Kids, Cooking and Holiday Balance

As I've admitted before, I'm a lousy cook. And, like most parents, I'm too busy to spend much time experimenting in the kitchen. But that doesn't mean I've given up on my kids eating well -- and nutritiously. This is especially challenging during the holidays, when candy canes, Christmas cookies, Hanukkah gelt and school parties supplied by ubermoms abound.

Three new books have arrived to help those with cooking challenges, like me, find some nutritional balance during December.

Deceptively Delicious has gotten a lot of attention because the author is married to comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Jessica Seinfeld has three kids under eight and she partnered with a prominent nutritionist to create the recipes, so I figure she's got some degree of credibility in the kitchen. Her shtick is hiding nutritious foods in kids' favorite foods, and the key is puree: cauliflower, kale, blueberries, avocado, etc.

The Sneaky Chef has gotten a lot of attention because the author has accused Jessica Seinfeld of ripping off her recipes. Missy Chase Lapin, also a mom, slips in whole wheat and her special "green" and "purple" purees to just about everything. Both the Seinfeld and Lapin books are excellent, easy to follow and fun.

The last is Cooking with Trader Joe's by Wona Miniati and Deana Gunn. I'm sure other specialty food and cooking stores such as Whole Foods and Williams Sonoma have similar books, but I picked this one because Trader Joe's gourmet foods are more affordable (the book is not sponsored by or affiliated with Trader Joe's). Authors Miniati and Gunn (moms and engineers whose international backgrounds exposed them to a range of ethnic cooking styles) focus on shortcuts in gourmet food preparation. They aim for 10 minutes "working" time to make meals. Some great ideas that would work for holiday celebrations, albeit nontraditional holiday foods, include Apricot Baked Brie, Mediterranean Lentil Salad, Creamy Lemony Linguine and Very Berry Marscarpone Tart.

Hungry yet? Would your kids eat these? What strategies and sneaky treats have been successful in keeping your holiday celebrations nutritious? Do you have good cookbooks or recipes you recommend?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  December 3, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Raising Great Kids
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First.

Mascarpone and Brie? Qu'ils mangent de la brioche, Leslie!

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 7:25 AM

Second. Deuxieme!

Good, healthy, and fun cookbooks include those by Ottawa's own Janet and Greta Podleski. See www.crazyplates.com The books include "Looney Spoons", "Crazy Plates", and "Eat, Shrink and be Merry" (the last one very appropos for holiday time).

My kids love 'em.

(And no, I have no connection with the Podleski sisters except as a satisfied user of their recipes.)

Posted by: m2j5c2 | December 3, 2007 7:57 AM

My kid is pretty picky. She will eat cooked broccoli, carrots, corn, and peas. She also likes most fruits (fresh or canned). But she doesn't like meat. She did eat shredded sharp cheddar cheese this weekend. So she is venturing out a bit. But brie would be definitely on her No list. I hope she gets better as she gets older. But I have a bad feeling she will end up being a vegetarian. That would not be the end of the world but it is more work on me.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 3, 2007 7:58 AM

Except for possibly making somebody sick from a food allergy, sneaking substances into a cooked meal won't do a lick of difference in the overall health
of the person who eats it. Other than the neglected , (which is a different issue), none of today's children suffer from malnutrician. so, for those who think that they are tricking their kids into healthy dietary practices are doing nothing more than fooling themselves. But hey, it's the thought that counts, right?

Posted by: GutlessCoward | December 3, 2007 8:00 AM

The kids in our family request things such as bacon, jarlsberg and tomato sandwiches, will eat soft-shell crabs, asparagus and a whole host of other vegetables. No need to hide vegetables... they have existed in the open from the beginning. The love their carbs though so their portion of bread always comes last!

Posted by: tntkate | December 3, 2007 8:01 AM

Foamy, if your pre-school age DH is already eating cooked broccoli, carrots, corn, and peas, I'd say she's well ahead of the curve! I've read that one reason young children are often pickier about food than are older kids and adults is that little ones' taste buds are more sensitive to strong flavors (guess they get dulled over time!). Re vegetarianism, it doesn't have to be more work as long as you don't let it -- please trust me on this, because I believe in doing less work rather than more -- LOL! Hope you're feeling well these days.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 8:07 AM

I thought it was pretty much decided that Deceptively Delicious and The Sneaky Chef were junk because the small portions of cooked then pureed then cooked again food had pretty much NO nutritional value by the time it makes it to the kid (I think they talked about this in the A Might Appetite column).

Might as well just pour cheese over steamed veges. At least it doesn't vilify the veges as something that has to be hidden. Mmmmmmm, cheesy broccoli...

Posted by: mamadden | December 3, 2007 8:10 AM

Emily, Is tomorrow still your big day? DO let us know how you're doing.

Londonmom, We haven't heard from you for a while? Hope you're OK. Any news?

Irishgirl, How are you doing? Is the baby starting to sleep more now?

I apologize if I forgot anyone.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 8:10 AM

A note on vegetarians: I have a sister who's one, and she's very, very overweight. "Vegetarian" does not necessarily equal "healthy", it just means "no meat". A vegetarian diet loaded with complex carbs (pasta, sugar, etc.) can be even worse than a diet that includes significant portions of red meat.

It sounds like foamgnome's daughter is on the right path, though.

Posted by: m2j5c2 | December 3, 2007 8:14 AM

mamadden, You're not alone. The eminent veteran food writer Mimi Sheraton also wrote a column critical of this food-disguising movement (à la Seinfeld and Lapin), as she feels children should learn to love vegetables as vegetables, whereas these dishes reinforce the notion that vegetables are not appetizing. Which is not to say I don't ever make carrot cake or use chocolate cake recipes containing shredded zucchini or beets (and I've heard there's even a recipe containing canned sauerkraut that was popular during WW II, though to my knowledge I've never eaten it).

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 8:15 AM

m2j5c2, Any diet (vegetarian or otherwise) can be unhealthy if it's not properly balanced. Ya know, if so many desserts weren't meatless, there'd probably be a lot fewer vegetarians -- tee-hee!

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 8:18 AM

After reading what Foamy's had written, I realized I just spread some misinformation in my 8:00 post about no kids today being malnurished.

I just remembered that when I went to my HS daughter's homecomeing game a few weeks ago, a vegetarian girl passed out at the game and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance because of the lack of protein in her diet.

Perhaps the conscience will to deny oneself a particular dietary substance is a different issue than the malnourishment of children who don't have a variety of food choices available to them, but I'll eat my 8:00 am mistake. Nothing like a bite of humbleburger before coffee in the morning. LOL!

Posted by: GutlessCoward | December 3, 2007 8:27 AM

Gutless (LOL!), I don't believe your claim, because I've never heard of a vegetarian passing out SOLELY for lack of meat; goodness, how do those millions of Hindus ever survive long enough to reproduce? I'd guess the girl at homecoming more likely had been starving herself in order to fit into her outfit (typical adolescent behavior), and fainted owing to low blood sugar.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 8:35 AM

Yeah, I've also heard that the nutritional value added in these recipes is not much. It's like insisting that your kids eat iceberg lettuce at every meal.

But I do have my tricks to make food healthier (no kids, but sometimes my husband needs to be tricked!). We always replace the beef or pork with turkey meat. So we use turkey sausage, turkey bacon, ground turkey, etc. That cuts most of the fat and doesn't taste much different. We also use whole grain everything, including flour. We mix in cooked squash with the mashed potatos. And we steam all our veggies (but sometimes we really do need the cheese to get them down, like mamadden wrote).

RE: vegetarians being obese or malnourished. Vegetarianism is not a fad diet the goal of which is to drop tons of weight like the Atkins or South Beach diet. It's a lifestyle choice. So there will be fat ones, skinny ones, diabetic ones, etc. I think some people here are missing the big picture about vegetarians.

Posted by: Meesh | December 3, 2007 8:44 AM

mehitabel wrote "...more likely had been starving herself in order to fit into her outfit (typical adolescent behavior)"

I have to strongly diagree. There is nothing typical or okay about this behavior. If your son or daughter is starving him- or herself to the point of passing out, get help immeadiately. Sending the message that it's okay to starve yourself is irresponsible and dangerous.

Having worked with teens for a few years, I have to say that the ones who practiced this behavior were in the minority and were usually being treated for mental disorders.

Posted by: Meesh | December 3, 2007 8:49 AM

Meesh, No way was I endorsing starving oneself to fit into an outfit. I've never done it myself, but it's not as uncommon as you might think -- and unfortunately adolescents sometimes exercise poor judgment in response to peer pressure to look thinner. I agree with you that it's "irresponsible and dangerous."

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 8:55 AM

You know, I'm just not into the tricks. I believe pretty strongly that food should be what it is. Maybe due to the childhood trauma of when my mother served veal heart claiming it was "beef" (we were on Food Stamps, and it was cheap, but still, there are just some lines that shouldn't be crossed!). :-) But how are my kids going to learn healthy choices if I've hidden the "health" inside crap? I figure my job is to serve my kids reasonable choices and let them choose what to eat from that. My "tricks" are I just tend to use a lot of whole wheat flour, and I add flax seed meal to just about everything I bake. I add things like applesauce and bananas to everyday baked stuff (like pancakes -- tends to make them moist and yummy) -- sometimes my kids have to beg me to just make "normal" pancakes. :-) Oh, and when you're making muffins, you can actually use oat bran with/instead of flour -- they're not nearly as light and fluffy, but I've always liked the denser, moister version anyway.

Posted by: laura33 | December 3, 2007 8:56 AM

I am seriously challenged in the health-kids-food tricks dept, but the ONE thing that works for me is letting my kids sprinkle parmesan cheese on vegetables. It's fun, for some reason, and it works.

My theory, based on my own experience as a kid and also several years studying taste buds and palates while working on SPLENDA, is that kids taste buds are different from adults. I HATED all veggies until I was about 10. Then BINGO I loved tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, carrots...

My son just turned 10 and the same thing has happened to him. So I don't force my kids to eat stuff they don't like, but I put veggies in front of them all time, hoping that one day they will discover they like them.

In the meantime, they eat tons of fruit and gummy bear vitamins from Juice Plus.

Posted by: leslie4 | December 3, 2007 9:02 AM

My mother slipped cow tongue on me when I was a kid. Nothing like eating something that tastes you back!

Posted by: GutlessCoward | December 3, 2007 9:03 AM

I own "The Sneaky Chef", and it's fine (the sweet potato pb muffins are really very good), but I'm with Mimi Sheraton about sneaking healthy stuff into food. I think kids need to be taught to eat healthfully because otherwise, how will they learn to make good choices for themselves? Also, I think sneaking stuff leads to a feeling of having been deceived when mom and dad reveal "hey -- that chocolate pudding you've loved all these years has blueberries and spinach in it!" No one enjoys being deceived.

I cook with my kids on a regular basis and that has been the best way to get them to eat. We made whole wheat pizza dough on Saturday and they wolfed their pizzas and were so proud to have made it themselves. Not that pizza is difficult to get kids to eat, but whole wheat crust might have been. Fruit and veg with every meal, and they have to eat at least 3 bites/pieces before they can leave the table. And that's the rule.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | December 3, 2007 9:13 AM

Pertinent excerpts from "Lie to Your Children -- It's Good for Them / The terribly wrong message sent by Jessica Seinfeld and Missy Chase Lapine," by Mimi Sheraton:
http://www.slate.com/id/2176564/fr/flyout

While most literary sleuths are busy trying to discern whether and how Jessica (Mrs. Jerry) Seinfeld plagiarized recipes from a similar cookbook by Missy Chase Lapine, I say: a plague on both their houses. Both propose a culinary scheme that is, basically, totally stupid, to say nothing of dishonest...

The twin major flaws in this faulty reasoning, are that, first, children get the wrong message that sweets and starches are good for them...

A second problem raised by this hide-the-veggies duo is the invisibility of vegetables in their own recognizable forms. As a result, children are not afforded the opportunity to get used to the idea of trying and learning about them. Nor will they consider them necessary for good health...

...I suppose one has to ask an even more basic question: Do vegetables treated as prescribed and in the amounts indicated by Seinfeld-the-Deceptive and Lapine-the-Sneak really add enough nutrients to a child's diet to make the plotting and pureeing worthwhile?...

To answer this, I sought the advice of Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University and the author of What To Eat. "Philosophically and practically, this is not really an effective approach," she said. "It will not develop an appreciation of the flavors, textures, and interests of various vegetables, which is what you should try to do by introducing them over and over again until they catch on."

As to the nutritional worth of such cooked and recooked vegetables, in miniscule amounts, Dr. Nestle first chuckled wildly and then answered, "All you can do is laugh."

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 9:21 AM

"...children should learn to love vegetables as vegetables"--Some kids (and adults--myself included) just can't tolerate the taste of many vegetables and no amount of forcing, doctoring, bribing or otherwise urging them can change that. Whether it's some facet of otherwise undetectable Asperger's or something, or just a matter of personal preference, some people just can't choke them down.

I will say that I have managed to live to adulthood, bear two healthy children and--knock wood--am in good health and always have been--all without eating vegetables as a kid and still barely eating them. Same goes for my daughter--doesn't eat them and has always been right where she should be as far as height, weight, good health, intelligence, etc. I think it's more a matter of genes than nutrition that accounts for overall health as long as you eat a reasonably balanced diet.

And I, too, know several vegetarians who are obese, riddled with health problems and their kids also have severe allergies and health problems.

Posted by: maggielmcg | December 3, 2007 9:23 AM

GC: I think my kid is fairly healthy. Doctor thinks so too. I just worry because she eats so little protein. But she will eat her basic four veggies, fruits, and carbs. I am hoping in time she will develop the taste for some protein. Even if it is more vegetarian flair then we would have liked. I think she will venture out later on. I wouldn't worry. American children, in general, are fairly well nourished. Vitamins and fortified foods probably help.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 3, 2007 9:26 AM

"Some kids (and adults--myself included) just can't tolerate the taste of many vegetables and no amount of forcing, doctoring, bribing or otherwise urging them can change that. Whether it's some facet of otherwise undetectable Asperger's or something, or just a matter of personal preference, some people just can't choke them down."

Who's in charge at your house? You or the kids? If you don't care whether you are raising your children to understand that a diet without vegetables constitutes a "reasonably balanced diet" (HA!), fine. That's your choice. The delusion comes in when you make the broad statement that it can't be done, e.g., it's not possible for others to force, doctor, bribe or urge the consumption of essential vitamins in the form of vegetables. Of course it is, silly Maggie! Many of us were raised with the clean plate club theory, e.g., we ate our vegetables not because we wanted to do but because our parents required us to do so. Duh. Forcing works. OTOH, many of us have rejected the clean plate club as an approach to raising our own kids, because of its unintended consequences with regard to ignoring cues that one is full. Nonetheless, we either require consumption of healthy foods in the manner WorkingMomX describes or we impose some other "8 green beans and all of your salad before you leave the table" system. Don't do it if you don't want to, but don't kid yourself that consumption of veggies can't be forced or urged. Of course it can - if the parents are in charge and not the inmates, LOL.

Posted by: mn.188 | December 3, 2007 9:32 AM

mleifer, Your ability to twist logic in order to rationalize your un-nutritious behavior is dazzling (and that's NOT a compliment). A lifetime of eating vastly insufficient quantities of fruits and vegetables not only has the potential to malnourish you and your children but also to put you and them at significantly higher risk for a multitude of diseases, not least of which is colorectal cancer (one of the commonest forms of cancer in First World countries like the US).

As to your conclusion that because you've known a few vegetarians with health problems therefore vegetarianism deserves to be dismissed out-of-hand, well, that's rises to a level of fallaciousnes that the average high school debater could blow out of the water with ease.

You need to make however much effort it takes to find those fruits and vegetables that you and your family enjoy eating, whether served plain or in sufficient quantities in nutritious dishes that you can improve your personal nutrition. As a parent, you owe it to your kids to teach them proper nutrition, even if you don't enjoy it yourself.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 9:44 AM

I think a lot of the aversion to vegetables come down to canning. I remember as a kid, I HATED with a passion spinach, asparagus, fresh tomatoes, green beans, peas. Really, the whole host of vegetables. Then, as an adult, I tried all of them again, but in fresh form. And I discovered how amazingly good they are! I learned that my mom had only purchased canned vegetables or the cheapest tomatoes she could find. The veggies were mushy and tasted like tin, tomatoes tasted like cardboard. But when I tried fresh veggies, it was like the epiphany in Ratatouille when he "sees" the food is brilliant splashes of color and music.
If we want our kids to like different foods, we really should make sure we give them food that actually tastes good! I'm lucky in that Organic Kid will try anything, and really likes many of the same things I do...goat cheeses, wide varieties of herbs and spices, will only eat steak that's medium-rare, loves all veggies fresh and steamed, dressed with nothing more than a splash of soy sauce and smidge of sesame oil. We eat pretty well at my house, and I've never hesitated about making something because I've thought Organic Kid might not like it. All that "sneaky food" stuff is just teaching kids to reject veggies more, and resent them (and their parent who made it!) all the more when they find out about the sneaking. --Organic Gal

Posted by: OrganicGal1 | December 3, 2007 9:52 AM

I always thought those books were meant to give suggestion for supplementing kids' veggie intake, not for replacing a serving of actual vegetables on the plate. And if you're going to serve grilled cheese or muffins anyway, what's the harm in adding some produce? I'm also guessing that those books can serve as a demonstration to kids that veggies can be a lot more versatile then just a plan side dish.

As for me, I'll admit to using a fair amount of deception to get my daughter to eat, but it's only wordplay. Broccoli is "trees," tortellini are "ring around the 'ronies", etc. The silliness appeals to her, and she gobbles up what's on her plate (FWIW, she's two).

Posted by: newsahm | December 3, 2007 9:52 AM

foamgnome: there is more protein in some foods than you realize - I'm sure your daughter is getting enough. My former nanny was afraid for my son not getting enough protein, so she started to open cans of beans for him - he will eat a whole can of beans these days, he goes CRAZY for them. It's insane, really. Maybe you should try a few beans for your daughter? Maybe she'd like them.

When I was in the hospital with DS one - waiting while just sitting there for over a week, a friend of mine gave me the super babyfood book. I read it cover to cover (it is enormous) partially cause I was bored. But it was awesome. The writer is a little nutty, but I learned so much about nutrition (whole wheat, adding stuff to food - i.e., flax seed, etc). I decided then and there to make the kid's baby food (which isn't so tough and they don't eat baby food for very long, anyway). And we've incorporated much of that into our everyday lives. I started to buy whole wheat pasta, we make/buy whole wheat pizza crusts, etc.

I try to put vegetables out for the kids when I know they're going to be asking for food - they can eat that if they are hungry, rather than eating raisins all the time. Or rice cakes or cheese. But my kids eat all sorts of vegetables - they both love broccoli and squash. With our cooperative this summer, we got tons of fruits and veggies we'd never seen, so they are at least seeing new vegetables and trying them.

All in all, I don't know if it's something we as parents did, but the kids eat pretty well. Of course, there are few sweets in the house - I don't buy them so *I* won't eat them!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 3, 2007 9:53 AM

I think I'm fortunate in that my three year old loves her veggies, even more than I do! My parents were of the "you can sit at the table until your food is cold, but you have to eat it all" club, and as a consequence, there was a lot of forced feeding when I was growing up. The result? The only "green" vegetable (other than salad) that I like is spinach. Why? Because my father didn't like it so we never had it! If it's a pea or bean, forget it. Asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts - yuck. I'll eat salads, carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes, onions and spinach. :-)

My daughter, on the other hand, is having the benefit of being exposed to lots of veggies and NOT being force-fed. She helps me cook dinner most nights, too. Her favorite is tomatoes - she'll eat them raw, cooked, stewed, you name it. (My husband is half-Italian, so we have a LOT of Italian food). She also likes raw carrots and broccoli, any kind of potato (yams or regular potatoes), and salad! Not bad for having just turned three. I also cook at home a lot, so I try to make the veggies in a way I think she'll like them. Rachel Ray has a lot of kid-friendly recipes, and they are fast enough for weekday dinners.

I guess I just don't obsess over her nutrition because I know she's getting good food, most of it made a home. She's having fruits and veggies every day, and she's not obese nor is she underweight (she's right in the middle for her age). Honestly, most of us posting on here are VERY fortunate to be able to provide good nutrious food for our children.

Posted by: plawrimore1 | December 3, 2007 10:00 AM

P.S. And if she has a few extra cookies due to the holidays, or her great-grandmother's Southern mac & cheese, I honestly don't care. That's what the holidays are about, and it's not like the other 95% of the year is the same.

Posted by: plawrimore1 | December 3, 2007 10:01 AM

We're big fans of Aviva Goldfarb's "Six O Clock Scramble" cookbook & website- fairly easy recipes, 30 min or less, organized by season so you can use what's fresh in produce markets. The website even has shopping lists to download- very streamlined! There are dishes nice enough for holidays/company as well as traditional but lightened up kid favorites. My kids, 6 and 3, will eat most veggies as long as they are dipped in dressing or cheese- baby spinach is actually their favorite, with sesame ginger dressing. When all else fails they get apple slices. We have always eaten whole wheat breads and bagels, multi grain pasta, etc. and they don't miss the "white bread" they've never had! I also try to reduce sugar and add fiber when we bake at home. My kids still love (and get) candy and ice cream treats, but they do well trying new things, at least since they got a bit older. It's tough with under-3's, though.

Posted by: erouscg | December 3, 2007 10:02 AM

When foodd smells good and stimulates an appetite, it means the body is ready to receive nourishment. The opposite is also true. When something smells bad, or there is no appitite, it means that the body is not ready to ingest food. Therefor, unles there is a medical issue, it is never a good idea to force anybody to consume a substance they oppose.

Any parent that forces their child to eat something that they refuse deserves to clean up the barf!

Posted by: GutlessCoward | December 3, 2007 10:06 AM

Letting kids help in the kitcen is the best way to get them to try new things. We also switched to whole wheat everything (I do half wheat/half white in baking). I keep fresh fruit and veggies cut up and ready to eat in the fridge so they are ready to grab when the girls start asking for a snack.

Posted by: michelewilson | December 3, 2007 10:06 AM

"Foamy, if your pre-school age DH"

Foamgnome's husband is pre-school aged? Someone call CPS! ;)

Posted by: fake99 | December 3, 2007 10:12 AM

There's nothing that says you HAVE to deceive your kids with these recipes. I say tell them the truth -- "this pudding has blueberries in it -- isn't that cool?"

My mom gave us something as kids called "I Can't Believe This Is Spinach" that was spinach in a weird form that tasted pretty good (like a really good shoelace).

Same idea. Slip the nutritious food in -- and tell the kids it's there. And I don't care what you say about the vitamins being pureed out. Some vitamins are sure better than none.

Posted by: leslie4 | December 3, 2007 10:15 AM

"This is especially challenging during the holidays, when candy canes, Christmas cookies, Hanukkah gelt and school parties supplied by ubermoms abound."

Just can't resist the urge to take a dig at well meaning volunteers, can you Leslie? Maybe you could offer to plan the school parties and serve foods that meet your standards. Oh wait, you're too busy.

Posted by: fake99 | December 3, 2007 10:15 AM

DH is in his 30s! Mehitabel meant DD.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 3, 2007 10:22 AM

How do you force a person to eat something? My parents did try--and I couldn't eat many things then and still can't eat them today. I suppose they could have told me I couldn't leave the table until I ate whatever it was; I'd either have thrown up or would still be sitting there today. I still can't force myself to eat things, and that's why I know that trying to force my kids to eat stuff they don't want to eat won't work.

Put cheese on it, put butter on it, put sauce on it, cook it, serve it raw--whatever the "solution" I've tried it and it doesn't work.

As far as healthy foods and "proper" nutrition, it's possible to have a healthy diet without eating everything under the sun. Just because they (or I) don't like a lot of vegetables doesn't mean we only eat McDonalds; we eat plenty of fiber, lean protein, fruits, dairy, etc. Just no squash, brussel sprouts, zucchini, broccoli, eggplant, mushrooms, sweet potatoes...

And as far as cancer risk, when/if I get cancer how will I know if it's because I didn't eat a lot of vegetables and not because of the chemicals or hormones or who knows what in the food I did eat, or whether it was the plastic the food was stored or served in, or the water I drank with it, or the air I breathe every day? Call me cynical, but tell me why, if eating a diet chock full of vegetables is a guarantee of good health, at the age of 38 and after 20+ years of eating an organic, vegetarian diet, my best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer?

Posted by: maggielmcg | December 3, 2007 10:23 AM

I don't really get the obsession with making kids eat specific foods. My 2.5 year old is not hugely picky, but she's not a big veggie fan in general. There are a few things she likes- salad, spinach (raw), artichokes, broccoli if it's in her mac and cheese. But she eats every thing else and is as healthy as s horse. I don't see the point in stressing about it- why should I try to force her to eat one of the few things she doesn't like? And why would I bother hiding pureed, cooked veggies in things? What exactly is the point of that- if the kid is really that picky, aren't you better off just giving them a vitimin? Now if I had one of those kids who only eats chicken nuggets, I might be stressing about it, but that's a whole different issue.

Posted by: floof | December 3, 2007 10:34 AM

Again, mleifer, you mistake anecdotal evidence for scientific rigor. The tragedy of your friend's death from breast cancer might have been attributable to carrying one of the breast cancer genes, or to some environmental factor of a non-nutritional nature. For all you know, if she hadn't eaten such a good diet, she might have died even younger.

Foamy, sorry about the typo.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 10:35 AM

mleifer, it's your day to get beaten on. I just called my SIL (a registered dietician who lives in AZ) and she says your claim that it's possible to have a healthy diet without eating vegetables is fallacious. There are nutrients you can only get from eating vegetables. She's going to try to post later and explain as only she can.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | December 3, 2007 10:38 AM

"My kid is pretty picky. She will eat cooked broccoli, carrots, corn, and peas."

Posted by: foamgnome | December 3, 2007 07:58 AM

Our oldest would not eat broccoli because of the way it looks: "It's a tree!" We don't believe in hiding foods under sauces or melted cheese, so his mother hit upon a stratagem. Instead of broccoli, she served "greenies," which all the children ate without any problem. It wasn't until all of them were 'way past the "picky-eater" stage that they found out that "greenies" were nothing other than broccoli with the florets cut off. If the objection is that it looks like a tree, make it not look like a tree.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | December 3, 2007 10:38 AM

"why should I try to force her to eat one of the few things she doesn't like?"

How will she know whether she likes it until she tries it?

"aren't you better off just giving them a vitimin?"

No, they're not. Fruits and vegetables contain all sorts of trace minerals, some of which may not be included in a vitamin pill. They also contain fiber.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 10:38 AM

Aviva's Six O'Clock Scramble is also an AMAZING book! She lives in the DC area and I've actually tasted her cooking at a holiday potluck. It is out of this world.

Posted by: leslie4 | December 3, 2007 10:42 AM

My mother was the president of the clean plate club. I remember sitting at the table long after everyone else was gone staring at cold brussels sprouts - still hate the darned things. Her only comment: they taste better warm than cold - I disagree - there is no way they taste good.
Funny how when they had lobster we didn't HAVE to eat that! We got hotdogs.

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | December 3, 2007 10:43 AM

She doesn't have time to cook or can't cook, but has time to read a book on the subject, makes sense to me. I think it should be a national requirement for all women before they turn 21 to be required to learn how to boil water.

Posted by: bryan | December 3, 2007 10:44 AM

I think it should be a national requirement for all women before they turn 21 to be required to learn how to boil water.

Men, too.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 10:47 AM

mleifer, your logic about a handful of vegetarians having health-related problems sounds a lot like the logic my parents used to justify smoking: "There are plenty of non-smokers who get lung cancer." Sure, there are...but some 400,000 Americans die annually from smoking-related illness. Both of my parents just joined this statistic for 2007. My father died after battling emphysema for six years, and my mother died from smoking-related cancer.

And I'm sure a cardiologist will affirm that it's not vegetarians lining up for angioplasty, stents and bypass surgery (or, as I like to call it, "Porky's revenge"...ugh, all that animal fat and grease in your body?). Quite frequently, folks who have these problems are urged to go on a vegetarian diet.

So yeah, just because there are a handful of "potato chip" vegetarians out there doesn't discount the health benefits of a proper vegetarian diet...just as a handful of cases of non-smoking-related lung cancer doesn't give a green light to smoke a pack a day.

Posted by: pepperjade | December 3, 2007 10:48 AM

La da da, la da dee...i'm not taking the bait today!

Posted by: leslie4 | December 3, 2007 10:48 AM

"How will she know whether she likes it until she tries it?"

Oh, I serve stuff she doesn't like all the time. I just won't force her to eat it. She will *try* anything (new foods are a big deal to her), but if she eats two bites and tells me she doesn't want any more, that's fine with me.

Posted by: floof | December 3, 2007 10:49 AM

"No, they're not. Fruits and vegetables contain all sorts of trace minerals, some of which may not be included in a vitamin pill. They also contain fiber."

You missed my point... obviously fruits & veggies are better, but are pureed, twice-cooked baby-food style veggies really better? I doubt it.

Posted by: floof | December 3, 2007 10:50 AM

Puréeing fruits and vegetables per se does not reduce their nutritional or fiber value.

However, overcooking produce does in general reduce their nutritional value -- although studies suggest that tomatoes should be cooked at least 45 minutes to make their lycopene nutritionally available (not that there's anything wrong with eating raw tomatoes, as well).

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 10:55 AM

Am I the baiter? Because I wasn't trying to go fishing for a fight. I was simply pointing out that you manage to pick at the parents who do take the time to plan parties and school events and etc. whenever you can, and to ask why, if you don't like the way they do it, you don't do it yourself. It's not fair of you to label well-meaning, hardworking people (who likely have just as few hours in the day as you do) with a derogatory term like "ubermom."

Posted by: fake99 | December 3, 2007 10:57 AM

Re: 9:03, I keep waiting for ChittyChittyBangBang to show up and say, "Gutless Coward, your mom slipped me some tongue too!" ;-)

My mother fed me liver and fried onions as a kid, and I ate it without complaint, I guess because it is fairly mild in taste and texture. It was only as I got older that I realized it was gross.

Posted by: tomtildrum | December 3, 2007 10:59 AM

Question for the crowd - how many of you "short-order" cook for your kids? It seems to me that pickier eaters are created that way (as a former picky eater).

My favorite picky eating habit (someone else not me). Kid only eats "white" food. Oy.

Posted by: tntkate | December 3, 2007 11:02 AM

tntkate, If a kid doesn't want the main course, you can offer them cottage cheese (if they like it) for an alternative main course -- no additional cooking labor involved for whoever's fixing the meal, and a reasonable amount of protein. BTW, atlmom was correct earlier in noting that in First World countries (like the US), most people, even vegetarians (unless they're terribly ignorant of nutrition) get sufficient dietary protein.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 11:06 AM

When my wife was a child, her mom would do the "short order cook" thing for her when she refused to eat the food for dinner. If she wanted a hot dog, she got it; if she wanted a hamburger, she got it.

Now, having eaten her mom's cooking (basically, boil or fry everything until whatever it started as is unrecognizable), I can sympathize, but she is now a very picky eater. She won't touch chicken unless it is shredded very, very finely (says the texture is nasty, not the taste), won't eat beans (texture again), will eat vegetables as long as I don't boil/fry them (mostly stir fry or steam), and doesn't care that much for fish either (although likes sushi; go figure).

I, OTOH, came from a clean plate family and was required to eat at least some from every dish served at dinner. If I didn't like it, that was just too bad. I still detest pickled beets and hate liver, but everything else I'll at least give a try.

Posted by: johnl | December 3, 2007 11:27 AM

"Question for the crowd - how many of you "short-order" cook for your kids?"

I generally won't do this. However, if I'm trying something new and DD really, really doesn't like it (and she does usually give everything a fair shot), I will give her something else after dinner. Case in point- the other night I made us some tilapia with a grapefruit buerre blanc, with some steamed spinach and brown rice. It was really, really bland and just not very good (dd's favorite fruit is grapefruit, so I was hoping for something with a strong citrus flavor). So we both ate a decent amount of it and then split a bowl of yogurt in the kitchen a little while later.

That said, my dd also has food allergies and usually eats earlier than we do, so a decent amount of the time she is getting a seperate dinner, anyway.

Posted by: floof | December 3, 2007 11:36 AM

"How do you force a person to eat something? My parents did try--and I couldn't eat many things then and still can't eat them today. I suppose they could have told me I couldn't leave the table until I ate whatever it was; I'd either have thrown up or would still be sitting there today. I still can't force myself to eat things, and that's why I know that trying to force my kids to eat stuff they don't want to eat won't work."

Your kids are not you. Your parents failed, so you assume failure is the norm. If your parents didn't even establish a standard that you couldn't leave the table until it was consumed, I wonder what "my parents did try" means? Yelling? Handwringing? Yammering on about how important it is? That's not parenting, it's being an annoyance. If you'd still be sitting there today, then they evidently were oblivious to a key facet of parenting, establishing and implementing a workable system of rewards and punishment, and the importance of respect for parental authority. When you decide to have kids, you take on the responsibility not only to parent them consistently but also to be a good role model in all sorts of areas -- healthy living and healthy eating habits are two of them. You can't pick and choose, "I'll be a good role model by not smoking, but they will be fine if I show them that it's acceptable to live on white bread and sardines and never eat a salad."

All behavior is shaped by a combination of modeling, rewards and punishment. Sometimes the rewards and/or punishment happen naturally. Sometimes they are imposed by the parents, bosses, and/or police officers. Rewarding and motivating are usually far superior to punishment in shaping long-term change. In our household, if you'd have made yourself throw up over being required to consume 10 green beans, we'd have made you clean it up and probably established a coordinating punishment suitable for ridiculousness and stubbornenss. I'm betting that would be the last time you'd throw up out of recalcitrance. Same for the threat that you'd still be sitting there. In our household, you would not still be sitting there because you would decide that "victory" (if that's what you think still sitting there constitutes) is not worth the loss of bedtime stories, loss of playtime with friends, or loss of some other privilege that would induce you to comply.

More importantly, we are good role models for our children in terms of eating a variety of healthy -- and many less healthy, LOL -- foods, and trying new cuisines, new recipes, and having an adventurous palate. We rewarded our children at an early age for consuming healthy foods first, being adventurous about new cuisines, smells and tastes, and expressed disdain for refusing to try foods or rejecting whole categories of food out of hand. They think it's a little weird when they meet kids who rejects all vegetables or won't try Cuban sandwiches or whatever.

Gutless - kids need to be shown healthy eating habits and introduced to new foods. Saying they will all throw up if you establish clear expectations for healthy eating is more than a bit extreme and likely to result in families of kids who will accept only foods that go well with ketchup. .

Posted by: mn.188 | December 3, 2007 11:38 AM

Leslie wrote: "I'm too busy to spend much time experimenting in the kitchen."

Easiest solution? KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

There's no law saying one must turn nutritious fruits and vegetables into elaborate cuisine. Lower your expectations -- where's MoxieMom when we need her? -- and serve food more simply. Less stress on the meal-prepared, and likely more compliance from the kiddos. Heck, one of my favorite desserts (beside flan, of course!) is a piece of fresh fruit, chiefly apples this time of year, as many different locally-grown varieties are available at farmers' markets.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 11:48 AM

That should be, Less stress on the meal-preparer.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 11:49 AM

mehitabel--actually that was my point--that genes trump nutrition or any other outside factor. Whether she'd never eaten a vegetable or grown her own and eaten nothing else, she got cancer. And the whole argument about maybe she would have gotten cancer earlier...what's your point? That she bought herself x more years because she ate vegetables?

With regard to it being impossible to have a healthy diet without vegetables--I asked my pediatrician about this and she said that it's possible to compensate for the nutrients missed from not eating many vegetables. Obviously less than ideal but better than nothing.

Posted by: maggielmcg | December 3, 2007 11:53 AM

"And the whole argument about maybe she would have gotten cancer earlier...what's your point? That she bought herself x more years because she ate vegetables?"

This wasn't my argument, but oh, my gosh, YES.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | December 3, 2007 12:11 PM

YOu know what's delicious? Brad Pitt on CNN right now. I don't know what he's talking about, but I will take one large cup of that please!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 3, 2007 12:13 PM

mleifer, Get a new pediatrician. Stat.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 12:21 PM

mleifer wrote: "And the whole argument about maybe she would have gotten cancer earlier...what's your point? That she bought herself x more years because she ate vegetables?"

Oh, the horror.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 12:22 PM

YOUR mother was the President of the clean plate club?????

I thought my mother was......

I think the deceptive food thing was pretty well discussed on another WashPost site a few months ago.

Thumbs down. Sneaking stuff into kid's diets doesn't do anything in the quest of teaching good eating habits. It just teaches them to be suspicious of Mom/Dad.

Holding back the tasty snacks is a far better way to get kids eating more healthy things. A hungry kid is a receptive kid.

Posted by: RedBird27 | December 3, 2007 12:35 PM

"In our household, if you'd have made yourself throw up over being required to consume 10 green beans, we'd have made you clean it up and probably established
a coordinating punishment suitable for ridiculousness and stubbornenss."

What? force a child to do something that makes them vomit, then punish them for doing so? I seriously doubt that a parent can punish any child into liking something, not to mention that the idea of doing so sounds like a terrible idea in the first place. MN, by far, this was your worst advice I've ever seen you post!

On the contrary, I've tried to teach my kids from a very young age, if it doesn't taste good, whatever you do, don't swallow it. In fact, that's why the manufacturers of medications intentially make their pills as bitter as possible.

And why pick the green bean battle anyway? Sounds like wasted effort and a frustrating time for all involved.

But you decide, you're the boss!

Posted by: GutlessCoward | December 3, 2007 12:37 PM

I do not short order cook for the kids. If they don't eat what's offered (and it's always some sort of variety) then they don't eat dinner. They learn to taste everything - they learn that they have to take what's offered. They get candy usually on nights they ask for it *and* they've eaten sufficient dinner. This keeps them motivated, I guess. But I don't believe in making different foods for different people. That's how my mom got us to try just about everything. I don't believe that my sister's kids eat chicken nuggets. My mom would be horrified.

When my sister came to visit after DS 2 was born, she was appalled that I had no chicken nuggets in the house! She went out and bought those, pop tarts, soda - all sorts of stuff I didn't have in the house. After she left my first son had diarrhea for a couple of days, yuck. Poor thing. Cause he was so not used to that diet.

If your kids will only eat chicken nuggets, that's the only thing you serve them. They will not starve themselves. They will eventually eat. Even if they don't like it.

I think about how spoiled we are here - and reading books, or seeing videos of other cultures, and what would I really do if I was somewhere remote and the people there trying to be friendly would serve me something made of meat - their 2 or 3 times a year delicacy. It's an interesting thought, and shows us just how many choices we have today and how we seem to obsess about it. Kids will eventually eat. So they skip a meal or two? In our society? No big deal. Really.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 3, 2007 12:38 PM

Holding back the tasty snacks is a far better way to get kids eating more healthy things. A hungry kid is a receptive kid.

Posted by: RedBird27 | December 3, 2007 12:35 PM

No joke! I try to put cup up veggies on the table before dinner - cause I know the kids are hungry, and they'd eat bread and cereal if we let them. Not that that's horrible, but if they're hungry, they'll eat more of what you'd like them to eat!

Also, for my DS 2 who likes broccoli, we pretty much call everything broccoli - zucchini is zucchini broccoli, cauliflower is white broccoli, etc. And he likes plums, but I don't currently have them in the house, so we call pears pear-plums. My 5 YO then asks for pear plums - and I have to explain to him that his brother LIKES pears, but if we call them plums, he's more likely to eat them. For whatever reason....

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 3, 2007 12:40 PM

Gutless, I think MN's point was to differentiate between a child vomiting up food that's genuinely vile (e.g., tainted, or having an extremely repulsive nature by the standards of one's culture), and merely throwing up perfectly good food in a temper tantrum, i.e., as part of a battle of wills against the parent. In the latter case the parent is entitled, and in fact ought, to be the boss.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 12:42 PM

I have a problem with sneaking healthy foods into kids plates. Why don't parents just encourage kids to try something new instead of sneaking the food in their plates? Doesn't pureeing everything mean that you'll have to add more time to the time you allot for cooking dinner?


Posted by: MV_78 | December 3, 2007 12:48 PM

My kids eat what I serve them. They have no choice.

Mako (chomp)

BTW, that would be sushi for every meal!

Posted by: nonamehere | December 3, 2007 12:57 PM

I have a question for parents on this blog: do you make a separate meal for your kids? If you don't, at what age did you give your child what the rest of the family was having?

Posted by: MV_78 | December 3, 2007 12:59 PM

"It's like insisting that your kids eat iceberg lettuce at every meal."

Meesh, this cracked me up. I agree with your assessment of the twice-cooked purees.

We've been lucky as our 3 year old has pretty wide ranging tastes and has always embraced a lot of different veggies, proteins and whole grains. His tastes vary over time, but there's a always been a good variety at any given time.

Re: forcing kids to eat. I remember seeing studies that children will aquire tastes for almost any food given a chance. They recommended having a kid taste the food without forcing them to eat a lot of it, and doing it repeatedly. So they have one bite of spinach every so often and eventually will develop a taste for spinach. Haven't had to resort to this in a concerted way, but if my son refuses something I will usually get him to just take one bite to taste it before he decides, but I never ask him to eat more if he says he doesn't like it.

Posted by: LizaBean | December 3, 2007 1:01 PM

"I think it's more a matter of genes than nutrition that accounts for overall health as long as you eat a reasonably balanced diet."

Mleifer, how is your diet balanced without vegetables? Also, there are so many vegetables out there, have you given yourself a chance to try new things?

Posted by: MV_78 | December 3, 2007 1:02 PM

MV: as soon as possible we started giving the kids pieces of the family meal rather than baby food or whatever. Whatever was appropriate, that they could have, etc.

As soon as they had teeth or whatever - they got bits of our food. Well before a year.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 3, 2007 1:02 PM

"I have a question for parents on this blog: do you make a separate meal for your kids? If you don't, at what age did you give your child what the rest of the family was having?"

We don't. I feel pretty strongly that you can't ask your kid to eat vegetables if you don't eat them and enjoy them, and that the parent's diet is an important influence on the kids, so we try hard to have family meals where we are all eating together well. My son has pretty much always eaten something that we are also eating - beans, avocado and fruits in the early days, now pretty much whatever.

But, we do accomodate in other ways - sometimes we dissemble the meal - if there's something in what we are eating that I know he dislikes, I will make some without that ingredient for him. Or, if we're trying something new I will also make sure that there's a favorite of his he can eat more of. But, like I said, our son is not a picky eater by nature so we've had it pretty easy on this road - I know it's a lot harder for other families.

Posted by: LizaBean | December 3, 2007 1:08 PM

MV- What altmom said. Our 10 month old had fallafel, hummus, flatbread, and lamb for dinner last night (take out). I've learned to make one portion not too spicy, and I don't give her peanuts. Other than that, she gets specially chopped food, but not specially prepared food.

Posted by: atb2 | December 3, 2007 1:09 PM

I have always been a short order cook when it came to my daughter. She would never eat what we ate and I got tired of the battle. Now at 17 she has decided to become a vegetarian. The problem is she doesn't eat vegtables at all. I finally told her she had to eat meat again because she was feeling dizzy all the time.

Posted by: sharonw | December 3, 2007 1:11 PM

Reading sharonw's post raises another question: At what age is it appropriate to start teaching a child to cook, and start learning help plan meal menus (with an eye on nutrition)?

I heartily second what Lizabean said re parents setting a good example by eating a wide variety of foods (rather than "Do as I say, not as I do"). Mleifer might have fewer problems with her kids' eating behaviors if she adopted Lizabean's approach.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 1:17 PM

Sharonw, ACK! Vegetarian without eating vegetables sounds like a disaster.

You might recommend her doing some research on vegetarian diets - the book "Becoming Vegan," by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, although directed more towards veganism (obviously) has very good nutritional information and might help her understand what she needs to do to eat vegetarian and stay healthy. It's easy to do, but it does take some initial planning/learning.

Foamgnome, it also might be helpful for you in terms of your daughter's preferences/health and making sure she's getting what she needs.

Posted by: LizaBean | December 3, 2007 1:18 PM

My pediatrician recommends offering one or two alternative choices. For us it is mac and cheese, cottage cheese and fruit, soup, or cold cereal. She will usually parts of most meals but not the entire meal. Like last night we had chili. I know this is too spicey for her. So she ate some rice, a sliced tomato and shredded cheese. She would not try the meat. Again, I think she will end up being a vegetarian. But she doesn't like traditional kid foods either. Like she doesn't like pizza. Her alternative choices are always on hand and never hard to make. I think food is one of those things that you choose your battles. If she is willing to eat four veggies, why force more on her. I just keep introducing new foods and I hope eventually she will try it.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 3, 2007 1:20 PM

Speaking of kids who puked dinner--I did once. Oyster casserole. Bleh! What is the difference between oysters and cold congealed snot? It wasn't until I was 13? 14? that I could eat oysters at all.

They're still not a particular favourite of mine, but I can eat them.

I prefer mussels.

I don't short-order cook. I do point out that the kid knows where the refrigerator lives and behind the door lies a veritable wonderland of culinary magic to be made. Or at least a pbj.

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 3, 2007 1:22 PM

"There's no law saying one must turn nutritious fruits and vegetables into elaborate cuisine. Lower your expectations -- where's MoxieMom when we need her? -- and serve food more simply. Less stress on the meal-prepared, and likely more compliance from the kiddos. Heck, one of my favorite desserts (beside flan, of course!) is a piece of fresh fruit, chiefly apples this time of year, as many different locally-grown varieties are available at farmers' markets."

Mehitabel, I agree with you. My husband is Italian, so we try to incorporate both of our cultures in the kitchen, but we usually just have a piece of fruit for dessert and maybe some nuts. Flan, tres leches, or panna cotta is reserved for special occasions.

Posted by: MV_78 | December 3, 2007 1:25 PM

Oh just one more note, my husband's family were the clean plate types. They had to eat the food the next day if they did not finish it. My husband and his two sisters are the pickiest eaters that I have ever met. They each have a laundry list of foods that they won't eat. They order the exact same things at resturants and they are not even polite enough to eat new foods at other people's house. They sort of put a teaspoon of food on their plate and move it around a lot. So there is no one right answer. I came from normal parents who served a lot of healthy foods and did not force anyone to eat anything. Although they did not offer to make any thing else for the picky eater. We all knew how to open a can of soup or pour a bowl of cereal at a young age. My brothers and I are all decent eaters and are willing to try just about anything. So there is no one right answer. I do wonder if some of this is genetic? Because DH's has two half siblings (who are adopted) and raised by the same father who still is very strict about what they eat. But they don't seem to be as picky as their adult siblings.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 3, 2007 1:27 PM

Mehitabel, I appreciate the kind words, but I have to say again that I know we are lucky. My SIL is a big foodie, loves to cook and eat very good wholesome food, and my neice will have none of it. She likes cheese and starch and ketchup. It's an ongoing issue for them (although of course they have not given up and continue to work on her diet).

I think it's one of those things where the parent eating badly can be part of the problem, but the parent eating well may not by itself be a solution, you know?

Posted by: LizaBean | December 3, 2007 1:29 PM

Re: short-order cooking for the kids.

I don't do this either. Think it encourages picky eaters and kids who treat parents like unpaid waiters.

But now that my kids are old enough to get something from the fridge, if they don't like what I'm serving, they can get something from the leftover shelf and heat it up.

Our kids eat early (5:30 or so) and Perry and I eat later. The kids eat kid food, and ours is slightly more gourmet (Perry would crack up at that description since my idea of gourmet is my homemade turkey red sauce). What I've noticed is that the kids, as they've gotten older, have started asking for servings of our food. Our nine-year-old daughter came down to say goodnight last week around nine pm, and the turkey sauce was simmering. She said "Yum can I have some of this?"

Much better than force feeding it to her!

Posted by: leslie4 | December 3, 2007 1:30 PM

"The kids eat kid food"

Leslie, what do you consider kid food? Just curious.

Posted by: LizaBean | December 3, 2007 1:34 PM

Thanks to those of you who answered my questions. We plan on doing the same thing when we have kids.

Posted by: MV_78 | December 3, 2007 1:35 PM

My daughter has a friend who is a vegan and all I ever see her eat are potato chips and other junk food. She says potato chips are a vegetable because they are made from potatoes. I don't know how to get my daughter to eat better its a losing battle.

Posted by: sharonw | December 3, 2007 1:35 PM

I seriously doubt that a parent can punish any child into liking something, not to mention that the idea of doing so sounds like a terrible idea in the first place. MN, by far, this was your worst advice I've ever seen you post! . . .
And why pick the green bean battle anyway? Sounds like wasted effort and a frustrating time for all involved.

Posted by: GutlessCoward | December 3, 2007 12:37 PM

Sorry you feel that way, Gutless Coward, but the advice you posted earlier, while certainly the easy way out, is not the way to raise adults who like healthy foods and don't want to have to overcome big foodhangups developed by their parents.

Only you are talking about punishing a person into liking something. I said being a good role model in this area is key. I said that rewards are better than punishments. I couldn't care less about whether they like one food or another. I'm not in the job for popularity but to raise independent kids who have a healthy lifestyle. The point is to eat balanced meals, get nutrients you need, and not eschew entire food groups because your parents are invertebrates.

We don't have the green bean battle and there's no frustration. But if raising healthy kids isn't worth a little parental effort, what the heck is? It's amazing how comfortable consistently expressed expectations, leadership and structure can be for all participants, LOL! We model and encourage exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle, too, and are not going to permit our kids to become one with the sofa simply because it's what they prefer.

Do what you will but this might be a moment where finding your disfavor is almost like the GoodHousekeeping Seal of Approval for me, LOL! You go be popular now!

Posted by: mn.188 | December 3, 2007 1:36 PM

A person is not a vegetarian or vegan simply because she is surviving on Hostess Twinkies and DingDongs. She is simply a girl with a lousy diet, LOL. I can't imagine much in this area can be meaningfully impacted with a kid who's already in middle school or older. There's way too much water under the bridge and engrained views of the food world by then.

Posted by: mn.188 | December 3, 2007 1:50 PM

I've tried to have a few "meat-free" dinder's every week to mixed success. Last night was a disaster. We had "Smart Dogs"-- a veggie hot dog substitute. Complete disaster-- so gross. Are there any reliable alternatives?

And when I do tofu stir fry, I fry the tofu first in a little oil so that the pieces don't fall apart in the stir-fry. It takes forever (I flip so that each side of every piece of tofu is fried up) and I'm sure it isn't healthy-- any alternative way to keep tofu from crumbling? Is that what people use "tofu skins" for?

and no, I do not make a separate meal for my kids. If they don't like what I serve, too bad. Since whole family was grossed out by the tofu dogs, I passed out sliced salami, cheese and apples with crackers as an alternate meal. Dessert of fruit sorbet.

Posted by: baby-work | December 3, 2007 1:54 PM

"A person is not a vegetarian or vegan simply because she is surviving on Hostess Twinkies and DingDongs. She is simply a girl with a lousy diet, LOL."

Nailed that one, MN.

Baby-work, what kind of tofu are you using? You might experiment with different brands/firmness. I like silken firm tofu a lot (which comes in a box and is not refrigerated), and of the regular ones I usually get firm or extra-firm. I press the water out (put it on a plate, another plate on top, and a can on top of it and let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes), which I think helps it absorb flavors.

If you aren't a vegetarian hankering for old meat favorites, I would generally stay away from the fake meats. My sense is that to a meat eater they will never taste like the original; they only work for those of us who have mostly forgotten what the real thing actually tastes like, LOL.

Vegan Planet and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone are great cookbooks that I would recommend if you want a couple of good veggie meals to add in.

Posted by: LizaBean | December 3, 2007 2:03 PM

The 5 main food groups:
Chocolate
Coffee
Champagne
Cheese
Crackers

Most people will like at least 4 right?

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | December 3, 2007 2:08 PM

Babywork, one more thought - you might try tempeh instead of tofu. I was always a little sketched out by the descriptions of tempeh, but once I tried it I found I liked the taste and texture a lot better than tofu. Try one of the five-grain or three-grain varieties (Whitewave and Light Life both make them), I think those are a little more tasty and pleasing for texture. You might want to steam or par-boil it for a few minutes before cooking it in recipes to help with digestion - I guess for some people if you don't do that it can make them gassy, though I've never had that problem with it.

Posted by: LizaBean | December 3, 2007 2:09 PM

fake hot dogs: You can always just get chicken sausage. They're healthier and tastier than hot dogs, though not meat-free. I do love facon and spicy black bean burgers, though.

Picky adults are so annoying. How hard is it to TRY new food? It's not going to kill you. It's seems very immature and can be very rude.

Posted by: atb2 | December 3, 2007 2:13 PM

"But now that my kids are old enough to get something from the fridge, if they don't like what I'm serving, they can get something from the leftover shelf and heat it up."

Exactly, Leslie!

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 2:23 PM

Pretty much the only vegetarian fake meat I use is veggie burger, but not even for patties. I bake it, then crumble it into spaghetti sauce to make a vegetarian Bolognese sauce. The only distinguishable difference between veggie burger and fried ground beef is that my spaghetti sauce is better -- less greasy (no matter how much one drains/blots the hamburger after cooking it).

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 2:27 PM

When to start your kids cooking -
I seem to remember about 3 or 4. Of course at this age it is help sprinkle the cheese on the pizza or the sprinkles on the cookies or put (gently)the grape tomatoes in the salad. It will slow things down for you at first, but it means by age ten or so you will have a full partner in the kitchen and by about 12 you can even include cooking a meal once a week on their chore list.
But whatever age you start, please do let your child go off on thier own without at least the basics: how to pick out produce, make spaghetti, etc.

Posted by: mom_of_1 | December 3, 2007 2:27 PM

Picky adults are so annoying. How hard is it to TRY new food? It's not going to kill you. It's seems very immature and can be very rude.

Posted by: atb2 | December 3, 2007 02:13 PM

I am an adult picky eater. I will TRY new foods, but if I don't like it, why should I ingest calories that don't taste good to me? I like most vegetables, but can't stand cooked spinach. I can't stand mushrooms. Is it rude to say "No, thank you" to something that tastes terrible to me? I like a wide variety of foods, but there are also quite a few things I just don't like, so I don't eat them.

Posted by: cturner | December 3, 2007 2:28 PM

Picky adults are so annoying. How hard is it to TRY new food? It's not going to kill you. It's seems very immature and can be very rude.

Posted by: atb2 | December 3, 2007 02:13 PM

Please distinguish between the picky eater and those with allergies, or other medical problems. Sometimes at parties, especially large ones it is just either to eat what you know is safe than to ask about cooking methods and ingredients.

Posted by: mom_of_1 | December 3, 2007 2:32 PM

Slightly off topic:

Is anybody leery of pot lucks? I have a co-worker who will not eat anything she doesn't make herself. We have been doing them for years and nobody has ever gotten sick but she still refuses to eat.

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | December 3, 2007 2:34 PM

KLB - I'm probably somewhat similar to your co-worker. I work in a massive building and they like to do ALOT of potlucks, where you could have 100+ people contributing. These are definately the situations where I tend to not eat potluck. But when I worked in smaller organizations and knew the people bringing the food or when I do potlucks with small groups of friends, then I'm game.

Posted by: noname1 | December 3, 2007 2:47 PM

mom_of_1, love your post, it gives me hope! My three year old loves to "help" in the kitchen, which most of the time I enjoy a lot but on weeknights sometimes strains my patience - it's good to remember that it's worth the time! He also loves picking out produce. This weekend he helped pick out the the brussel sprouts, which for anyone who has seen "My Neighbor Totoro" as often as we have, he calls soot sprouts.

Posted by: LizaBean | December 3, 2007 2:48 PM

Our lunches are rarely more than 10 people - all of us know each other and work together each day.

Sometimes she won't even come into the room where we are eating. I think it is strange.

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | December 3, 2007 3:02 PM

I'm definitely not a short order cook, though if the kids are not fans of the dinner menu, there's always a variety of canned soup in the pantry. Since DS is 15, and DD now 12, they can heat it up themselves.

That said, I do tend to keep the meals simple so that they appeal to both kids. DS can be particular (ok, picky perhaps), and DD much less so. There's usually a marinated & grilled meat, a vege (though none of us are fans of brussels sprouts aka "GI Joe cabbage") and/or tossed salad and pasta/rice/couscous/potato (I'll use whole wheat/grain varieties when I can.) It can be a bit boring for DH and me (unless you count the wine), but it ensures the kids get a sufficient balance/variety. And few, if any dinner time battles. Just in case, they each take a daily multi-vitamin. It appears to be working OK--both are 95+ percentile for height and 50-75 percentile for weight.

KLB--The kids aren't big fans of potlucks, mostly because they're leery of anything that smacks of "casserole." I always try to contribute something that I know they'll eat, esp. since it may be the only thing they eat.

Posted by: kate07 | December 3, 2007 3:18 PM

"I can't imagine much in this area can be meaningfully impacted with a kid who's already in middle school or older. There's way too much water under the bridge and engrained views of the food world by then. "

I don't know, MN, I've found in conversations with my foodie friends that many of us (esp my boyfriend) were very picky eaters as children and will now eat pretty much anything. My boyfriend's parents were astounded when they visited us and saw the wide variety of vegetables he now eats. I think that when people get older politeness and peer pressure can expand picky eater's horizons significantly.

Posted by: MaryL | December 3, 2007 3:37 PM

LizaBean --

The following meet my definition of "kid foods" (foods I will not eat for dinner on a regular basis):

chicken nuggets
french fries
tater tots
chicken or turkey dogs
stouffers mac n cheese
fried ham
applesauce
ketchup

Posted by: leslie4 | December 3, 2007 3:41 PM

My boyfriend's parents were astounded when they visited us and saw the wide variety of vegetables he now eats. I think that when people get older politeness and peer pressure can expand picky eater's horizons significantly.

Posted by: MaryL | December 3, 2007 03:37 PM

Aww, throw his parents a sop and credit them with having taught him enough good manners that he did use them as an adult and try new foods. Or that all their efforts on encouraging him to try new foods as a child were not in vain.

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 3, 2007 3:43 PM

Okay, speaking of junk food disguised as a "healthier alternative", has anyone tried the Hayman chip available from Route 11? I love their mixed vegetable chips (sadly unavailable this year) and their sweet potato chips, but I haven't tried the Haymans.

Anyone got a review to post?

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 3, 2007 3:45 PM

"... and what would I really do if I was somewhere remote and the people there trying to be friendly would serve me something made of meat..."

altmom, this made me laugh. My husband and I like to try new things, and our goal is to answer the question: if we were stranded somewhere, could we live on it? If I were in the situation you described, I could eat the meat because I used to be a meat eater.

My husband like to say that I have an iron stomach. I can eat most things. I think that comes from all the traveling my family did when I was a kid. Three months in China will cure you of pickiness. I still fondly remember the fish donuts for breakfast and the duck feet soup. I couldn't live on those.

Posted by: Meesh | December 3, 2007 3:52 PM

Hmmm, based on the list above, I have no kid foods in my house, unless the Alexia rosemary & olive oil oven fries count as "french fries."

Posted by: kate07 | December 3, 2007 3:53 PM

Oh definitely, I wasn't pinning his lack of eating a variety of foods as a child on them! They've always been healthy eaters and poked (in good humor) fun at him for being such a picky eater when he was a kid. I'm just saying there is more at work here and that people's life long habits aren't codified by 10. Maybe taste buds change or taste in general matures.

Posted by: MaryL | December 3, 2007 3:57 PM

BTW, KBL SS MD, I have a friend who doesn't like "strangers'" cooking. She only eats food made by people she considers friends.

I, on the other hand, will eat food from all kinds of questionable places: street vendors, potlucks, fair food, Chinese buffets, diners at 4 in the morning... you name it. Sometimes I feel like Andrew Zimmern on "Bizarre Foods" because I try everything.

Posted by: Meesh | December 3, 2007 3:58 PM

Short order cooking: My daughter still eats poultry, so I often do prepare separate meals. I don't have a lot of time for cooking during the week, so I frequently cook several types of meals on the weekend and freeze dinners for the rest of the week (I spend an hour or two in the kitchen on Sunday, with all burners going at the same time). That leaves each of us a choice as to what we want to microwave for dinner when we get home.

Treats for school: Arizona actually has a law that prohibits parents from bringing in home-baked treats. Everything must be store-bought: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/1129goodies1129.html

Posted by: pepperjade | December 3, 2007 4:00 PM

I forgot to include frozen pizza.

Posted by: leslie4 | December 3, 2007 4:19 PM

The 5 main food groups:
Chocolate
Coffee
Champagne
Cheese
Crackers

Most people will like at least 4 right?

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | December 3, 2007 02:08 PM

Note to self: use KLB's list as a screening tool for new friends. If they don't like at least 4, we probably won't be BFFs, LOL.

Posted by: mn.188 | December 3, 2007 4:21 PM

Leslie: Ok then, I'm in! There's always a pizza or two in the freezer.

Posted by: kate07 | December 3, 2007 4:24 PM

Be sure to read the ingredient list on frozen pizza and other prepared foods, to check (among other things) for amount of salt. There was just a major news story last week reporting that Americans are getting on average twice as much salt in their diets as they should -- and that processed foods and fast food are among the biggest culprits.

Leslie, one way we finesse the frozen pizza situation is to add our favorite veggie toppings (I like onions and spinach). With a more loaded-up pizza we're likelier to eat fewer slices of it, and thus consume less salt. Onion needs to be sliced and sautéed first, but you can just sprinkle frozen chopped spinach directly onto the pizza before baking.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 4:26 PM

Oh, yeah, just make sure you don't use Emily's spinach ;-)

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 4:28 PM

The high levels of added salt are why I tend not to use packaged foods. DS will only eat pepperoni on his pizza, so I'm not sure I can get away with adding onions, but I do insist that he add a tossed salad. Since he usually eats that first, perhaps he's not eating as much of the pizza? As for the canned soups I mentioned in an earlier post, I always buy the lower sodium/"healthy request" types.

Posted by: kate07 | December 3, 2007 4:32 PM

Vegetables I won't eat: mushrooms, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli (except in Chinese food), squash, brussel sprouts, beets, green beans....I can't remember what else. How do I manage to have a healthy diet without these things? Because I eat other vegetables (even if not in huge quantities), fruits, whole grains, fish, chicken, occasionally red meat, meat substitutes like soy, etc. I take a (natural) multivitamin every day. I drink at least 1/2 gallon of water a day. I exercise 5-6 days a week. So far I don't seem to be wasting away for lack of nutrients.

I would much rather my kid grow up not liking many vegetables than having had to endure meals where they were bullied into eating everything on their plates.

Leslie--just curious--do you eat later because your husband doesn't get home until later? Or just prefer to eat sans kids?

Posted by: maggielmcg | December 3, 2007 4:34 PM

Kate, you're so right about eating salad first, as a way to take the edge of one's appetite for pizza! We fix our salad while the pizza's baking, too.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 4:35 PM

But, kate, sometimes those have more sugar. You can't win for losing.

And for the record, it's ATLmom, not ALT mom. :)

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 3, 2007 4:35 PM

Oh, and my husband makes fun of me ALL THE TIME. I'm a vegetarian who doesn't eat mushrooms and only eats cooked tomatoes.

I like most other veggies (no brussel sprouts) though...and most all fruit. I didn't realize how picky my DH was until recently - which means he's not as picky as I thought, since we've been together at least 9 years.

Of course, you couldn't blame me for thinking he liked eggplant, since he made me eggplant parmesan the first time he invited me over to his place for dinner and he cooked. He recently told me he doesn't like it. :/

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 3, 2007 4:38 PM

Veggie hotdogs- I really like the Morningstar Farms veggie dogs. You find them in the freezer section. I tried several other brands and was disappointed with the taste/texture. (And I am in no way affiliated with Morningstar Farms, I just like their products).

Adding (grated, pureed, finely chopped, whatever) vegetables or fruits to foods can definitely improve the nutritional profile of some foods. But I don't like the deception involved. My mom often added all kinds of stuff into recipes, but she never lied about it. We never had to eat anything we really didn't like, but we had to at least try a few bites of everything we were served. She also taught me to have a variety of colors on my plate. I can remember "helping" in the kitchen even as a very young child. I love a wide variety of fruits and veggies and experiment a lot in the kitchen, and I credit her for that.

Posted by: zomccoy | December 3, 2007 4:39 PM

mleifer wrote: "I would much rather my kid grow up not liking many vegetables than having had to endure meals where they were bullied into eating everything on their plates."

Now you're just setting up a straw man in order to rationalize your attitude. Others today have already mentioned techniques for getting children at least to TRY more vegetables. And I infer that, by omission, there are some vegetables that you and your family do like. So eat them more often, and in larger servings to compensate for the lack of variety. A recent study reported that while it's good to eat plenty of fruit, they don't entirely substitute for vegetables.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 4:40 PM

ATLmom, you're right, and not sure which is the lesser evil. I guess if it was a perfect world, I'd be making my own soup, at least on a regular basis...

Posted by: kate07 | December 3, 2007 4:43 PM

Kate and Atlmom, One way to reduce the salt and sugar content per serving in processed soups is to add additional fresh or frozen vegetables -- e.g., I love to toss frozen asparagus into cream of asparagus soup; that way a serving contains less of the original soup.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 3, 2007 4:46 PM

kate: I did, when I was no WOHM. I would keep all the 'stuff' that people throw away when cutting up vegetables, keep it in a ziploc in the freezer, and every once in a while, in a big pot or the crockpot, put it all in, pour in some water, some spices, and let it sit for several hours. Then take out the veggies - and have it in the freezer. Alas, I do not do this these days. :)

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 3, 2007 4:46 PM

mehitabel: so true. I typically will put stuff in there, pasta and whatnot. We actually do soup in the crockpot - like, split pea or whatever, where I just put it in there, with some soup stock cube - which I know has lots of salt, but I put in the split peas (no salt) and other stuff (veggies and whatnot) so that I know that the resulting soup isn't bad. :)

Oh, did I mention I love the crockpot? ;)

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 3, 2007 4:59 PM

"I would much rather my kid grow up not liking many vegetables than having had to endure meals where they were bullied into eating everything on their plates."

If you equate house rules with bullying, then I can't wait to hear about the democracy in your house on topics of teen sex, drug use, and cheating on schoolwork. After all, you wouldn't want your kids to have to endure limits on their personal choices, LOL.

Posted by: mn.188 | December 3, 2007 5:53 PM

Well, Leslie appears to not be talking to me, but I'll just post anyway.

If your children are eating this:

chicken nuggets
french fries
tater tots
chicken or turkey dogs
stouffers mac n cheese
fried ham
applesauce
ketchup

every night for dinner, I can understand why you're worried about their health and sneaking healthy foods into their diet.

And how is preparing one "meal" for your kids and another for you and Perry NOT running a short order kitchen? In addition, how on earth can you justify spending the entire day apart from your children and then planting them at the table with cr*p food while you wait until later to dine with your husband?

Here's an idea for inserting balance (in the form of built-in family time and less dinner-prep time for you) AND a healthy diet into your your and your kids' lives:

Prepare one dinner for the entire family. Make it something you can all agree upon. Baked chicken. Pasta. Chili. Quiche. Serve with a salad and a side of steamed veggies. Voila.

I think one of the reasons that you can't find balance in your life is that you make things FAR more difficult than they are.

Posted by: fake99 | December 3, 2007 5:59 PM

More on the stealth vegetables debate on ABC: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Diet/Story?id=3945963&page=1

Posted by: pepperjade | December 3, 2007 6:24 PM

I would also say it is probably counterproductive to pay too close attention to every thing your child eats at a given meal. I was a terrible picky kid, and didn't start to become a more adventurous eater until my parents gave up and decided to just leave me alone and let me eat. I have a friend who similairly analyzes every bite of food that goes into her daughter's mouth, and of course eating has become a huge power struggle.

In my experience the parents who serve a variety of healthy foods and then just relax and let everyone enjoy dinner generally have the least picky kids, since they don't have the control issues and view meals as a pleasant experience. (or course, if the kids know there isn't a bunch of junk food in the house to fill up on after dinner that helps, too.)

Posted by: floof | December 3, 2007 6:50 PM

No joke, floof! My sister would lament that her youngest son wouldn't eat ANYTHING and how difficult it was for her to get him to eat, etc - and they would order food at a restaurant, but he wouldn't eat, yadayadayada.

Then she'd pull out chocolate pop tarts and fruit loops out of her purse to give to him when he 'wouldn't eat'. Yah, if I knew that was the reward, I wouldn't eat either...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 3, 2007 9:38 PM

atlmom, that's interesting. I found my kids less picky at restaurants. When I really paid attention to the food they were ordering, I noticed that it was simple, no heavy sauces, no foods touching (like a casserole), etc. Changed my whole way of preparing dinner at home.

I too love my crockpot, just have to take it easy on the sauces & seasonings...and can easily add extra veges/pasta to cut the salt/sugar in processed stuff. Thanks for the tips (you also, mehitabel)

Posted by: kate07 | December 3, 2007 9:59 PM

No joke, floof! My sister would lament that her youngest son wouldn't eat ANYTHING and how difficult it was for her to get him to eat, etc - and they would order food at a restaurant, but he wouldn't eat, yadayadayada.

Then she'd pull out chocolate pop tarts and fruit loops out of her purse to give to him when he 'wouldn't eat'. Yah, if I knew that was the reward, I wouldn't eat either...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 3, 2007 09:38 PM

wow - you've nailed this one, atlmom. I watched two different families do this with the poptarts. Once at an Indian restaurant with a kid who has been raised authentically vegetarian, e.g., he doesn't live on chicken fingers and frozen pizzas anyway, and the other at a barbecue joint. As you say, what kid would risk the new over the tried and true, predicable, sugar-and-fat fest?

Posted by: mn.188 | December 4, 2007 12:56 PM

Leslie,

I read an analysis of the Jessica Seinfeld book that said veggies that are cooked, pureed and recooked would be as nutritious as chocolate chip cookies - and a lot less fun. There are actually lots of good cookbooks which help make the veggies taste better - Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver are both great, because their recipes are no fuss and delicious.

Posted by: priyagayatri | December 4, 2007 11:58 PM

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