Last week, my editor sent me the index section of my book to look over. I thought it was going to be some straight stuff, but there were a couple moments when I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud (then found myself crossing those moments right out with my red pen). Such as, under C, “cocktails, enthusiasm for.” And under J, Just Married, “worshipping talented cooks.” And, under A, “Awkward Silence Strategy.” (I had to look that one up myself.) But then there was one I came across that actually made me angry. Again, under C, the indexer had listed beside the word Children, “See also Picky Eating.” I like to think things are not so bad at our collective family tables that we need to assume, as this note did, that all children fall under the category of picky eaters. We all have our handicaps (in our house, they are eggs and pasta – think about that! Two of the most fall-back-plan-y foods that exist in this world!) but if you’ve been reading this blog for a few years, hopefully you’ve picked up a few strategies beyond the heart-shaped cookie cutter to help things along. Here’s a recap.
Invest them Up-Front in the shopping part of the process. I’m all for having them cook with you, too, but convincing them to pick things out with you at the ground level — the supermarket, the farmer’s market — is a much lower maintenance (and a much less messy) proposition than having them stir the spaghetti sauce all over the stovetop.
Make Sure There’s Always Something Familiar on the Plate. I call this “psychological latch” food, like tater tots or one of those par-baked Trader Joe’s dinner rolls. Or if you are going to make pizza with clams or poached eggs, make sure at least one half of the pie is a classic marinara and mozzarella (above). It’s just not fair to spring something like Pork Scallopini on them without an anchor.
But Pork Milanese that’s another story. Anything Milanese is likely to knock their socks off.
Point and Cook If you are cooking from cookbooks or blogs, have the kids flip through the pages or scroll through the slideshows, and tell them to point to what looks good. Of course you run the risk of it not looking exactly like the picture, but at least their heads are in the right place when they sit down.
Never Answer a Kid When He or She Asks “What’s For Dinner?” Especially if it’s something new. Just repeat these words: “I Don’t Know Yet.” Giving a kid some time to think about a dish that they potentially hate or that is just downright mysterious gives them a window to formulate an argument against the food — and also gives them time to convince you to make them something else. Repeat: I Don’t Know Yet.
Re-Package, Re-Spin, Re-Brand. Name dishes after people. Replicate favorite restaurant dishes. When it’s time for sandwiches, use your waffle iron. We’ve turned grilled cheeses and regular old bologna sandwiches into edible masterpieces that way.
Apply Broccoli Logic. If all else fails and the only thing you can get your kid to eat is a hot dog, remember Andy’s Broccoli theory? No matter what broccoli (or kale or quinoa) is sitting next to, it will magically transform the dinner into something you can feel good about feeding your children. You might have a hard time finding this concept in most indexes.
Photo by Jennifer Causey for Dinner: A Love Story, the book.
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Tags:picky eater strategies·tips for picky eaters
The pork loin I braised in red wine last Tuesday night was pretty freaking delicious. I can say this because most of the credit goes to my coworker — remember the one who was plotting her own pork and lentil stew in the slow-cooker while I was plotting drumsticks? After she told me that one, it was on the brain for 24 hours and I knew the only way to get it off the brain would be to try out a version of the pork stew for myself. The problem? I didn’t own a slow cooker. (Well, not true. I own one, but it is in a box deep in the bowels of our basement, and last time I remember using it, I think it was missing a crucial piece, like a lid.) I was working from home the day I decided to tackle the recipe in my Dutch Oven and began cooking just as the girls were scattering their math workbooks on the kitchen table to start homework.
What’s for dinner? asked Abby as soon as she heard the loin hit in the oil.
This can be such a loaded question. When I’m making something new for the girls — which is fairly often — and there’s a good chance that the unfamiliar name of this dinner will set off some whining, sometimes I just lie and say I don’t know yet. But other times, when dinner is simmering away on the stovetop, and an oniony aroma is in the air, I opt for the truth.
Some sort of pork with beans…and maybe kale, I told her.
I don’t like beans! And then, for the next two hours, it was all Do we have to have pork with beans? and Can’t you make those chicken wings again? and Can you make me something else if I don’t like it?
I hate this scenario. The whole point of dinner — the whole point of this site actually — is to get people excited about sitting down to eat. And what killed me is that I knew Abby would love this meal if she had the right attitude. But she couldn’t picture it, so it scared her. I get it – for the longest time, that’s exactly how I felt about J.Lo on American Idol.
I needed a game changer. I needed Tater Tots.
Abby had hand-selected a bag of them from Whole Foods a few weekends earlier and hardly a day had gone by when she hadn’t begged to have them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It was just the psychological latch she needed on the plate to adjust the way she was approaching the table. I piled a mountain of them next to her pork, which she ate absent-mindedly, and which, when deconstructed and cut into pieces, was not all that much different looking than the Pork braised in Pomegranate Juice and Marcella’s Milk-braised Pork she’s had (and loved) a hundred times before.
And I know this is not exactly breaking news, but Holy Christ Tater Tots taste good! The rest of us were pretty excited about dinner that night, too.
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Tags:how to get kids to try new things·one pot meal·picky eater strategies·pork loin·winter stew
We were up in the Berkshires last weekend visiting contemporary art mecca Mass MoCA and while we were there stopped in the museum’s “KidSpace” to check out an exhibit called “You Are What You Eat.” We didn’t stay long — the kids weren’t with us, we were away alone for the first time in three years — but we stayed long enough to catch a few works by Luisa Caldwell, a Brooklyn-based artist who turns fruit labels into these cool looking collages (like the one above). If I remember correctly, it was some sort of commentary on food marketing but the three concepts that swirled in my head for the days that followed — Stickers, Fruit, Kids — joined forces to form another idea altogether. For parents who are having trouble getting their kids to eat fruits and vegetables — how about using those labels for a new kind of star chart? Every time they eat a piece of fruit, they get to add the label to their column. Once they hit a certain number, they get to pick out a book or a toy at the toy store. Or, for my Northeastern bretheren, they get to go to Mass MoCA!
I faked this chart just to show you how I’d do it if my kids weren’t complete angels who need no incentive to down their five USDA-required daily servings of fruits and vegetables. And anyway there are no fruit labels in my house because everything we eat comes fresh from the farmer’s market or picked right from our backyard organic garden. The garden to the left of our Shetland pony stable and behind the servants’ quarters.
PS: If you are headed to the Berkshires this summer, don’t go without first checking the area’s must-read website, Rural Intelligence. I used it to plan my entire weekend. It covers the goings-on in Berkshire, Columbia, Litchfield and Duchess counties.
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Tags:how to get kids to eat vegetables·how to get your kids to eat fruit·luisa caldwell·Mass MoCA·picky eater strategies