veggie toddler - a young child learning how to walk and eat vegetables, not necessarily a wobbly vegetarian.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Running Out of Ketchup

One night during dinner, I squeezed and scraped the very last drop of ketchup out of the bottle onto my daughter’s plate. “That’s it for the ketchup,” I confirmed as I rinsed the empty bottle and tossed it into the recycle bin.

“No more ketchup?” my 5-year-old daughter asked in a partial panic.
“We need to get some at the store,” my problem-solving 3-year-old son reassured her.
“Yup,” I confirmed, “we’ll get more tomorrow.”

Everyone felt satisfied with the resolution so we continued about our dinner. But then I got to thinking. What if tomorrow turned into the day after tomorrow, or the day after that? What if I didn’t rush out to buy more ketchup right away? I wondered how long my kids could survive family dinners without a bottle of ketchup in the house.

I decided to conduct a little experiment. How many family dinners in a row can I cook without needing to dip anything in ketchup?

Night 1: Spaghetti, meatballs and peas. No problem.
Night 2: Rice, black beans and corn on the cob. Again, no ketchup-dipping required.
Night 3: Pasta with olive oil and parmesan cheese, lentils and broccoli. Still no complaints.
Night 4: Sweet potato, rotisserie chicken and string beans. Ring the buzzer – I had gone too far.

Believe it or not, but my kids like to dip chicken in ketchup. Maybe they started by dipping chicken nuggets and then transferred it to all chicken products? Who knows. But there I was, putting the dinner on the table and my daughter casually asking for some ketchup.
“Oh we are still out of it,” I told her.
“What?” she stopped everything, “no ketchup?”
“We need to get some at the store,” my son said, as if several days hadn’t just passed between the last time he said that statement. But he is not a dye-hard ketchup guy. The experiment is more for my daughter’s benefit.

“Yup, we do,” I said, “maybe tomorrow we will get more ketchup.”
My daughter wasn’t falling for the same old trick. She believed me the first time, but this was too much.
“I know,” my daughter said taking matters into her own hands. “We can ask Jake for some ketchup!” And without a pause she was up out of her chair with a bowl in her hand headed for the front door to go borrow ketchup from our next door neighbor.

And that was the end of life without ketchup. Rest assured, if you ever run out of ketchup, someone nearby is bound to have some you can borrow.

So here’s my take: ketchup is here to stay. But there is ketchup and there is KETCHUP. My thought is to avoid high fructose corn syrup but allow for fun kid-dipping. Unfortunately, the old American favorite established in 1869, Heinz Tomato Ketchup, contains High Fructose Corn Syrup. But, don’t cry yet. Heinz now makes an organic ketchup without corn syrup and so does Annie’s Naturals. (I am sure there are others.) Both are readily available and make squirting ketchup a little healthier than it used to be. But don’t get carried away. Ketchup isn’t going to count as a vegetable serving any time soon.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I’ve Tried Something New: ARTICHOKE

I purchased one artichoke from the produce department of the grocery store. I looked online about how to cook and eat a fresh artichoke. (I needed a refresher course!)

I basically followed the online cooking instructions but made a few of my own tweaks:

1. Rinse artichoke in cold water.

2. Cut end of artichoke off with a knife. Clip sharp edges of other leaves with a scissor.

3. Place some water in a quart-sized pot. Add 1 lemon slice and 1 bay leaf and 1 artichoke. Steam/parboil covered for about 15 minutes.

4. Drain and let cool, removing lemon and bay leaf.

I cooked the artichoke when I had a few minutes to dabble in the kitchen between morning activities and then put it in the refrigerator for later. When I put dinner on the table for myself and the kids, I decided now might be a good time to introduce the artichoke. I warmed up the artichoke in the microwave to take off its refrigerated chill and then said to my kids, “Guess what guys, I have something new for you to taste tonight.”

“Really?” my 3-year-old said, excited for a surprise.

“What is it?” my 5-year-old said, unable to take the suspense.

I brought the artichoke and a small bowl of balsamic, olive oil vinaigrette to the table and said, “this is an artichoke.”

The artichoke’s arrival to the table was met with “ooos” and “ahhhhs” as both kids leaned over to get a closer look. I told them to watch me. I peeled off a petal, dipped it in the dressing and then scraped off the soft part with my teeth and discard the leaf. They watched intently as my 5-year-old started tearing off petals immediately on her own. She dipped and scraped and gave a funny look. After a short pause, she said, “yummy!” and went in for another. My 5-year-old totally accepted the petal dipping and scraping and worked her way through the leaves one by one. My 3-year-old, on the other hand, was much more cautious. Finally he decided to try it. But once he scraped the artichoke into his mouth, he too gave a funny look. This look ended with him spitting the chewed up artichoke into the dressing bowl. Why he chose the dipping bowl as a place for unwanted, already chewed up food is beyond me. And so I made a fresh bowl of dressing for dipping so my 5-year-old and I could continue to tear apart the artichoke.

When we finished with the petals, I told them to look at the heart of the artichoke. I scraped off the prickly things and sliced the heart up into bite-sized pieces for dipping. My 5-year-old took one of the pieces, dipped it in dressing and ate it. Then she picked up her cup very quickly and gulped down some milk. “Mommy,” she said, “I only like the petals.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “What about you?” I turned toward my 3-year-old. He was already partially under the table and shook his head no. Fair enough.

Artichoke: 2 of 2 kids tasted it, 1 of 2 said "yummy."  Not bad.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

From Garden To Table

In honor of Earth Day, I helped two teachers at my kids’ preschool set up a tasting and teaching table of garden goodies. The idea was to present different food as they are harvested from the garden and then in the different forms in which they are then eaten. Then, of course, encourage the children to simply take a taste. For example, a child would see fresh picked sunflowers then taste sunflower sprouts and sunflower seeds. We presented ginger, sugar cane, coconut, sunflowers, mushrooms, beets, broccoli and carrots. Each class lined up at one end of the table in order to walk along, tasting our displays as we explained what they was in front of them. We acted as tour guides through an edible garden.

See the ginger, have a sip of ginger juice, taste pickled ginger.

See the sugar cane, taste sugar cane juice and a pinch of sugar.

See the mushrooms, taste a raw mushroom slice.

See the broccoli, taste broccoli sprouts and steamed florets.

See the beets with their purple leaves, taste boiled, chopped beets and watch your tongue turn red.

See the carrots with their green leaves, taste carrot sticks and crinkle-cut carrot slices.

It was a tremendous success. Many kids watched but never tasted anything but many more stepped up for second helpings on beets, mushrooms, broccoli and carrots. Thanks to a wonderful preschool, the teachers who organized the event, the parents who volunteered their time and energy and of course the students who stepped up and tasted fresh veggies.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I've Tried Something New

I was inspired by a moment in Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution where he gave elementary school kids a sticker if they tasted a new food. The sticker said, “I’ve tried something new.” Those kids literally tried a new food that day and Jamie wanted to let them know that they did a good thing just by trying. But was the sticker just for kids? Not a chance. Jamie Oliver also gave the director of food services the same sticker when she decided that Jamie could extend his school lunch recipes beyond the first trial week. She also tried something new that day. She gave Jamie’s new and unfamiliar ideas the benefit of the doubt, and decided to give them a try.

As a parent, I often forget that it is also I who need to try something new, not just my kids. I always think about all the foods that I wish my kids would eat. But I forget that I too get lazy. I fall into the same old food patterns of least resistance and slowly stop the simple act of offering my kids new food choices. If they don’t like salmon, for example, I tend to not even offer them a bite and maybe even eat my dinner later with my husband so they may not even see me eating it.

It’s a cycle. My kids say yuck to a certain food and so eventually I stop putting it in front of them. I am only human and I too generally try to avoid rejection. But it’s a cycle which only leads to kids eating more and more limited food items. There has to be a balance – a balance between offering new food and relying on old favorites. How will my kids ever broaden their repertoire of yummy food if I stop putting it in front of them because I am afraid it will be rejected? I am assuming they won’t like a new food without even giving it a shot.

I am always talking about how parents are the best role models for children and if we want our kids to eat nutritious food, we need to do so as well. So, it’s time for me to listen to my own advice. If I want my kids to try something new, then maybe I need to as well. If I want my kids to try new food, I need to experiment with new recipes and make the commitment to simply put it in front of them. Doing new things doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me. It’s something I have to think about and then make an extra effort to complete.

Most kids have their repertoire of favorite food choices. Some eat a lot of meat but few vegetables, others a lot of pasta but little fish. My goal is to try something outside of my kids’ normal comfort zone, once a week. That’s it, nothing extreme, no tears, emotional bruises or force-feeding - just making the effort once a week to offer something new to my kids. No matter how healthy my fallback meals may be, there’s always room for improvement.

By “new” I mean a food item that my kids have never seen or tasted before, or have previously tasted and disliked, or a new combination of otherwise accepted food. I also want to bring in recipes or food items that I have not cooked before or are new to me. I don’t have time to find a complicated recipe, make a special grocery shopping trip and spend hours in the kitchen each night. But, I can spend 5 minutes picking a recipe, buy ingredients during my routine grocery shopping and prepare a new meal in under 30 minutes – no more than once a week. Maybe I also need to expand my cooking repertoire. At least that part will be fun and hopefully counteract the rejection I might face at the dinner table….

I challenge myself to offer one “new” food item each week to my kids during our family meal or as a snack. I presume most of them will be completely rejected. But the whole point is simply to try. Not to win any battles. Trying counts.

Each week I will:
1. Choose a food or recipe that my kids have not yet tried or accepted. Prepare the food item and offer it as part of the family meal or as a snack on the go.
2. Take note of my kids’ reactions to the new food. (Don’t force it, just offer and show your kids how you are eating it.)
3. Serve it again in a week or so and see if it is better received.

Of course what is a “new" food to my kids may not be to yours. Feel free to follow along my challenge or embark on your own that addresses the untouched or forgotten food on your menu.

Good luck!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Not only Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution: Episodes 1, 2 and 3

I will admit that I missed the first few episodes of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution weekly broadcast. Sometimes life just gets too busy to do everything. However, knowing that this was not a series to be missed, I quickly caught up on . I have got to say Jamie has me on the edge of my seat. On the one hand, I am blown away by the details that are specific to Huntington, West Virginia. The statistics about the health problems which prevail in this town are alarming. However Huntington is not alone. It may represent the worst case scenario, but my children’s school and my home are not so far off. I started thinking about how some of the phrases or bits of conversation spoken on the show ring true to my life and maybe also to yours. I wondered how I could bring just one aspect of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution to you through Veggie Toddler. I decided to keep a running list of random, paraphrased bits of dialog from each episode that I find inspiring or enlightening. Enjoy.

Episode 1:

- Kids are eating chicken nuggets for lunch at school and then again for dinner. There’s something wrong with eating the same processed food for two meals in a row.

- Kids are eating only the processed food and dipping sauces on their lunch tray and throwing away the fruit and freshly made bread.

- Kids and Cooks see nothing wrong with the processed food they are eating.

- Seeing older kids and their weight problems is an indication of what happens when you surround kids with the wrong kind of food environment.

- You have to cook from raw ingredients if you want to eat healthy.

- Fresh food doesn’t stand a chance on the lunch tray when it is offered next to processed food.

- The goal is to get kids to enjoy fresh food as well as understand it.

Episode 2:

- The key is to get kids to care about what goes into their bodies.

- During the chicken nugget “experiment:”

o Jamie: “Why would you eat it if you think it’s disgusting?”

o Kids: “Because we are hungry.”

- We need to get the kids excited about what’s for lunch.

- We need to jazz up the kids and get them excited about the food they are eating.

- If kids don’t know what stuff is, they won’t eat it.

- Mrs. Blake saw a problem and fixed it. The kids couldn’t recognize vegetables so she taught them to, just like you would anything else.

- Kids can cook.

- I’ve tried something new.

Episode 3:

- The elementary school lunch has one choice. That’s it. The way it should be. So when you make a change, it’s simple.

- High school lunch has many choices. Everyone is lined up on the French fry line. No one wants salad.

- We need to create a culture where students want to choose the right food.

- Everyone’s supposed to be investing in those kids.

- About the elementary school kids eating Jamie’s food: They like broccoli as well, don’t they.

- It’s just food – without the additive and preservative stuff.

- About preparing fresh food for school lunches: We can systematize this in order to make it normal.

- Kids and teenagers react to peer pressure, both good and bad.

- The French fries count as the vegetable.

- Just because kids want French fries doesn’t mean you should give it to them.

- How often do you get to truly listen to teenagers?

- You can’t argue with teenagers.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

To Juice or Not To Juice

When my toddler whined for juice, I gave it to her. Okay, hear me out. I didn’t give her liquid sugar straight up. I bought all natural juice and diluted it with water. But still, I juiced.

Oh trust me. I wanted not to juice. But if I filled my toddler’s sippy cup with water only, I risked a major temper tantrum in the middle of the grocery store. My solution: avoid toddler tantrums in public places. So when we were out and about and my toddler asked for a drink, I juiced. I handed her a sippy cup of half water, half juice. Life was good. Or so I thought.

One time we were playing at a friend’s house when the host offered my daughter a drink. “Apple juice please,” my daughter said. “Oh, we don’t have any juice, dear,” the mother responded. “What? No juice?” my daughter and I said in unison. This parent clearly didn’t juice. “Milk or water, sweetie,” I said to my daughter as I with a shaky smile as I watched her spiral into a crying fit for juice.

I decided to question my decision to juice. Whether or not I serve juice at home, juice is here to stay. The juice box is simply too brilliant an invention to disappear so fast. At every birthday party, soccer game or any place where kid’s drinks may be offered, we see the kid version of soda – the juice box. Sure, I can buy organic juice boxes, sugar-free or even ones partially filled with water. Even still, it’s juice.

Should I pretend juice doesn’t exist and then hope for the best when one day someone hands my toddler a Capri Sun? Won’t that only make her want it more? I don’t let my kids drink soft drinks yet I notice my 5 year old has an imaginary friend named, Soda. Coincidence? Maybe so.

As much as I think it’s important for kids to appreciate the taste of water – straight up, I also don’t think it’s a parenting crime to indulge a toddler in a little juice now and then. That said there happens to be one problem with toddler “indulgences.” They start out as innocent now and then luxuries but quickly reveal an enormous iceberg of unwanted behavior lurking below.

My toddler crossed the magic line of indulging in a little juice now and then to ONLY drinking juice. Yes, my daughter had developed a juice problem and it was my responsibility to intervene. “We may no longer be friends,” I thought, “but at least she will be off the juice.” My goal was to limit her juice-consumption to meals or special occasions. Every day hydration needed to come from water.

I geared myself up for the fight of my life. And then I procrastinated and put it off another day. “I’ll get her to kick the habit tomorrow,” I thought as I poured more juice. Then one rainy day we were at an indoor play space when we ran out of juice. “More drink, mommy!” my daughter said to me holding up her empty thermos cup. “Now is as good a time as any,” I thought as I braced myself for the long overdue juice battle.

“I don’t have any more juice,” I said to my thirsty daughter. “If you want something to drink there is a water fountain over there.” Pause. “Can I fill up my thermos myself?” she asked. “Sure,” I responded, still gripping my chair, awaiting the anticipated tantrum. “Okay,” she said as she ran off towards the drinking fountain.

To my surprise and utter disbelief, my daughter filled her thermos not once, but twice, and in between came over to tell me how delicious the water tasted. “Huh?” I thought replaying the sequence of events in my head in order to figure out how my daughter all of a sudden transformed into a water-lover. “Once we get home,” I thought, I’m sure she will fall off the water wagon and demand juice.”

I played my role as parent on a mission and started filling her thermos with water every day. She whined and complained but I held strong. Then, one day the complaining stopped and I didn’t know why. I walked into the kitchen one afternoon and found my daughter standing on her step stool, the refrigerator door wide open and pouring herself some cold water from our purified water dispenser.

“Getting some water?” I casually asked my daughter as if finding her propped up inside of the refrigerator was no big deal. “Yup, I’m thirsty,” she explained, clearly proud of herself for satisfying her desire for a drink on her own. “Independence,” I thought. That was the key to getting my daughter to kick her juice habit.

Am I a bad parent because I let juice-drinking spiral out of control? No, I’m pretty sure this happens to a lot of parents, if not over juice, then something else. I don’t think good parenting is about being perfect. No one’s perfect. Maybe good parenting is about recognizing when your child’s behavior has crossed the magic line to become a bad habit and having the strength to change it.

Today, I don’t juice, but I also don’t NOT juice. We have found a balance and juice a little, just for fun.