I don’t get it. What is wrong with saying to your kids, “This is what we are having for dinner.” If they say I don’t like it, you say this is what we are having. If they don’t eat it, they will eventually get hungry and have what’s for dinner. I know more parents than not who allow their children to have total control over what they will eat and I find myself often wondering who’s in charge here anyway? These parents give their children guidance and boundaries in other areas, but seem to have abdicated any responsibility in when it comes to food. In other words the kids have a varied diet of three menu options – big shell pasta with cheese, little shell pasta with cheese and macaroni with cheese. How is this even close to a balanced diet?
I understand kids have different palates and that spicy foods or strongly flavored foods are not as appealing. There are two little ones who live in my house and even though I’m a chef, I hear more often than not, “No thank you to this, Mama.” My two favorites are, “Mama, next time you make macaroni and cheese from scratch, can it be the orange kind?” and “Mama, I’m sorry to say, but your pizza isn’t as good as Domino’s.” This from the kid who picks off the cheese and sauce from her Domino’s pizza and eats the bread only. No big or swelled heads growing in my household.
Eating sparsely at a meal or two or three is not the equivalent of starvation, although it sounds sometimes as if this is what parents are worried about. One of my daughters has always been a steady, constant eater while the other would be in complete control of the kitchen if we allowed it. When she was little she would go for two or three days and eat maybe two or three bites off of her plate. Did we worry? Sure, we are parents after all and that’s what we do. But we didn’t change anything or make a deal out of it. We just kept offering her healthy food and by the third day, she’d eat three helpings of whatever it was we were having. She’s now nine and she still has the same pattern. Not eat much for a few days, stock pile on the third or forth.
As a kid I can remember not liking onions, sauerkraut (which you could smell even outside and was to my nose the worst smell invented) or spicy food. One the nights we had sauerkraut for dinner I’d make it a full-time hobby to be having dinner at a friend’s house. On the other hand, most nights when I didn’t like what was for dinner, I ate it anyway because I knew that there weren’t other choices. This business of cooking several different meals for you and each of your kids is insane. Aren’t we all busy enough as it is, without making more than one meal per sitting?
Once, a day care provider told me that the kids in her care all had candy every day because “at least they ate something during the day.” Are you joking? What about putting nutritious snacks in front of them and not giving them unhealthy choices? They will eat eventually. Or not. But then don’t give them the junky choice as a last resort and essentially a reward for being stubborn about their food.
It also seems that the less of a deal you make about this whole food drama the better. Set a few boundaries, stick to them calmly and be done with the conversation. Example: Rule 1, Mom or Dad are only making one meal for everyone. Rule 2, We’ll all sit down at the table together to eat. Rule 3, Everyone needs to have at least one bite of everything on the table. Period. When there’s grumbling, remind about rules one through three and be done with the conversation. When no one eats the first few meals, make sure that they are getting healthy things for breakfast and lunch. When someone doesn’t care for what’s being served, calmly remind about rule three and stop talking. If you are really concerned about them having something allow them to get a piece of fruit.
This rant is really about the health of our kids. We are the parents and it’s up to us to make sure that they eat well. We can’t force them to eat, just like we can force potty training, sleep or good manners. We can only provide guidance and good choices in a consistent and loving way. This is a meal my kids liked – mostly. They loved the shrimp and the risotto. Picked around the onions and lemons and one had the tiniest fairy bite of asparagus. Good enough for me.
Shrimp with Roasted Red Onions and Lemons
1 pound 16/20 shrimp or large shrimp, peeled
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or about 1/2 lemon
3/4 teaspoon salt (1/4 each for shrimp, onion and lemon mix and asparagus)
4 tablespoons olive oil (some for the shrimp and some for the roasted onions and lemons)
1/2 lemon sliced into 1/4 inch wedges
1 red onion sliced into 1/4 inch wedges
several grinds of fresh black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
several grinds of fresh black pepper
Preheat oven to 400°. In a small bowl, combine the shrimp, lemon, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil and mix. Set aside. On a baking sheet with sides, combine the lemon, red onion, 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon olive oil. On the same baking sheet, make room for the asparagus spears (about half the pan). Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper over the asparagus. Roast in the oven until the edges of the onions and lemons are just beginning to become dark brown. Add the shrimp to the onions and lemons and return to the oven for another 5 minutes. The asparagus, onions and lemons should be tender and the shrimp just turning opaque. Reserve any liquid from the pan and serve the shrimp with sauce over the risotto. The asparagus could be plated separately.
4 tablespoons butter, 1/2 stick
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cups Arborio rice
4 cups low-salt chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon salt
pinch of white pepper
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. If the onions begin to brown, reduce heat. When the onions are done, add the rice and stir for one minute. Add the salt, pepper and 1 cup of the stock and stir. Continue to add the stock one cup at a time until it is all incorporated stirring frequently. The rice is done when the liquid is completely incorporated and the grains are just the tiniest bit al dente in the center. Add the tomatoes and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Reserve the second 1/2 cup for garnishing at the table.