My husband and his family are from Nicaragua. Growing up in Miami I was surrounded by various Latino cultures and amazing food. Beside morning trips to the Cuban bakery for pastelitos on the way to school, I didn't venture too far off my Americano roots.
Then enters my husband in to my life at the tender age of fifteen. I'll never forget a night I was invited to dinner, the meal being served was la lengua (cow tongue). While this was a special occasion and dish, the teenager in me was freaking out. I was polite and tried some, it wasn't bad but I couldn't wrap my mind around the visual. What I did gain over the years was a deep love for amazing food from all different cultures.
When we travel back to Miami, food is all I can think about. I can taste the Ropa Vieja with black beans and rice or Carne Asada. I dream of such meals, it is almost what I miss most of my old home. Fast forward sixteen years, dragging kids of my own to a new Cuban restaurant that opened in town. My mouth watering for croquetas and yuca frita, for a medianoche sandwich to follow.
"We are going where?" Jack says. His eyes are already making kid food judgments.
"We are going to the new Cuban place, KennTico. I think you'll like it!" I replied.
Pouting and sulking continued until the appetizer came out. His entire face changed when he tasted the ham croquetas.
"Mom, this is really good. I change my mind, this was a good idea." he said.
I realized consistent exposure to different foods helps tremendously. I so want to give in to the macaroni and cheese, chicken nugget lifestyle required and provided everywhere in kid world. It only takes one bite, one new taste to change it all, even for this fifteen year old french fry lovin' girl.
Check out the new Kitchen Explorers blog for more kid cooking goodness.
What do you do to get kids to try new foods? Share your tips and tricks in the comments.
Derek walked in the other night as we were all making homemade pasta. Flour was everywhere and Nate kept reaching in to give the homemade dough a little love pat. I physically cringed every time he did it. Even if I dipped these children in a vat of anti-bacterial soap, I will still remain suspect of their cleanliness.
D: Did you boys wash your hands?
Ethan and Nathan: YES!!
K: They did.
D: (to me) Are you okay?
K: I'm fine. It's just they are so gross.
Derek laughed and handed the boys their very own pasta mound. It was a brilliant move. The boys put the pasta into the machine and patted it repeatedly. It fell on the ground. He picked it back up and handed it to them. They squealed with delight as they continued to make their own dinner. I finished making our real pasta and made the dirty pile disappear before the noodles went into the boiling water.
The kids greedily ate their dinner. It was a hit. That's when I realized that having the kids cook with me was a sure way to get them to eat their dinner. It seemed that because they were invested, the food seemed to taste better to them.
Use simple ingredients. Tomatoes, garlic, onions, basil and oregano will make a lovely sauce for pasta. My kids love picking tomatoes from our garden. Some are redder than others, but you can always wait a few days for those not-so-green tomatoes to ripen. Nature is kind.
Use a recipe that is forgiving. Pasta is easy to make. Flour, olive oil and an egg. There are a million and one recipes for making pasta on the internet if you are looking for one. Mix it together and roll it out with either a rolling pin or a pasta maker. Kids love rolling pins. I would highly recommend spacing your children out with approximately 6 inches to spare, but that's just the crazy that is our house. Exact measurements for pasta are not required. Another fun thing to make is sorbet. Fruit and simple syrup and you are on your way to a delicious dessert.
Shop together. At this time of the summer, the food at the farmer's market is fabulous. Everything is fresh off the farm. Lots of farms have u-pick programs that encourage people to pick their fruit and vegetables directly from the source. This promotes local farms and sustainability as well. My kids love to go picking. Learning about how the strawberry goes from the plant all the way to the table is part of the fun.
Make dinner colorful. My whole life my mother never made two vegetables that were the same color. And let me tell you, she always made two vegetables. She reminded us on more than one occasion that her home economics teacher taught them that dinner should be inviting and colorful. My kids seem more drawn to the orange food groups (carrots, peppers) but greens are not far behind. It provides a great opportunity to practice colors, although Nate still thinks everything is green but needs us to know that his favorite color is orange.
Don't worry about the mess. As the flour piles up on the floor, take a deep breath and let it go. You can clean that flour up when you are done. Better yet, your kids can clean it up. Stressing out about the mess is only going to ruin your good time. If you are Cathy Cleanup, set a goal for the amount of time you allow the mess to accumulate. That way you can focus on your kids and on teaching them how to cook and less time worrying about the little things.
Cooking with kids is as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. Here are more tips for cooking with kids. I'll admit my goal is to have my children cooking all the meals in my house by the time the last one is ten, but I don't see anything wrong with that. Do you?
Yesterday, I got on a plane to Atlanta for work. As I got out of the car at the airport to leave, no one seemed even remotely interested that I was leaving. Part of me felt really bad that my children did not even remotely care that I was leaving and part of me thought, "Yay!!!! No one will be glaring at me on the plane!!"
I was leaving my children for three days. My husband is very competent. They are his children, too. I am always surprised when someone comments on how helpful he is, because I have just always assumed that his participation would be complete and engaged. I mean, no one ever compliments him on how helpful I am. I thought that since it was 2010, it was just assumed that he would actively participate in the rearing of his children. I wouldn't have had more than one, if things had been different. We have three children by choice. His choice.
To be honest, I told him that I thought he would be perfectly fine if I were to die in a fiery airplane crash. As is always the case, my husband asked me not to say such things since it is bad luck. As is always the case with me, who does not believe in bad luck, I continued to speak.
I told him that my only concern was the feeding of my children. You see, my husband will answer seven thousand questions about how grass grows or why there are rings around Saturn or how many layers of skin there are. But when it comes to food, he has a short attention span. He tries for about 10 minutes, and then he gives up. You eat, yay for you. You don't, too bad. So sad.
I would typically land my helicopter there, but my children are a little feisty when they don't eat. We all know this. They come by it honestly from their father. I can get to 7 p.m. before I think, something is wrong here. Oh, I haven't eaten since yesterday. My husband? Eats on a clock. There is that moment of the evening when dinner is behind schedule, and the whole family melts down. Despite being married to my husband for nearly seven years, it took me having children to realize that blood sugars and happy days are synonymous.
So, to be honest, it sometimes surprises me that my husband does not see the correlation between his children's grumpy faces and their need for food. He gives up too quickly, and then everyone is angry and upset. He gets upset, everyone gets upset and no one understands that this is all about food.
I called today and there was screaming in the background. Apparently the boys decided that they wanted to go to the store to get hoola hoops (???). Then everyone cried on the way, while they were there and on the way home. It only took a few minutes in a conversation after they got home for me to determine that lunch had been sketchy and breakfast was even sketchier. I suggested a snack. No one cared.
They will be perfectly fine until I get home. I should probably plan a big dinner though, since it looks like dinner might not be happening any time soon. Is that bad?
I start to feel it every Spring. It is the excitement of growth in the air and knowing something fresh is in store for us. Our bodies perking up for the nutritional bounty about to become available and marking the end of relying on less worthy substitutes.
Every where I go people seem to be talking about it. It's all about local, organic, green , sustainable farms and healthy living. The local farmers markets are buzzing, old CSA friends are popping up, home gardeners are scrubbing dirty fingernails. Moms at the playground are holding Michael Pollan church sessions in the sandbox, while the First Lady takes on childhood obesity.
I find I usually have two reactions on the subject. I'm either totally inspired or feel completely guilty. Inspired to make changes, inspired to see so many innovative ideas on how to live better and smarter, inspired to work harder or contribute. Then of course, is the guilt, guilty about how much take out and processed foods travel through my house, guilty I can't afford to buy as much organic food as I would like to, guilty my family isn't more active. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed and wish there wasn't so much I needed to work on and obstacles to overcome.
How can I afford to buy local organic produce?
How can I shift my life to exercise more?
Why is faster and cheaper usually not very good for you?
I end up trying to be radical or just giving up all together.
After a few chance meetings with friends and experts on the topic this week, I'm wondering if there might be a third option. What is the family food revelation of the week/month/year? Can I get a drum roll please?
I've decided maybe small changes mixed with some doses of grace, increasing over time might just be the way to healthier living. Shocking right?
So this weekend we will use the money from the skipped take out dinner to eat in and use saved money to buy a few more things off the organic list. We can head out to the farmer's market for breakfast and pick up some funky produce we wouldn't normally try. Right before the sun is getting ready to set, maybe we can bike to our favorite ice cream joint instead of drive.
Next week I might just find myself busy and a total mess, falling off the very small step I just stepped on. I don't know the magic solution but I bet trying is a good start.
Check out our Healthy Kids section to take your own baby steps.
How do you go about incorporating good nutrition and exercise in your family life? What are the biggest obstacles? What a your greatest tips for triumph? Tell us in the comments.
You ever have one of those days when you can't get anything done even though you are trying to just get one thing done? Before you know it, your children have the Costco-sized tub of animal crackers under the dining room table and you don't even care. You relieve your guilt with the memory that they are ORGANIC animal crackers and they really don't have very much sugar in them. Of course a serving size is probably 6 or 7 cookies and your kids cruised through that number at 9:45 this morning. It's now 2:50.
You remembered to offer them lunch but you didn't crack the whip when they turned a lunch option down. I too would like grilled cheese sandwiches but somehow we ran out of bread. It seems slightly INSANE to wake the baby up just to go to the store to get some bread. Corn tortillas with peanut butter and jelly for anyone that can stomach them!! At 3:30!! Of course there is nothing for dinner either but that is hours away. You really have to get these documents proofed before sending them to the printer. Four business days for proofing, seven business days for printing and you are right on the edge of the $100 rush charge.
Suddenly it's dinner time and Dad is home and I did clean the kitchen but the house looks like it was the victim of a classroom full of rookie cops on their first search warrant. I sat down beside Nate at the counter and offered him a lovely bowl of pork, rice and beans. He ate the first ten bites before he went all crazy demanding his milk. Then he refused to eat anymore.
This picture? His passive resistance. It was awesome. I wish I could fit my entire body on the top of a stool.
As a parent, do you ever to that calculation of how many bites equals enough nutrition to get your child through another day?
My husband is saying that I am a hypocrite for writing this post. How dare I judge the picky eater? I am one myself. There, I said it. When I was little, I may have even promised my parents that I would eat vegetables when I was 7 in order to get out of eating them. My seventh birthday came and went and I still didn't eat vegetables. I did not happily consume a vegetable until I was 23. Now I can eat tomatoes by the farmer's market bag full.
When Ethan started eating food I was delirious. From his first birthday on, he would eat two scrambled eggs every single day. Yes, I am the best mom ever. Or so I thought until he reached his second birthday and he refused to eat anything that could possibly be construed as healthy or good for you. That and he hated when his food touched. How weird is that (as she looks around guiltily herself). He did eat fruit so that kept me off the pediatrician bad list.
Nathan? Depends on the day. Or the hour. Or the alignment of the planets. Sometimes he'll eat whatever and sometimes he'll eat nothing. He is also not afraid to tell you what you can do with those vegetables.
We have a policy in our house that I make dinner and you either eat it or you do not eat it. Sure they are eating macaroni and cheese every day for lunch but I am making an effort for dinner. These are the new things we are doing around here and they seem to be helping.
1. Let the kids help with dinner. My friend got the kids make-your-own pizza kits for Easter and we made them the other day. First let me say that all you gluten-free people, bless your hearts. Rice flour pizza dough was not as tasty as I thought it would be. But by golly, Ethan ate the entire thing. He seemed slightly more motivated because he had made it himself. The same goes for last night's mashed potatoes that he made himself. I couldn't get the kid to touch mashed potatoes before last night (which makes him really weird. Who doesn't like mashed potatoes???). Even Nate ate them because Ethan made them. Suckers.
2. Sit down at the table to eat. I'm sure you all do this all the time and you are looking at the computer screen like I have lost my mind. Well let's just say I haven't seen the dining room table in months. When we did sit there, it was a nightmare. We started eating dinner at the long kitchen counter and suddenly my kids eat their entire plate of food. They get to eat on tall stools and no one is vying for Dad's lap and screaming. Who know? (Thanks for the tip on that one, Ginny).
3. Don't rule out bribery. Just offer them dessert already. If you are sneaky like me, your kids mistakenly believe that applesauce is a dessert, as are fresh strawberries and blueberries. I'm sure they will figure it out at some point but until then, this is me riding the wave to the shore.
Tell us what you do to make sure your kids eat. It's a judgment-free zone here. All you people that give your kids dinosaur chicken nuggets for breakfast? I know you are out there.