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

Monday, October 11, 2010

CSA Box of Treats: Collard Greens

Each week I open my box of organic vegetables and am surprised by what I find.

Last week I found a large green-leafed head of collard greens in my box. Although I live in the South now, I am from the Northeast, so cooking collard greens is simply not in my repertoire of vegetable side dishes. Faced with the task of preparing these enormous green leaves for the first time, I quickly went on line to find a recipe. After weeding out anything that required me to be in the kitchen for more than 30 minutes, I settled on a simple collard greens and bacon recipe. I rushed out to the grocery store to buy the bacon, came home and cooked up delicious collard greens of which I am sure even a real southerner would approve.

This week when I opened my box, I found another large bouquet of collard greens. I gave the impressive green leaves a wink and made a mental note to swing by the grocery store for more bacon. One thing led to another that afternoon and I ended up skipping my quick trip to the store. Then I got to thinking, why was I in such a rush to buy bacon again? The reason I didn’t have bacon lying around in the fridge is because I don’t usually cook with it. I love bacon but it is not something I buy every week. Why am I rushing out to buy bacon for the second time in 1-1/2 week? Oh yeah, I need bacon for the collard greens recipe.

Hmmm…. That doesn’t sound right. I signed up for my weekly organic veggie box in order to eat more organic vegetables not to add large amounts of bacon to my diet. Vegetables shouldn’t require fat and salt in order to taste good. Sure, bacon with collard greens is a delicious side dish. But if I am going to eat it every week, I need a new strategy.

In general there are 3 rules of thumb that I try to stick to in my kitchen:

1. Cook with what is on hand. I don’t let a missing ingredient keep me from making a home cooked meal. Instead, I put together whatever I have even if that means making new variations of familiar dishes. In other words, I improvise.

2. Cook simple dishes that do not require long prep or cooking durations. I love to cook but I don’t have the time or the energy to stand in my kitchen all day long. I like to chop it and cook it, and maybe give it a stir or a flip and then move on with my day.

3. Make it healthy. I try to cook with all fresh ingredients, salt only enough for flavor and use extra virgin olive oil as much as possible.

If I apply my 3 rules of thumb to me and my collard greens having a stare-down in my kitchen, it would seem that I do not need to rush off to the store for bacon. Instead, I reach into my box of organic vegetables to see what else I have on hand. “Garlic, and green pepper,” I say aloud as I reach into the box, “I can do something with those too.”

So Here is the recipe that I improvised in order to prove my point; collard greens do not NEED bacon in order to taste good. Enjoy!

Collard Greens (hold the bacon)

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp pepper
Several dashes of hot sauce(to taste)
2lbs collard greens (or 1 large head), rinsed, center stem removed, cut into strips and then cut in half again
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
Optional: 1 small green pepper, chopped, or several stalks of celery, chopped

Sautee garlic and onion in olive oil over a medium flame for 3 minutes. Add any optional vegetables (other than the grens) and cook for another 3 minutes. Add chicken broth, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Stir and bring to a slow boil. Add collard greens and stir. Simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes or until the greens have fully wilted and lost their bright green color. Serve warm in their juice as a side dish.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Picky Eater Enabler or Responsible Parent?

A good friend mentioned to me in an email the other day that she may be guilty of enabling her kids to be picky eaters. After taking in the context of her comment, I decided that I disagreed. In fact, I thought she was acting as a responsible parent. This got me thinking…am I a picky eater enabler? Should I make my kids eat what I eat or not eat at all? I don’t want to fall into the trap of becoming my family’s short order chef. But I also don’t think food should be put on an “eat this or else” plate. Where is the line?

Let me give you a specific example. Let’s say one evening for dinner I cook fish, mashed potatoes and zucchini. I know my kids don’t like any of the food I am preparing, but I serve it anyway. Maybe they taste it, maybe they don’t. Maybe they can’t stand the smell of the fish or the consistency of the mashed potatoes. Whatever their reasons, they won’t eat. I tell them that’s what’s for dinner, like it or leave it. They choose to leave it claiming that they are not hungry. They leave the table in a bad mood with their plates untouched. Fifteen minutes later it is dessert time. The kids come bounding in for dessert and want seconds. Soon it is bedtime and the kids want snacks. I give then some cheerios. They are still hungry so I give them apple slices.

Have I won the battle? I cooked one meal, yes. But my kids ate dessert, cheerios and apples for dinner. Meal time was about unhappily looking at food they didn’t want to eat, disobeying my commands to take a bite, and leaving the table feeling hungry and dissatisfied. Then moments later, they return to the kitchen whining for more food.

Here is an alternative scenario to the above example. Let’s say I cook fish, rice (instead of mashed potatoes) and zucchini as well as broccoli. I know my kids do not like to eat fish or zucchini but I also know they love rice and broccoli. I offer them a taste of the fish and zucchini. Maybe they taste it, or maybe they give it a big “yuck.” Then I fill their plates with rice and broccoli and make a mental note to have a protein they like at dinner tomorrow. The kids happily eat the food that they like while watching my husband and I eat the additional food items that they refused. Everyone leaves the table with clean plates, feeling full and satisfied. When it is time for dessert, the kids eat one portion and do not ask for more food before bedtime.

Am I enabling my kids to be picky eaters because I am catering the dinner menu to their likes and dislikes? Some might say yes. But I say no. Catch phrases always sound great when I hear them by themselves but when put into play in real life, they don’t always hold up. My goal for dinner is to have some food on the table that I know everyone will eat. Everyone doesn’t need to eat EVERYTHING on the table. But everyone does need to eat SOMETHING. My job is to make sure there is something for everyone.

Kids get hungry. Kids need to eat. Kids need to consume food with nutritional value. Eating should be a positive experience which should leave kids feeling satisfied with what they have consumed. My job as a parent is to build-up my child’s confidence in eating good food while slowly expanding her tastes into new territory. Some kids naturally try new food while others tend to want to eat the same thing over and over again.

I don’t think I am enabling my kids to be picky eaters. Instead, I am making sure that everyone has something nutritious to eat while instilling a little bit of meal time confidence. Helping kids develop a positive relationship with healthy food, even if their repertoire is limited, is more important than getting them to taste new food. So go ahead and make your kids’ favorite healthy dish. Just keep trying the unfamiliar food without forcing the issue.