Friday, November 26, 2010

My kids love broccoli

 I wish I had taken some pictures of our Thanksgiving meal yesterday, but I was too busy cooking, serving and eating. We are having a second special meal tomorrow with my family and eating our own thirty-one pound turkey, and since I am just one of many contributors to the meal, I'm thinking I'll get around to some picture taking.

As I sat down to homemade macaroni and cheese tonight, I was thinking of how quick and easy it was to make and how tasty it was. Like most kids, my children LOVE macaroni and cheese. I do usually keep a couple boxes around for emergencies, but I don't feel very good about feeding it to my kids; too many additives, preservatives and "natural flavoring". In the past I've made a one pot cheesy pasta dish that includes boiling noodles, making a cheese sauce, steaming vegetables and then I usually finish it off with an assortment of flavor enhancers; pine nuts, lemon zest, sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata or green olives, capers etc. Well, I've had to tame it down for the kids, but I've found that I still enjoy the basic version as well, and leaving out the olive chopping, lemon zesting, pine nut toasting and dried tomato soaking, really cuts down on the time it takes to make it.

I haven't followed a recipe in some time, and tonight I made a mini-batch, as I didn't need any more leftovers in the fridge. Tonight I almost opened a box of mac and cheese... just the kids and I... did a lot of cooking yesterday... I knew they would eat well...but instead- after setting a pan of water on for noodles and steaming broccoli, I:
  1. I grabbed one extra pan, tossed two TB. butter in till melted
  2. Whisked in two TB. flour till mixed
  3. Slowly poured in one cup milk
  4. Added a pinch of sea salt and stirred occasionally while
  5. adding the noodles to the other pot, broccoli and put it over the noodles to steam - set timer
  6. By then the sauce was thickening and I had grated two cups of sharp cheddar cheese- add cheese
  7. Taste for salt and pepper, turn to low while waiting for noodles and broccoli.
  8. When broccoli is fork tender (4-5 min) take off, drain noodles when done and add everything to the cheese sauce.
Obviously this is just a jumping off point, but what I am trying to share is that this took me no longer than making the mac and cheese in the box, just one extra pot and a trip to the flour bin and some cheese grating. I use to add fresh thyme, bay leaves, onion and nutmeg to my melted butter while making the cheese sauce, and it does take it to a whole new level of flavor, but it adds time. Also, my goal has been to create something very similar to what the kids love about boxed macaroni and cheese, it is simple and cheesy, (and doesn't taste like onions).

I've been wanting to touch on the subject of feeding children and how we do so. This is a touchy subject for many parents, and I don't want to come across as preachy, but I am opinionated about most things and this is one of them. In general I find that parents are too easily inclined to feed their kids whatever they will eat, just happy that they are eating anything. I feel like I could write a book on feeding children and establishing healthy eating patterns, but I'll try to keep it simple tonight. My kids are great eaters and I know that it is because we started them off very carefully. When I first started introducing the kids to food, I did my research on what to feed when. They started on steamed and pureed fruits and vegetables, ground rice porridge and then gradually added in eggs, beans and nuts at the appropriate times. I never added extra salt or sugar to their food, they don't need it for a while. Once they get use to our food with all the salt, butter and sugar, that is what they are going to want, but you can keep it from them at least while they are babies and young toddlers. We waited till our kids were well past a year old before introducing meats or dairy.

There is no reason to introduce items like candy or cupcakes until it is completely avoidable. The first several parties I took my kids to they were drawn to fruit platters and toys and were completely oblivious to the cake and extra treats as they had no experience and didn't know what they were missing. Noah knows what candy is now and gets it on special occasions, but Avery doesn't have experience with candy, she does know ice cream and cookies. For quite a while I would eat sweets in front of Noah and tell him they were for adults. I didn't feel like I was depriving him or lying, it just wasn't something his little body needed. It was the same thing I'd say if he reached for my wine, beer or coffee, nope, sorry, and he went with it for quite a while.

My kids eat poorly when there is company or when we have dinner elsewhere. They tend to throw fits when they are too hungry. So, feeding them ahead of time and staying on top of keeping them well fed are key in having them eat well and accepting what is for dinner. I have had to compromise my cooking. I don't cook exactly as I would if I were cooking for adults. I don't like noodles much, but the kids do, so I throw noodles into all kinds of soups that I wouldn't otherwise, and even if they pick around something at least those noodles soak up all the vegetable meat broth. My kids really have a hard time with Indian food, so I keep thinking I should make it more often, but instead I've been avoiding the struggle.

We don't eat dessert on a regular basis, more of a special occasion/ company sort of thing. I like it that way, I don't want my kids to expect sweets after dinner, or only eat well if they know there is a reward at the end. If I am making something I know isn't going over real well, that may be the night I mention a cookie or ice-cream, although I try to use wording that disguises the bribe.

I've learned a couple tricks for when my kids are going to throw a fuss about the oncoming meal. Sometimes I will sit down with a plate of food and just start eating and the kids, wondering why I'm not forcing them to the table with a plate of the same, will come to investigate. I'll explain that I didn't know if they were ready to eat yet, and they will insist they are and so I'll say, "ok, well why don't you just try a bite of mine first". And after feeding them several bites off my plate and being reassured that they have enough food in them not to break down, I will get them their own. Another more desperate tactic I use to use on Noah when he refused to eat anything (he was two), I would sit down with his dinner and read him a book. For every bite he would eat, I would read him a page.

When the kids start making faces and say they won't eat something on their plate, I tell them to start with whatever they do like, and that at least improves their mood. We do play games sometimes, I pretend their food on the fork I'm holding is a fish and they catch it. Finally, I often find that if dinner doesn't go over so well and they get down to play, I can just pop bites of food off their dinner plates and into their mouths once they are playing and they don't even pay attention to what is they are eating. It could be something they were throwing a big fuss over at the table. Which reminds me, often just sitting at the table with food in front of them provokes a confrontation. So, when food isn't too messy or they just need a break, I'll let them eat at the coffee table, outside (when it is nice), or sitting at the stairs, and that starts the meal out as something special.

 Avery and Noah, eating dinner tonight. Both my kids are pretty good about eating vegetables. We cook most vegetables just until tender, and rarely eat canned vegetables. They both love broccoli, so I buy it year round, even when it is very non-local and non-seasonal. As much as I enjoy striving to eat locally and seasonally, feeding the kids puts a whole new twist on things. They can only eat so many beets and carrots before growing bored. They love peas, broccoli, peppers and cucumbers. So we ate our hearts out this summer, especially on our own peas and broccoli. Lately I've been buying peppers, snap peas and cucumbers and the store, and while I always think, wow this cucumber has come a long way, I don't feel bad about buying it. The last time I was at the supermarket, each child picked out a colored pepper and that is what they wanted to eat in the back seat on the way home. Noah ate his entire orange bell pepper on the way home and Avery had a harder time without me slicing it for her. The time before that I bought a bag of frozen shelled peas and Avery asked for them as if they were candy as we made it up and down the aisles. Finally, we made it to the truck and yes she ate handfuls of frozen peas the entire way home.

We grew a lot of broccoli this summer. I don't care for it frozen much so we ate broccoli every other day from June to September. We did take a break but now we are back at it. It is no where near as good as our own, but is a healthy addition to our diet anyway. Above the kids are pretending to eat at one of our later heads of broccoli. So heres to healthy kids eating and enjoying real food, Cheers!


Anonymous said...

Great post! I have a 3 year old son who eats extremely well, including veggies of all kinds (well, except for zucchini--he tastes it, then says "zucchini is too icky for me!") I find that if my cupboards contain good foods only, that is what he'll eat and enjoy. But if there is something not-so-good, like store-bought cereal or crackers, that is what he'll want. So I only buy pre-made things on occasion, and make sure there are lots of homemade, healthy versions on hand.

Emily said...

My kids don't care for the texture of cooked zucchini either. I've noticed the same thing with processed snacks, if they are around we eat them, and if I can resist them at the store and make homemade substitutes, then we eat those. Even stashing processed foods out of sight and harder to reach seems to help us eat them less, "out of sight, out of mind".