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:
- I grabbed one extra pan, tossed two TB. butter in till melted
- Whisked in two TB. flour till mixed
- Slowly poured in one cup milk
- Added a pinch of sea salt and stirred occasionally while
- adding the noodles to the other pot, broccoli and put it over the noodles to steam - set timer
- By then the sauce was thickening and I had grated two cups of sharp cheddar cheese- add cheese
- Taste for salt and pepper, turn to low while waiting for noodles and broccoli.
- When broccoli is fork tender (4-5 min) take off, drain noodles when done and add everything to the cheese sauce.
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.