 hours, I cooked 8 and warmed for a bit, because thats how long I was gone. And it was a tiny bit overdone.

Wednesday: Dinner out.

Thursday: Homemade burgers from the freezer, whole wheat buns from TJs, frozen french fries, not sure if there was anything else, but like to think there was a fruit or vegetable served. I work Thursday nights so I’m not home for dinner!

Friday: Scrambled eggs with fresh chives, bacon, toast, pepper jack cheese, salsa, avocado, sliced oranges, honeydew melon, cherry tomatoes, strawberries.

The fruits and veggies were all things that were already cut up and needed to be end-of-the-week eaten.

Where I have been! (and a week of quick meals)

Let me apologize for the long delay in keeping up with my blog.  I know some of you have come to enjoy and look forward to my posts, and well, I’ve been slackin’!  Where have I been??  Well, I’ve been busy and distracted in a few different respects, and I’m trying to make my way back here to my writing, because it is so good for me in many ways.

One big reason for my absence is that I started a full time job a few weeks ago, and have been transitioning into the life of a full time worker bee + mom + wife + house cleaner + laundry doer + dinner cooker etc etc etc.  Whew, it’s a lot.  But I am happy to have found a job that I truly love and feel blessed to get paid to do it!

What is this job, you ask? I am managing a Farm to Preschool grant for the Child Care Council of Nassau. Yes, I get to work with kids and farmers and food every day, and a bunch of nice people too!  I am going to be running 3 farmers markets beginning in July that will be located at 3 child care centers during dismissal times, when the parents are coming to pick up their children. We are focusing on underserved areas of Long Island, and hoping to not only increase access to fresh, local produce for the families and staff of these child care centers, but also to help them increase their consumption of fresh produce by making it as affordable as possible, and at the same time educating them on how to cook new vegetables.  I am so thrilled to be able to head up this project.

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Another part of the project involves gardening with the children at each center and I spent 3 mornings last week at Home Depot purchasing soil and other various garden tools.  Now, gardening is definitely not my strong suit (I have killed many a plant in my day), but I’ve just been flying by the seat of my pants as I figure it all out.  I have been stumped several times, like when I opened up the packet of lettuce seeds and realized how SMALL and how MANY of them there were!  How many to put in each hole?? Certainly not just one?  How many can you plant in a 2 foot by 1 foot space? Hmm, no idea.  Well, since I was planting with 4 year olds, and there were only moments to spare to answer all of these questions, they all ended up in the ground, and I guess we’ll see what happens!! It is great fun to be able to share this experience with the children, and I can’t wait to see what comes up.  I hope something comes up, and I sure do hope they will eat it too!

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I’ve also been doing a little nutrition counseling with adults these days, and many of my clients have asked me for resources to help them create healthy, quick meals that their children will eat too.  So I had an idea.  Since I’ve gone back to work, I’ve found that making a plan and shopping on the weekend is the only way to get dinner on the table each night in a short amount of time.  Since I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at new recipes and trying them out, I thought it might be helpful to share my weekly plans with you all, along with the results, good or bad.

SO here goes.  First you should know that I use an amazingly wonderful website called Plan to Eat.  It is a subscription service, but I think it is worth every penny.  The site has an online recipe book so I can save any recipe I find on the web right to their site, organized into categories.  Then there is a drag and drop weekly planner where you can drag recipes from your list in the sidebar right onto the day you want to make it.  There is also a shopping list, which I don’t use but probably should, and you can access the whole site through an app on your phone.  It’s really great in helping me get organized, as well as be able to view a recipe easily while out and about.  Anyhow, you can plan every meal and snack if you like, but I just plan out the main dishes and sometimes side dishes for dinner.  Usually I just wing the side dishes if it will just be a vegetable roasted or steamed, or salad, or fruit, or sometimes I leave that part open and see what needs to be used up.  Since it is farmers market season now too, it is good to leave the sides a bit flexible so I can just pick up what looks good at the market.  But having at least the main dish planned is essential.  I also have to say that my crock pot (a recent purchase) has become incredibly helpful in getting food on the table fast.  Crock pots are all the rage these days too, and you can find tons of real food crock pot recipes online.

So without further ado, this was my plan from last week, and how it went:

Monday: Black beans and rice, guacamole, salsa, blue corn chips, cut up cucumber, carrots, bell peppers.

The black beans were from a crock pot black bean soup recipe I made for Cinco de Mayo and froze.  They were delicious.

Tuesday: Flank steak on the grill, seasoned with Spike (do you know about Spike? It’s a great seasoning blend), frozen french fries, steamed green beans.

The green beans were a fiasco, they were TJ’s non-organic bag of green beans and they smelled and tasted like maple syrup once cooked, and looked super weird.  One of the only times I told my son NOT to eat a vegetable.  They got tossed.  I think I had some sliced cucumber in there too.

Wednesday: Whole chicken in a crock pot, Annie’s mac and cheese, sauteed kale with red onion, watermelon.

This chicken is a great recipe from 100 Days of Real Food.  I’m a big fan of the blog, check it out if you haven’t.

Thursday: Dinner out.

Friday: Creamy chicken and wild rice stew,  bread, butter, salad.

Yum, this soup was delicious.  I will definitely make it again.  Super quick, prepped everything into the crock the night before (did this also with the whole chicken on Wednesday) with the exception of the leftover cooked chicken, then all I had to do was pop it into the cooker in the morning.  My husband added the chicken when he got home and turned the cooker back on high for about 20 minutes.  I also used homemade broth which I cooked all day on Thursday with the bones I had leftover from Wednesday’s chicken.  If you check out the whole chicken in a crock pot recipe, she explains how to do this.  It works, it’s easy, it’s delicious, and nutritious.

This is one meal I felt certain my 4 year old would not eat.  I mean, he likes chicken, rice, and the occasional soup mostly of the chicken noodle variety, but it was creamy and smelled a little ‘interesting’ from the wild rice.  I kept that idea to myself of course though, and sure enough, he agreed that he would like to try some in his bowl.  I put in a tiny bit and he tried and said he liked it.  He asked for more, which I gave him, but he didn’t eat it.  Oh well, it’s a good start, so maybe next time he will actually eat a bowlful, or 3 bites.

 

Feeding with Freedom; A Series. Part 4: The Division of Responsibility

Sounds serious and perhaps a bit intimidating, doesn’t it? Well, The Division of Responsibility in feeding is actually a wonderful tool that is easily put to use in the feeding relationships we have with our children. It was created by Ellyn Satter, a dietitian, family therapist, and pioneer in feeding and creating healthy relationships with food and eating.

The Division of Responsibility in feeding is simple, but powerful:

  • The parent is responsible for the what, when, and where of feeding
  • The child is responsible for whether and how much to eat

I have touched on all of these subjects in the past three parts of my series, but wanted to introduce the concepts of the Division of Responsibility (also known as DOR) because I feel they are easy to remember, especially in the heat of the moment when everything is going a little not how you planned at the dinner table.

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When the DOR is adhered to, many of the questions that arise about feeding well are resolved.  The DOR can be applied to pretty much all types of children, from typical children to those with sensory disorders or physical feeding problems.  Of course each situation is unique, but the DOR is an incredibly versatile and effective set of rules to follow.

When following the DOR, it is the parent’s responsibility to decide:

  • What is to be served at each meal or snack.  This eliminates the problems that arise when children are allowed to choose what they want to eat at every meal, since it is often the same foods.  Once the parent decides what is going to be served, the food is layed out family style, and the child is given the opportunity to choose from what is available.  It is up to the parent to determine whether there will be many or few choices at each meal, and may depend on the individuality of each child. It gives the parent the chance to serve a child’s favorites at times, and introduce new foods at others.  For more on making family meals work, see Part 2 of this series.
  • When each meal or snack will be served.  It is the parent’s job to make sure that meals and snacks are being served at regular intervals throughout the day.  Young children need 3 meals plus 2 snacks during the day, and some young children will need a third snack before bed.  Older children need 3 meals plus 1 snack, usually in the afternoon.  You decide what is best for your child, and whatever it is needs to take the same form each day. Nothing else should be served between meals and snacks besides water.  Children should come to know that if they choose not to eat at a given meal or snack that is OK, but that there will not be any other food until the next scheduled meal or snack.  This also assures that children are hungry when they come to the table to eat, which helps them to eat more balanced meals, and ultimately to be more open to trying new foods.
  • Where each meal or snack will be served.   Meals and snacks should be served in a place that is calm, clean, and reserved for eating, without distraction of TV or other electronic devices, ideally a kitchen or dining room table. Children should sit in a seat that is supportive and high enough for them to reach the table, and ideally have a place to rest their feet.  There has been some research that shows that children eat better when their feet are supported under the table instead of just dangling down.

When following the DOR, it is the children’s responsibility to decide:

  • Whether they will eat. As I have said in previous posts, all healthy children are born with the innate ability to regulate hunger and fullness.  Therefore, we must trust children when they tell us they do not want to eat or are not hungry.  By telling them they HAVE to eat, we are asking them to ignore their own body’s signals, which can lead weight problems later in life.  This one is hard for me because at dinnertime I often I know that my 4 year old IS hungry, but that he is overtired or saying he is not hungry for other reasons.  I tell him OK, but that there won’t be any other food for the rest of the night. Usually if I leave him be he will come around and end up eating once he gets over his crank fest.  As he is getting older, we are trying to encourage him to come to the dinner table just to sit with us even if he is not planning on eating.  This is hard for younger children, but should be encouraged when a child is able to at least sit, be social, and observe the food being served.  And they often realize that, miraculously, they are hungry!
  • How much they will eat of what is being offered.  Once the food is on the table, it is up to the child to decide how much he or she will eat.  Allowing a child to serve themselves from the family style bowl helps them to get in touch with portions, but they should not be made to eat what they put on their plate.  In order to avoid food waste and since my son can get caught up in the fun of scooping food onto his plate, I help him take a small portion and tell him he can always have more if he chooses.  It is also important to allow a child to eat only what they choose from what is available, even if it might not be our idea of a ‘balanced’ meal. We need to look at our child’s intake over a day or several days to determine if their intake is balanced.  Once we become involved in which foods children are selecting, we are applying pressure at mealtime. Similarly, by encouraging a child to eat one more bite of this or that, we are not only applying pressure, but again asking the child to ignore their own hunger and satiety cue. For more on pressure, see part 3 of this series.

Of course there are times when I don’t follow the DOR to the T.  This is real life.  To be perfectly honest, most of the time at lunch I give my 4 year old a couple of choices of what he would like to eat for his main dish, which is usually between leftovers, something else I have that needs to be eaten, or something he hasn’t already had the past 2 days. Then I lay out some fruits and vegetables and occasionally some sweets. This is it, nothing fancy or special, since it is just he and I for lunch.  And often I will eat something different, because, well, the leftovers need to be eaten.

But we sit together, at the table, and enjoy our meal.  There is no fighting, or bribing, or coercing. There is still the occasional whining and complaining, but usually not about the food. Sometimes he tells me he doesn’t like what there is to eat, and whines that he wants something else.  Most of the time I stand firm and tell him thats all we have to eat right now. And most of the time he will eat what is there.  Other times he has a true hankering for something else, and I give it to him.  Because this is real life.  And sometimes you just have a craving for something.

Some days he eats a ton and asks for more, and others he eats next to nothing. Oftentimes I know he is just excited to go back to playing, and I have to remind him to listen to his belly and decide whether it is full enough.  Sometimes he listens, and other times he doesn’t.  But that is life with a 4 year old.

I have to remind myself constantly that I am working on helping my son to truly enjoy a variety of food, and to have a healthy relationship with it. This is not about today’s lunch, or tomorrow’s dinner, but about a lifetime of taking true pleasure in the gift of nourishment.  Today I am doing the very best that I can in the situation, just as every other parent is too.  And that is all we can do.  Remember to be gentle with yourself, take time to implement changes, and expect change to come even slower than you thought.

Have you started using the Division of Responsibility?  How has it worked for your family?

Feeding With Freedom; a Series. Part 3: Avoiding Pressure

So you’ve put the family meal on the table; several components, and at least something every family member can eat.  Now comes the hard part. Sit back, relax, enjoy your meal, and let everyone serve and eat what they want from what is available.  Sounds like the easy part, right?

You would think. But after years of feeling our own pressures to get our kids to eat a certain amount of vegetables each day, or protein, or even just to eat, pressuring can be the hardest thing to let go. A little encouragement to eat one more bite, a little more this, a little more that, with the good intention of making sure kids get a balanced meal and enough food to fill their bellies.  What’s the harm?

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Studies on the subject show a variety of findings.  First off, children who are pressured to eat are more likely to be picky eaters.  This could be more or less evident depending on the temperament of the child.  Those who are more stubborn may refuse simply because they are being pressured.

Another thing to keep in mind is that healthy children are born with the ability to regulate their hunger and fullness.  Pressuring children to eat one more bite when they say they are full encourages children to override these signals.  This could cause them to lose touch with these cues for life, leading to unhealthy eating behaviors and weight gain over time.

Lastly, children’s eating behaviors are very sporadic; they may be very hungry one day or one meal, and eat next to nothing the next.  Parents should understand that this is very normal and trust their child’s body to tell them when to eat, stop eating, or not eat at all.

Pressure at mealtimes also leads to tension and stress at the dinner table, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid.  We want our children to have a healthy relationship with food, enjoy a variety of foods for a lifetime, and learn to try new foods. Family meals should be seen by all as a pleasant time to enjoy each others company and good food, even though ‘good food’ might mean something different to each of us.  Tension and pressure at the dinner table may lead to unpleasant feelings about eating, and unnecessary stress for the child.  Most typical children want to learn to eat and enjoy a variety of foods, but it takes time and repeated exposure for this to happen.  Pressure, or even ‘gentle suggestions’ (depending on the child), may lead to the result we want in the short term, but usually will not help children to truly enjoy variety in the long run.

Another form of pressure is bribing.  This technique works like a charm in the short term, so that children can get the reward they seek.  A recent study  showed that indeed children ate more fruits and vegetables when offered an incentive, but that when the incentive was taken away, the level of fruit and vegetable consumption went back down to where it began.

Bribing with dessert, such as promising ice cream if a child finishes their broccoli, also sends a poor message.  By withholding dessert in this way we are telling our children that vegetables must be so bad that we need a reward in order to eat them.  What we want to teach them is that vegetables can be just as delicious as any other foods and are no less valuable or desirable than sweets or any other foods.

Beware of pressure in it’s many forms. We tend to think of pressure as negative, such as restricting food or criticizing.  But pressure can also come in a positive form, such as praising and encouragement.  Both positive and negative pressure can cause undue stress in the feeding relationship.

I’d love to hear your views on this subject!

For more on family dinner see Part 1 of this series, for more on making family dinner work for everyone, see part 2 of this series.

Feeding with Freedom; A Series. Part 2: Making Family Dinner Work

In Part 1 of my Feeding with Freedom series, I talked about the importance of family dinner.  But how do you make family dinner work for all involved, including the picky eaters?  Can one meal really be made for everyone?  And if one meal is made, will everyone really eat it?

The answer is a resounding YES!  Though it may take some planning and preparation, especially in the beginning, one meal can be made that everyone will (eventually!) learn to enjoy.  It is important to be prepared with ingredients on hand, and to have an idea of what will be made at least one day ahead.  I usually plan my main dish the day before (or sometimes earlier–I am trying to get into that habit) so I can defrost meat, soak beans, or have any prep done in enough time.  I have just started using a great service called Plan to Eat that provides you with an online recipe book, a drag and drop weekly menu, and shopping lists that you can access from your phone.  The more organized you are for the week or days ahead, the better chance you have of pulling off the meal with relative ease.

At each meal, offer several components.  For instance, offer a meat or meat alternative, 1 or 2 starches like rice, pasta, or potatoes, and 1 or 2 vegetables and/or fruits.  Serve each component in it’s own dish in the center of the table, and allow family members to serve themselves if appropriate.  Allow children to eat their fill of each food available without suggestion as to what else or how much of anything should be eaten.

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When planning the meal, think about the main dish first.  This is usually a protein such as meat, poultry, chicken, fish, beans, or tofu.  It does not always have to be a dish that you know your children will enjoy, and oftentimes meat dishes (especially when they are mixed with a lot of other ingredients, like casseroles) can be the most difficult for a picky eater to handle.  This is OK. If it isn’t too much trouble I will sometimes leave some of the ingredients separate for my picky eater, and other times not. In fact my son surprised me a few weeks ago when I made a chicken, pasta and pesto dish and left plain chicken and pasta for him on the side.  He went right for the mixed dish like he had been eating it all his life.  MInd you he had been refusing pesto for probably the past 2 years. I served it up with nary a smile, though I was cheering on the inside!  And I am happy to report he ate pesto again tonight, despite my low (but secretive) expectations!

If you are planning a main dish that you are fairly certain your child will not accept, plan side dishes that you know they will like such as pasta or rice.  If you have a couple of picky eaters and one will eat this or the other won’t eat that, tack on an extra starch (like bread and butter) or fruit that you know your child will eat.  If the main dish is something you know your child will most likely eat, this is the time to introduce new starches, new vegetables, or vegetables your child has previously refused.

Once the meal is on the table, it is time for you to be firm that there is nothing else being offered for dinner.  It is also the time to relax about what does or does not get eaten.  It is hard at first, but you have to be OK with your child eating only bread and butter for dinner.  If they are hungry enough (or bored enough with eating bread and butter) they will begin to push themselves to explore the other foods on the table, as long as there is no pressure being put on them.

That said, some children are amenable to tasting new foods when prompted as long as they know they are not required to eat them if they don’t like it.  And this is, of course, a great and easy way to get kids to taste foods they would not otherwise.  However, other children will refuse trying a new food simply because someone asked them to.  Only you know your child, and only you know what will work best for them. So it is up to you to decide the best way for your family.

Lastly, try serving foods in different ways, and don’t be afraid to dress up your vegetables or make them fun to eat in some way.  I love vegetables, but even I don’t get excited about eating plain steamed broccoli.  Add flavor with a little butter and salt, cheese, or a dip on the side.  Besides, a little fat helps the body absorb all the nutrients from the vegetables much more efficiently!

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I’d love to hear whether any of you have started serving family dinner, and what the results have been!

Feeding with Freedom; a series. Part 1: Family Dinner

Happy New Year to you all!  Wishing everyone lots of happiness and health in the new year.  As for me, I am focusing in more this year on my work of helping parents feed their kids well, which prompted me to start this series.  I hope it is helpful to some of you.

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Feeding children is a huge part of being a parent.  It happens day in and day out, several times a day, and those kids just keep getting hungry!

Sometimes feeding kids can seem like a thankless job, especially with kids who are less than willing to eat what you put on the table.  Most people know what they SHOULD be feeding their kids, but the problem is how to actually get fruits, vegetables, grains, and other whole foods into them. There just isn’t a lot of advice out there on the how part of feeding.  Things can get especially difficult around the age of 3, when children begin to assert their independence, and say NO to many of the foods they ate with gusto just a few months previous.  Many parents throw up their hands and just feed them what they know they will eat.  We figure they will get through this ‘phase’, and many kids will, some quicker than others. But there are several things we can do along the way to help ease our children into eating (and liking!) a variety of whole foods without having to bribe, battle or beg.

This series will hopefully offer a few key suggestions to help turn the job of feeding your kids into something more enjoyable for everyone involved.  Food is so much more than nourishment, and battling, bribing and coercing children to eat certain foods creates an air of tension and can set kids up with a negative attitude toward food and eating for life.  I think one of the most important things we can do for our children is to provide them with a love of and appreciation for delicious, whole food. Like any other skill that we teach our children, learning to eat in a balanced way takes time and patience.

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Today we start with a bit about the benefits of family dinner.

I know some of you are saying, “We could not have family dinner in my house, ” for various reasons.  The reality is that our modern world is such that many parents do not arrive home until it is much too late for little ones to eat, or that kids have evening activities to attend, or that parents get home without enough time to prepare a meal for the family.  Whatever the reason, that is OK.  Accept the reality of where your family is, and begin to think about a different type of “family dinner”. Perhaps yours is “family breakfast”, or “family lunch” on the weekends, or even just having dinner together 1 or 2 nights a week.  Any and all of these things “count” and will provide many of the benefits that families reap from eating together.  Recent studies show that kids who share family dinners 3 or more times per week:

  • Are more likely to eat healthy foods
  • Do better in school
  • Are more emotionally stable
  • Have better relationships with their parents
  • Are at lower risk for obesity, substance abuse, and disordered eating.

Besides these quite amazing benefits, family dinners provide no-pressure opportunities to introduce kids to new foods.  And when I say “family dinner” I mean one dinner cooked for everyone, served family style, with the whole family (or even just those who are available) sitting down together to eat. By serving new food in a family style way (placing it on the table in a central dish) but not on a child’s plate, kids are exposed to new foods and will progress to exploring, tasting, and possibly even liking the new food without pressure to try it.  This will likely not happen the first time a new food is served, or maybe even the 5th or the 15th, but this is a great way to introduce the food without creating tension at mealtime.

It is important for successful family meals to keep a positive environment at the table. Go around the table and talk about your day, or just about anything except what everyone is or isn’t eating.  Of course it’s great to talk about the foods offered and help your kids learn about them if they are interested, and it is also important for them to see you enjoying the food. But that is where the influence should stop, allowing kids natural curiosity to take over when they are ready.  Watching you also teaches kids about how to behave at mealtime as well as learning good table manners by example.

You may be wondering how it is possible that your picky kid will eat anything you have put out on the table for everyone to eat unless mac and cheese or chicken nuggets are there nightly.  It is perfectly OK to serve these foods occasionally as a component of the meal, but they should not be there every night.  It is important to make sure there is SOMETHING that each family member will eat (for example bread and butter or fruit), but this is the best way to push children along to try new things without pressure, as it is likely they will get bored eating the bread and butter every night and decide to try some new things.

Of course this new style of feeding is likely to cause some meltdowns and strong demands for the usual but it is important to stick to your guns.  When children realize that this is what there is for dinner tonight and no amount of whining will get them another meal, most will give in after a few days and at least begin to eat some parts of the meal.  It is also important to let go of the thinking that kids need to eat a “balanced” meal every night.  This style of eating, especially at first, will allow for your child to eat only bread and butter, or noodles, or fruit for dinner.  It is important not to worry about this and to look at a child’s whole day or their eating over a few days.  Chances are that if you are offering several components at each meal (for example bread, cheese, meat, and vegetables, more on this in a later post), your child’s eating will balance out over the day or few days and they will get all the nutrients they need.

That said, there is a difference between a picky eater and a problem feeder.  If your child seems to be on the extreme picky side, for example rejecting whole groups of foods, or having extreme physical aversions to certain foods even being near them, there may be other issues involved.  If the changes you’ve made and stuck to over time don’t seem to be making any difference (and remember this type of change takes lots of time, more than you would think), then I encourage you to seek the help of a feeding therapist or registered dietitian.  Most children can learn to like at least some new foods, but some just need a little extra help.

I hope that this information will be helpful to you, and I would love to hear your questions and experiences you have with your family around feeding.  Stay tuned for part 2 of this series next week!

Chicken Enchilada Soup

My 4 year old surprised me the other day.  Not to say that he doesn’t surprise me every day in some way, but there have been very little surprises or branching out lately in the food and eating department.  But I just keep on keeping on, following Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in feeding and knowing that he will come around eventually.

He had not eaten pesto, or anything on his noodles but butter in probably a year.  SO when I made fresh pesto the other night tossed with pasta, leftover chicken, and green beans, I also put out plain noodles, chicken, and green beans.  When my son sat down at the table for dinner he said, “What’s in the pot??” When I told him, he exclaimed, “I like pesto!!”  I almost fell over but didn’t let on for a minute as he proceeded to gobble it down and have seconds.  I was jumping for joy inside, but remained calm and cool so as not to encourage him either way.

I was hoping that we had entered into a more adventurous stage of eating finally, so I had high hopes for last night’s chicken enchilada soup. He likes chicken, rice, chips, cheese, and avocado, so I thought this one might be a real hit.  Well it certainly was for the rest of the family, but no such luck with our little friend.  He ate chips, cheese, and avocado for dinner.  Oh well, maybe next time, or the next, or the 10th or 20th time, because there will be a 20th time.  It’s that good.

Also, I don’t know about you, but I roast a lot of chicken around here and am always looking for new ways to use up the leftover chicken meat.  I mean I love chicken noodle soup and all, but it gets boring.  And I always have extra rice hanging around too.

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I was inspired by a recipe I saw online and she made these amazing looking crispy tortilla strips from scratch for topping the soup, which I was all set to do, until I discovered MOLD on my tortillas!!! So we had to settle for good old corn chips as topping until next time, and you can get the recipe for those from the link below.  I changed it up a bit, so here’s my version:

CHICKEN ENCHILADA SOUP

(gluten free, dairy free option)

  By Dana Youkilis

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

½ cup red bell pepper, diced

1 Tbsp chili powder

½ tsp cumin

2 Tbsp fine ground yellow corn meal or masa harina

1 quart chicken stock

1 14 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes

1 cup cooked, chopped chicken meat

1 ½ cups cooked rice

3 Tbsp heavy cream (optional)

Sea salt to taste

For garnish: chopped fresh cilantro, diced avocado, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, corn chips or homemade crispy tortilla strips (get the recipe from All Things Health), anything else that floats your boat

Instructions

In a large pot, heat the oil and sauté the garlic and onions until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes.  Add the carrot and bell pepper and sauté 5 minutes more.  Add the chili powder, cumin, corn meal and ¼ cup of stock and continue stirring until the stock is mostly evaporated, about 1 minute.  Add the rest of the stock and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and let the soup simmer about 20 minutes.  Add the chicken and rice and cook until heated through, about 5 more minutes.  Season to taste with sea salt, add the cream and remove soup from heat.  Garnish with your choice of toppings.

Nutrition Facts (per serving not including toppings): Calories 251; Total Fat 8g; Saturated Fat 3g; Cholesterol 35mg; Sodium 504mg; Total Carbohydrate 30g; Dietary Fiber 2g; Sugars 8g; Protein 14g