Blog

KLB Petite Couleur jpgWelcome!

I’m so happy you’re here, because it means you care about healthy food. On this blog you’ll find discussions of a range of parenting issues (like picky eating and snacking, food marketing and politics), as well as delicious recipes and menus. Enjoy!

I’d love to hear your comments! I’d also love a photo or drawing on the Getting To Yum Photo Wall – where you’ll find kids eating everything from spinach and sushi to olives and octopus. Yum!

 
ps My new book Getting to Yum is now available for purchase in the US, UK and Canada!
 

Does your child need “food rehab?” Maybe you should wean them off “kids’ food”!

We’ve all known at least one kid like this (maybe even one in our own family): they subsist on a ‘beige’ food diet, and would rather sit at the table (arms crossed, lips pursed) for hours rather than take one taste of that new food you’re offering. Some kids are also largely geared towards a “kids’ food” diet: chicken nuggets, anyone?

But highly processed “kids’ food” may be setting them up for a lifetime of unhealthy eating. Read my interview in the National Post on food rehab, and getting your child from yuck to yum. Trust me, it can be done! Check out the success stories on my Getting to Yum blog: you’d be amazed at the transformation in formerly picky eaters!

Summer treat with my girls

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My daughters made a lovely raspberry swirl pavlova today, with whipped cream and berries on top.

It tasted even better than it looks!

(As it was their first time making a pavlova, it turned out slightly soggy, but I am proud of them nonetheless!)

The raspberries are from our garden and the blueberries are local too (we’ve had a hot summer here in Vancouver).

 

Five top tips for picky eaters

Picky eater at home? You’re not alone! Try these tips to help your child conquer picky eating.

1. Ask children to taste everything you’ve prepared, even if they don’t eat it. Research shows that children need to taste a new food, on average, 7 to 12 times before they will accept it. Looking isn’t enough — they have to taste! Positive peer pressure (particularly from other children) works wonders when it’s time for “taste testing” new foods.

2. Don’t label your child a ‘picky eater.’ Instead, tell your child they’re a ‘learning eater’ (just like ‘learning readers). Try telling your children: “You’ll like that when you’re a bit more grown up.” Expect kids to develop a wider palate and — eventually — they will!

3. Introduce your child to new foods before you serve them. Sounds silly, but often works wonders. For example, show your child a raw beet: let them touch it, and smell it. Cut it open, and let them look at the intense colour. Then try a variety of ways of introducing beets to your family. Beet popsicles are a family favourite, as is beet salad!

4. Stick with a schedule (and limit snacks to one–or at most two–per day). Once they know snacks are limited, kids will automatically adjust and eat more at mealtimes. If kids know that they can fill up on snacks, they’ll tend to be fussier at meals. Once you set your new routine, stick to it!

5. Talk less about health, and more about good tastes. Say: “Taste this, it’s really yummy”, rather than “Eat this: it’s good for you.” Believe (and tell your kids), that good-for-you foods taste good. Healthy eating habits are a happy byproduct. Broccoli? Yum!

Making food a daily ritual….with a French touch!

Food is everywhere in France, as you might expect. It’s a favorite topic of conversation, and even the subject of hit TV shows; the French version of ‘American Idol’ features would-be chefs in high-drama cooking show-downs. This is prime-time TV! And many people in France are glued to their screens as the final episodes unfold.

But food — and the joy of savoring good food — also pops up in lots of little, unexpected ways in everyday life. For example, look at this piece of paper towel. I bought it at our local supermarket (not at a fancy speciality shop). Each piece on the roll has a different recipe (this one is for a wonderful summer dessert called Granité aux Fraises). The recipes rotate seasonally (we bought this roll earlier in the summer). Even the most mundane object can be transformed by a little lighthearted nod to the pleasures of life. Savoir-vivre, as they say.

ps In case you were wondering, yes, it is only coquettish women shown on the paper towel rolls. Gender equity in the kitchen is not a strong point for the French–at least not yet. However, that’s an entirely different debate–about which I will be blogging next week!

Holiday Recipe: Roast Squash with Maple-Sage Dressing

Long Live Squash! My farming relatives had a bumper crop of squash this year, and we’ve been experimenting with squash recipes for weeks. I’m hoping this recipe will appear in my cookbook (out next year) and would love your thoughts!

 

Equipment: 1 baking dish or roasting pan, grater, blender
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 to 40 minutes
Servings: 4 adult servings

This is a great dish to make for babies who are transitioning to more solid foods, but who aren’t really ready to chew hard foods or chunks. My younger daughter (who took a long, long time to start chewing solid food) loved this dish, and we still love to make it on winter nights.

The ‘taste training’ element is in the dressing: the sweetness of the maple syrup and the acidity of the orange offsets the hint of sage—which pairs wonderfully with the squash.

As with the recipe for Butternut Squash Puree (above), I’ve calculated adult servings, as I am assuming you will want to enjoy this yummy dish along with your child!

1 large butternut squash
¼ cup water
1 tbsp butter, plus a few extra dabs of butter for the squash once baked
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup orange juice
½ tsp cinnamon
tiny pinch of sage (dried) — just a pinch!
optional: 1 tsp kosher (or sea) salt, sprinkled over squash just before serving

Preheat oven to 350F.

1. Preparing the squash: Halve the squash lengthwise and remove the seeds and strings. Rub the insides with butter (or a vegetable oil, to stop the squash from burning). Place on baking dish (or roasting pan) with ¼ cup water, skin side down. Bake in preheated oven (350 degrees) for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender when pricked with a fork. Remove from oven, sprinkle with salt (optional) and allow to cool. Place additional (optional) dabs of butter inside to melt.

2. Making the dressing: In a small pot, combine maple syrup and orange juice, heating gently (low-medium heat) for about 5 minutes. When warm, add the cinnamon and sage. Reduce heat to low, and cook (stirring occasionally) for about 5 minutes. Bonus: this will make your kitchen smell wonderful!

Serve warm, with warm dressing drizzled over top (kids love to drizzle their own dressing!).

Five Time-Saving Cooking Tips for Busy Parents

If you’re like me, life is busy. In the past, it often seemed like I was cooking in a hurry. I’d end up cooking my ‘fall back’ dishes, which meant we’d eat the same few dishes regularly. This wasn’t great for many reasons: limited variety means less nutritional diversity. And everyone got a bit bored with the same food (even me!).

When I streamlined my approach to the kitchen, it helped a lot. Here are some tips for busy parents: practical ideas that I have found really useful.

1. Plan ahead. Make vegetable soups on the weekend and freeze them; they are very quick to heat up for a meal. There are lots of great simple soup recipes in my new book (Getting to Yum); most take less than 10 minutes to make a large amount.

2. Cook once, eat twice. If you are making a time-consuming dish, make two batches, and refrigerate or freeze one for eating another day.

3. Use a slow-cooker (or “crock pot”): it will slowly cook a stew during the day – and you’ll have a delicious meal waiting at dinner-time.

4. Don’t cook every meal. Once a week, eat an “at-home picnic” with simple foods that don’t require much cooking. When we do this, we eat chopped vegetables with dips, simple salads, nice breads, cold meats, and sliced fruit. You can prepare many of these in advance and quickly serve them when you get home.

5. Delegate by asking your children to help with cooking! Most children over the age of 7 can chop and stir. They also love to eat the food that they have cooked themselves, so this is a great way to get them eating healthy food while saving you time. Younger children can do other tasks like put away cutlery, set the table, or fold napkins. They’ll have a great sense of accomplishment.

What are some of the strategies you use to save time in the kitchen?

The Montessori Method of Eating

Mira and kidsAfter reading French Kids Eat Everything, Mira reached out to me by email. We shared so many ideas in common! She ended up being one of the ‘test families’ for my new book. I’ve been inspired by her reflections on similarities between the Montessori philosophy and the French approach to food education. Thanks Mira!

My family was one of the test families of Karen Le Billon’s cookbook Getting to Yum, and as we’ve worked through the recipes, I’ve been reflecting on the similarities between “French eating” and Montessori education, especially the approach to food. My daughter attended a Montessori preschool, and I’m currently writing a dissertation on the parent communities at two urban public Montessori schools in Connecticut. So while Karen calls these ideas “French”, they’re similar to techniques practiced at 21,000 Montessori schools worldwide.

Here are some of the main ideas I’ve taken from both of Karen’s books and the Montessori schools I’ve observed.

Create a beautiful and peaceful environment for eating

Children at Montessori schools generally eat in their classrooms, allowing them to skip the noisy school cafeteria. But this isn’t scrunched eating at your desk. In many schools I’ve observed, the room is transformed at lunchtime, and students play an integral role in the set-up and clean-up rituals, gaining ownership over their meals. I’ve watched a preschool class of boys spend half an hour setting the table for their classmates, figuring out how to work cooperatively in creating elaborate arrangements and rearrangements of the plates and silverware.

Children can learn to use breakable materials

Like the French preschools profiled in French Kids Eat Everything, in the Montessori schools I’ve observed, children eat off real plates and glass cups with metal silverware using cloth napkins. Montessori students also practice pouring exercises in a progression of different pitchers until 2 and 3 year olds are able to pour on their own and serve themselves snack. We did this exercise at home with my two year old and he can now mostly pour on his own.

Even young children can learn to treat breakable objects with respect. With some guidance and careful observation, children learn to gauge the weight of glass cups and learn how to properly put them down on the table. I especially like inexpensive small Ikea glasses – some will get broken in the learning process! But in the long run, children can skip things like “sippy cups” and plastic plates all together in favor of real (although child-sized) tableware.

When we empower young children to handle real materials carefully, we create a foundation of care and responsibility that will last a lifetime. Your child will eventually want to drive your car! Start by giving them independence using smaller objects like glasses and plates.

Montessori utensils organizationCleaning up is part of daily education

Spills are a normal part of the school day – when they occur, children learn to wipe them up. Children are expected to learn to serve food and pour for themselves in a Montessori classroom. (Teachers prefer uncarpeted floors for ease of cleanup.)

When children spill, instead of getting angry, I’ve heard a Montessori teacher say, “I see lots of water on the floor. What do we need to do when we spill?” The child gets a rag and begins cleaning up and the teacher helps. “Do you see more water on the ground? Let’s get it!” Similarly, when my children spill at the table, I hand them a rag and we wipe it up together. And then I think about putting less water in a cup or a pitcher next time.

Through this process, children learn it’s natural and normal to make mistakes. This process helps cultivate experimentation and self-esteem.

Observing and Adapting
One of the hallmarks of Montessori education is careful observation (without getting mad!) and adapting the environment as necessary. So here are a couple of observations from my own kitchen:

Kids cooking in the kitchenInclude the Children in Food Preparation

I’ve learned that the best way to get dinner cooked is not to send children to the living room to play with their toys, but ask them to get involved. For my two year old, that might be washing some Tupperware in the sink or pushing the salad spinner, and my 6 year old has started to peel and slice the cucumbers. Sara Cotner’s cookbook Kids in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes that Build Independence and Confidence the Montessori Way (http://www.amazon.com/Kids-Kitchen-Independence-Confidence-Montessori/dp/1477542043) gives more suggestions for including children as young as 18 months in cooking.

Put vegetables first

My toddler will make a beeline for the pasta and throw a fit if you ask him to eat vegetables. So
I’ve learned to put vegetables out first without other choices. He won’t eat much that’s green at the moment, but will enthusiastically eat a plate of cucumbers while we prepare dinner.

Though I didn’t do food in courses before, I’ve observed that he is most likely to eat pureed soup if there is nothing else on the table to distract him. Similarly, I keep trying and trying again to offer him new foods. One day he was suddenly willing to bite into an apple. After hating citrus fruits forever, another day he started peeling clementines. Next hopefully he will start to eat them!

Find a school that supports good eating
Much of the credit for my children’s evolving eating habits is due to the fact that they’ve been able to attend a wonderful childcare program in Hamden, CT called Alphabet Academy which has a pioneering meal program under the direction of master Chef Kim Kim. The menu changes weekly and each meal is served family style at child size tables with real plates and silverware. Alphabet Academy also tested recipes from Karen’s cookbook, and discovered that the children’s absolute favorite was…Spinach and Salmon Lasagna. Surprised? We all were too.

Breaking it down
The Montessori approach can be done with any task, and involves breaking the task down into a series of manageable steps. Similarly, Karen’s approach to eating in Getting to Yum offers a step-by-step technique for creating a palate by moving from simple pureed soups to more complicated iterations of a particular vegetable or fruit. The philosophy, whether French or Montessori, is clear – all children, with preparation and practice, can become happy and healthy eaters.