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

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I've Tried Something New: Oven Fry Medley

My kids love to eat my homemade oven-roasted French fries. My kids also love steamed sweet potatoes. But for some reason, when I add a little olive oil, salt and a fresh baked crunch to sweet potato sticks, my kids won’t touch them. “Huh?” I often think. “They eat sweet potato steamed with nothing added but they won’t touch it with a little crisp, grease and salt?” Go figure. But, the idea is to keep trying. So, I decided to mix things up a bit and offer a medley of oven fried root vegetables. Regular potato fries, sweet potato fries, parsnip fries and carrot fries. How was it received by my kids? Let’s just say I got our 5-year-old neighbor hooked on parsnips and my kids only touched the regular potato fries. Maybe you will have better luck with your kids. I will just keep trying.

Oven Fry Medley

Russet or Idaho and Sweet Potatoes: Peel and rinse. Cut into fry-like long rectangles.

Carrots and Parsnips: Peel and cut into sticks.

Toss vegetables in olive oil and spread onto a baking sheet or pan. Sprinkle with salt and bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes depending on thickness of cut (flipping and turning at least once half way) or until desired crispiness has been achieved. Serve warm.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What Mom Had Right

I see a lot of food websites that claim to be “not your mother’s ______.” I get it. Perhaps our mothers didn’t cook with olive oil, or prepare fresh vegetables, or venture out from her weekly repertoire, or experiment with exotic spices. Sure, we can all relate to that. (No offense, mom.) This morning, as I was filling up the re-usable popsicle containers with organic yogurt, I got to thinking; what about all of those things my mother DID do that we may have underestimated at the time, or lost sight of, but now research is telling us that mom had it right. For example, my mother made her own popsicles. She was the Tupperware generation and so we always had apple juice, orange juice or yogurt popsicles in Tupperware popsicle- ware ready for snacking in the freezer. As an adult, I enjoyed buying pre-packaged popsicles until I had kids and started reading the ingredients. Sure, you can find all natural ones. But it’s much cheaper and less time consuming to read those labels to simply make them yourself. So when I fill up those popsicle containers, I think of my mother. She had it right.

What other things did she have right? I already posted an article about getting your nutrition from food rather than vitamin supplements. That is something my mother always told us. Now research is backing her up.

My mother insisted that every dinner was made up of a protein, a vegetable and a carbohydrate.

Breakfast and lunch were self-service at our house growing up but dinner was eaten together, as a family, every night.

My mother refused to accept the microwave. Although everyone had one, she insisted that there was something not right about the whole concept, and therefore unhealthy.

My mother bought frozen vegetables.  We now know that frozen vegetbles retain their vitamins almost as well as fresh ones.

My mother never trusted fresh fruit and vegetables that came from a large grocery store.  She always bought fruit and veggies from more locally-suppled markets. 

My mother bought fruit and vegetables that were on sale and therefore, in season.
Tell us what your mother had right all along.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Breakfast Boy and Grumpy Girl

Breakfast Boy and Grumpy Girl - that’s pretty much how it breaks down at my house every morning. I’m not commenting on a universal truth about boys versus girls. I am sure there are plenty of families with Get-Up Girls and Bed-Head Boys. But in our house my husband and my son wake up and immediately eat a big breakfast while my daughter and I need a little time to adjust to the fact that we are no longer sleeping. I think we are all wired differently when it comes to waking up in the morning.

According to many sources, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I completely agree. But I also think the person who researched that one is a morning person. I’m not saying breakfast isn’t important, because it is. I just think with little kids we also need to recognize that different kids have different body-clocks. I am sure there is a more technical term for this, but I have noticed that not all kids consume food in the same way at the same time of day.

Let’s take my 3-year-old son, for example. He wakes up at around 7:00am and immediately comes into our room, demanding milk. Then he goes back in his bedroom, turns on his light, removes his pajamas, throws his pull-up in the trash can, chooses clothes to wear and gets dressed. Then he marches back into our bedroom (I have returned to a horizontal, under the covers position after getting my son a cup of milk), and says he is hungry. I give him a banana and then he sometimes comes back for a second one.

By now I am up and shuffling around with my eyes half open. “I want to help make your coffee, mommy,” my son says to me. I nod in agreement. My son stands up on his stool at the kitchen counter and counts the spoonfuls of coffee as he fills up the filter of my coffee pot. Then I’ll make him some toast and he will insist on spreading the cream cheese or butter all by himself. As he is munching down his toast, my husband comes into the kitchen, freshly showered and dressed. He sits down at the kitchen table for breakfast. My son comes running and the two of them have a bowl of cereal side by side.

By now I am slightly more awake because at least I am finally sipping my mug of coffee. As my husband and son are chatting away between spoonfuls, I notice a droopy 5-year-old leaning against the wall with her thumb in her mouth and her favorite blanket half over her face. It’s my daughter who has heard our bustle and slowly stumbled from her bed to the kitchen.

“Good morning, would you like some chocolate milk?” I ask her.
“Uh,” she grunts back at me.

I get her. She needs to sit in her pajamas for at least 30 minutes before getting dressed and she can’t talk until she’s had a glass of chocolate milk. Oh, and then there’s breakfast. My daughter has a very difficult time eating before 10:00am. I get that. I prefer to drink my coffee and THEN think about what to eat for breakfast.

What about that most important meal of the day? Do I let my Grumpy Girl skip it just because her grumpy mom feels her pain? My day can’t wait for Grumpy Girl to transform into Agreeable Angel. Even if I make her come to the kitchen table to eat breakfast, most of the time she just sits there and stares at it. It’s simply too early and she hasn’t gotten moving enough yet to eat. It is as if her digestive system, sense of smell and taste are still asleep. That’s not something I can fight and win.

As a parent of a Grumpy Girl, I choose not to fight my daughter’s body clock but to work around it. My breakfast solution is to let her eat a little later, when she is ready. If later means when we are on the move, then so be it. I always try to get my daughter to sit down and have a bowl of cereal, which she does on occasion. But if she simply can’t, then I pack her a breakfast to go. My favorite breakfast-on-the-go solutions are dry cereal without the milk and milk in a to-go cup or a breakfast sandwich of toast with cream cheese and some fruit. Even a regular old peanut butter and jelly sandwich also does the trick.

This gives Grumpy Girl time to adjust to the daylight without missing out on a little nutrition and energy before going about her day. I simply take the breakfast with us and let her eat it on the go as she gets hungry. Oh wait, I forgot. I also take a matching to-go-breakfast for my son, Breakfast Boy, for whom one breakfast is never enough.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I've Tried Something New - Kotlyeti / Roly Polies

This isn’t a vegetable. But trying something new isn’t only about vegetables – it’s about, well, trying something new. I am always on the lookout for new protein recipes that my kids might enjoy since they are pretty good at eating veggies, rice and pasta, but not so good with meat, fish and chicken.

This recipe for Kotlyeti is of Russian origin and was introduced to my kids by my sister. The Kotlyeti, in this version, is basically a meatball made with ground turkey and then lightly breaded. The fun part is that they are easy for little fingers to pick up and eat without a fork. Of course my daughter likes to dip them in ketchup. Now she jumps up and down in her seat with excitement when she sees me bringing Kotlyeti to the table. My son, on the other hand, ate them the first couple of times at my sister’s house but at home with me, he won’t touch them. If I put one on his plate he picks it up, carefully places it on the table, gives it a push, and then watches it roll off the edge of the table onto the floor. Good luck!

Kotlyeti  (My daughter also likes to call them Roly Polies after her favorite bug.)

2 lbs turkey
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or a few sprinkles of garlic powder)
A handful of chop dill – optional
1 tbsp. paprika - optional
1 egg, beaten
Mix in 1 tsp salt and some pepper

Mix in some breadcrumbs (instead of breadcrumbs I usually soak about ½ cup of cheerios or similar whole grain cereal in a bowl of water until they soften and then drain the water)
Mix ingredients well with your hands;
Form into balls or patties and dip your hands into a bowl of water and smooth them all over so there's no cracks (keeps the moisture in).
Roll each ball in breadcrumbs
Brown all sides of the Kotlyeti in a frying pan with a dollop of olive oil.
Then place a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees, depending on the size of the ball.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lunchbox Mania

When did a healthy lunch become so trendy and time-consuming? Bento boxes are a great idea for packing kids’ lunches, no doubt. But when the food is smiling back at me or in the shape of a bear, I am pretty sure lunch-making has moved beyond my capabilities as a busy parent. Seeing trendy lunches makes me wonder, is my idea of a cute lunch the same as my kids? Healthy food is fresh and natural, not necessarily cute. And don’t forget, making lunches is something that I do EVERY day. My allotted lunch-making time is about 15 minutes while simultaneously doing six other things. I don’t have the time nor desire to make cute lunches. I just want to make nutritious lunches and move on to my next morning task.

Serving leftovers from dinner is a great idea. But why would I “transform” it into an entirely new dish? The beauty of leftovers is that it is LEFTOVER from last night and ready to go for a second round of mealtime munching WITHOUT making a new meal. Okay maybe I’ll cut up chicken, add some mayonnaise and celery and I have myself a chicken salad. That I get. But cooking up a new concoction with leftover ingredients? That sounds like dinner. Maybe I’m just not a morning person or don’t drink enough coffee, but if I have to start COOKING lunch in the morning, I am doomed.

Let’s take a look at this lunchbox mania for a moment and think about who’s eating the lunch – my kids. There are three key points that I see happening with my kids and their lunchboxes that no one seems to talk about.

1. My kids hate when any one food group gets close to touching another food group. A lot of the lunchbox pretty pictures show food beautifully packed up next to each other in prefect boxes or sectioned-Tupperware. I don’t know how your kid handles his lunchbox, but there’s a reason why they are not made of breakable materials. I see lunchboxes swung, tossed and flopped down without any care to which way the insides might be organized. A lot can happen between the kitchen counter and the lunch table. My kids certainly do not handle their lunchboxes with care. Any meticulously arranged food is no doubt mixed together by the time my kids open the lids.

2. My kids never have time to eat their entire lunch during lunchtime. The uneaten containers of what is technically still lunch, are often consumed sometime AFTER lunch as a snack. I’ve tried using the sectioned kid containers (the ones that suggest a separation but do not actually provide two separately sealed containers) and by the end of the day the food is all jumbled up together. So when my daughter is hungry and wants to finish the uneaten portion of her lunch as a snack later in the day, she opens up her lunchbox to find one big mess. Yuck. But, if I pack individual containers or reusable baggies, then she can save the fruit for later for example, and know that it will still be how I packed it. For example, after preschool my daughter will bring her lunchbox over to me and say, “I want to eat my sunflower seeds now.” I am sure that if she had to look at the crusts of her cheese sandwich, it would immediately ruin her desire to eat the sunflower seeds. I think it’s a good thing to keep it all as individual items. Let the kids choose what to eat when without the pressure of consuming it all together. My son, for example, is not so big on fruit. He typically eats everything except the fruit at lunchtime. Right after school he will complain that he needs a snack. “Open up your lunch and see if there’s any food left,” I will say. He does and finds a container of apple slices which he opens up and eats. Sometimes what a healthy lunch needs to be spread out a little in order to get in all those different food groups.

3. My kids request food that tastes good and is fun to eat for lunches – not necessarily ones that are smiling back at them. At school, kids eat lunch sitting next to their classmates. What everyone else is eating has an effect on them whether we like it or not. I remember as a kid wanting white bread with the crust cut off because that’s what my friends had. I, on the other hand, had peanut butter and jelly on rye. Okay, so just because everyone else had white bread didn’t mean my mother needed to change her healthy habit of buying rye bread just so I could fit in. If my kids came home and said they wanted jelly beans for lunch because so-and-so had them, I would say no. But on the other hand, if my kids make a request, as long as it does not involve an unhealthy option, I listen.

“Mommy,” my 5-year-old said to me earlier this year after I had given her leftover steamed broccoli in her lunchbox, “please don’t put broccoli in my lunchbox anymore.”
“Okay,” I said wondering what it was about broccoli that made it suddenly an unpopular choice? “What about snap peas or edamame?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said, “I love those!”
My daughter continued to eat broccoli for dinner, without complaints, so I knew the “no broccoli in my lunch” rule didn’t have to do with taste. So what was it? Social pressure? Kids care about what they pull out of their lunchbox, even at 5 years of age. Maybe broccoli was simply not cool.

Another day my daughter asked me not to include pickles in her lunchbox. “Do you not like pickles anymore?” I asked.
“Oh no,” she responded. “I love pickles...but my friend A. doesn’t like the way they smell.” And that was that. Pickles remained a popular lunch item, but only at home.

So then, what’s for lunch? For me it’s not a big deal to come up with lunch food. And I don’t’ think there is anything wrong with having routine favorites. All kids have their lunchtime hang-ups – some like sandwiches, some do not. Some kids like cheese, some do not. You have to build on your kids’ likes and dislikes and not experiment too much with the lunchbox. Save trying new foods for when you are sitting right next to your kids and can encourage them to take a bite. Lunch should be comforting, fresh, fun and satisfying.

My lunch basics start with 4 groups from which I mix and match each time.

Sandwich box: healthy bread/ nuttbutter & jelly
Healthy bread / cream cheese & cucumbers
Healthy bread / cold cuts (or tuna or chicken salad) and lettuce
Leftover pasta or rice

Fruit box: strawberries, apple slices, grapes, applesauce, whole apple, whole pear, banana

Munch box: Sunflower seeds, almonds, raisins, crackers, edamame, black beans, peas, sugar snaps, carrot sticks, chips

Dessert: cookie, graham cracker, muffin, granola bar

Good luck with your lunch-making. I find it satisfying to pack a healthy lunch for my kids every day and I am always on the lookout for new lunchbox ideas. However, I choose to skip the ones that spend more time on presentation than simply presenting nutritious food in a way that is conducive to the reality of how my kids eat their lunch.