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 ( 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.

5 Steps to Conquer Gagging

Exploring Oranges with Mel Melanie Potock is an amazing speech pathologist and ‘real food’ advocate for kids (check our her blog I was so excited when she agreed to write this super helpful guest post. Thanks Melanie!

As a pediatric feeding therapist or “food coach for kids”, I was smiling as I read Karen Le Billon’s new book, Getting to Yum. Truthfully, it was more than just a happy look on my face, I have to admit I was downright giddy.   Nothing makes me happier than helping children become more adventurous eaters in a fun and family-centered way. That’s exactly the theme in Getting to Yum: Involve the whole family in taste-training games and help kids tune into the joy of discovering new foods!

But what’s a parent to do if their child is a sensitive eater and gags at the slightest taste or touch of a new food on their tongue? While gagging isn’t life-threatening (read Karen’s description of gagging vs. choking) it certainly is an unpleasant reflex that reinforces one thing: NOT eating. If a child gags enough, it leads to vomiting. Enough said. We don’t want to go there.

Playing a food gameHere are five surprising steps to help your child manage their gag reflex and feel in control when they taste a brand new food:

  1. Start with a pea-sized bite, preferably cut into a cube. The cube shape helps kids feel the food in their mouths because the edges provide more tactile input and is easier to control.
  2. Teach your child to place it directly on the molars. Most kids take a hesitant bite with the front teeth so that the tongue tip can push it right out – patooey! Or, it falls directly from there backward onto the tongue and that’s often when the gagging starts. Instead, give your child better oral motor control by encouraging them to pick up the piece with their fingers and place it where a dinosaur chews – on his molars – so that it’s closer to the back of the throat to be swallowed. Little kids really get this – they can picture a dinosaur chewing with his “dino-teeth” and love that silly analogy. “Put it on your dino-teeth and chew like a T-Rex!”
  3. Chew HARD! Hesitant eaters chew hesitantly. They lightly tap their teeth on the surface of the food and consequently let it fall onto the tongue – and then they gag. Like a dinosaur, chew hard! With my younger clients in feeding therapy, we pound the table with our fists when we chew a brand new food to ensure that we are also chewing with force. This deliberate chewing provides the proprioceptive input that tells our brain exactly where the food is in our mouth and thus, decreases the tendency to gag.
  4. Pick up a glass of water with a STRAW. As adults, when we reach for a glass of water while eating a meal, we swallow much of the food in our mouths before the rim of the glass reaches our lips. To teach this learned behavior, a straw in the glass will help your child close his mouth and propel the chewed food backward to the throat to be swallowed.
  5. Take another small sip to hose down the tongue. The straw also acts like a garden hose, washing any tickly spots on the tongue and signaling the brain to swallow again. In fact, it’s impossible to swallow and gag at the same time.

Mel Playing with Dino TeethWhether your child is a garden-variety picky eater, an emerging foodie or perhaps a child with special needs who is in feeding therapy, always focus on what your child CAN do and progress from there.   Once the pea-sized bites are swallowed with ease, progress to bean-sized bites until eventually your munch bug is tasting a comfortable, age-appropriate bite and asking for more. This same strategy can be implemented with toddlers or teenagers, but let’s face it – it’s probably best to forgo the dinosaur language at that point. Just remember to take it step-by-step and follow the Getting to Yum guidelines for keeping it fun!

Melanie headshot 2Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP is a certified speech language pathologist, an international speaker on the topic of picky eating, and the author of the award winning parenting book,  Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids: How to Teach Your Child About the Joy of Food! With over 18 years’ experience treating children with feeding difficulties, Mel’s approach to developing feeding skills includes the fundamentals of parenting in the kitchen, such as how to avoid mealtime debates and creating more joyful mealtimes, even with a hesitant eater. Mel embraces her work with families with an open heart and a touch of humor.  After all, the journey to more adventurous eating should be celebrated each step of the way!  She has also produced the award winning children’s CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food as a tool to keep mealtimes joyful and family centered.  Connect with Melanie at My Munch Bug on facebook and twitter or email her at