The other night I was out with some friends, and one, who had never read my blog (gasp) asked if my recipes were “kid friendly.” Before I could answer, another friend joked, “Not unless you’ve got some junior foodies at home!” I guess she’s right; most of the dishes on this blog, while fairly simple, are not standard kid fare. Which, I have to admit, is somewhat intentional.
First, I doubt anyone needs another mac-n-cheese recipe. Plus, frankly, I like the idea of raising gourmet kids. That’s really not as obnoxious as it sounds, by the way. By “gourmet,” I don’t necessarily mean the kids are demanding white tablecloths and poached quail eggs with truffle oil and foie gras — although how cool would it be if they were (well, except for the foie gras)? What I mean by “gourmet” is simply someone with an appreciation of good food. Here is how Webster’s 11th defines it:
Now, is that such a terrible thing? Think about it. What if we raised kids who cared about things like “high-quality” ingredients? Besides it being delicious and really fun for your family, the the long-term effects of that could be huge — for the kids’ health, for the planet, even for the hungry. It’s been fairly well established that our typical American diet is too high in fat, processed carbs, salt, and sugar — and too low in vitamins, fresh produce, and whole grains. Not only is our bad food contributing to poor health and fatness, it is also bad for the environment and wasteful to produce.
If we could get kids to be “little foodies,” they might still want mac-n-cheese, but maybe not the processed kind that comes in a box. Maybe you’d make them whole wheat cavatappi with gruyere and nutmeg. Maybe they would help grate the cheese, which might mean they’d probably have a little less of it because their little arms got tired. While they’re grating, maybe you could talk about what the cow whose milk became the cheese ate on the farm. Maybe you could visit a farm. Maybe your kid would get upset about factory farming and refuse to eat processed junk (maybe). And so on… Perhaps it’s a stretch to say that if we raise kids to be gourmets, the world would be a better place. But maybe that’s the truth. I don’t know, but just the idea of kids knowing where their food came from and caring about its quality gives me hope for a greener, and much leaner, world.
So, right now you’re probably thinking something like, “This is so annoying!” Your kids hate all “exotic ingredients,” especially gruyere, which is expensive, by the way, and you don’t have time to boil water, let alone coach a kid on how to use a cheese grater.
“Well,” I say, “you don’t have to eat it all, but you do have to have a little.” Which appeased her for the time being. Sure enough, she didn’t like the soup, although she didn’t hate it either. And my son liked it well enough to finish a bowl. But she ate a little, plus her bread and crudites, and I know she won’t starve. I try not to get irritated when my kids are not being tres gourmet, which is most of the time (to be fair, my son is pretty adventurous). She saw me making the soup and my husband and I enjoying it, and I know, on some level, she gained something from that.
- Positively reinforce their strengths. All kids like something unusual. Instead of grouching about your kid’s refusal to eat asparagus risotto, praise him for liking artichokes and make sure he takes sufficient pride in his love of kumquats, sushi, or smoked duck.
- Don’t force feed them. This one is hard for me because I have an 8-year-old son who weighs 52 pounds. Still, there is seriously nothing worse than dinner-table battles. The rule in our house is, just try it. Studies show kids need to try new foods up to 15 times to develop a taste for them; we’ve got to be getting close with sauteed mushrooms.
- Don’t be a short-order cook. This (curried squash soup, asparagus risotto) is what’s for dinner. No, we’re not having pizza to go with it. I usually cut up lots of fresh veggies, and if they don’t like the dinner, they can eat veggies and maybe a roll or bread for dinner. Hasn’t killed them yet.
- Deconstruct. Sounds postmodern, but I think this really works. Lots of kids don’t like foods mixed together, so sometimes if I’m making, say, a salmon salad, I’ll make a platter with the salmon, vegetables, lettuce, etc. all in separate piles. Each kid can take what he/she wants, and then I toss the rest with dressing. This works for some pasta dishes, too.
- Make soup. This weekend’s butternut squash notwithstanding, my kids will eat a lot of foods they normally recoil from when they’re cooked in a soup.