Friday, May 9, 2008

Cooking by the Book

Calling Chef Mom. Please report to the advice podium to dole out some good advice to frustrated moms in need of healthy meals children will eat.

I've had it with cooking dinner several times a week only to be told that what I've prepared is yucky.

If it doesn't come from a guy in a clown suit or a crown, isn't neon orange and cheesy, doesn't taste like cinnamon and powdered sugar, or isn't Siamese Basil's cashew chicken, my eldest child thinks it's gross.

Dinner time is a battle every night. Admittedly, by the time I get through the two hours it takes me to construct a meal while managing a crying toddler and stopping every five minutes to find a toy, change the tv channel, open something, let the dog in or out, or put out some fire (metaphorical or literal), I've had it. I want to eat my food, get everyone bathed and in bed, and zone out.

I try to cook healthy foods I like but I realize that I'm the only one who likes them. Granted, Brendan hates all foods and this drives me crazy. It makes me mad. He used to love everything and then one day, he just became this defiant child who refuses to eat anything. And I didn't help it because I thought he couldn't go hungry so instead of saying, "tough luck, eat this or do without," I would let him have a banana or make something I thought he'd eat.

Now, I'm trying to fix the problem and we're fighting like cats and dogs every night, screaming at each other and I can't take it anymore. I literally sat at the kitchen table and cried last night after telling my whole family I was going on strike because they didn't appreciate my hard work to cook nice meals. It's insulting to have your child tell you the food you've made is yucky. And I guess I had just heard that one too many times last night.

I feel like an idiot for letting him get the best of me that way. Of course, on the one hand, he hurt my feelings and he should see that his actions have consequences. That words can hurt people. I just hate that he learned on me. I don't want him to know he can push my buttons like that.

So, what I'm trying to ask for is a little advice, recipes, meal suggestions, ideas for getting your kid to try new foods or things they think they don't like. I can't trick him, nor do I want to. So, none of this, hide the zucchini in the spaghetti sauce (he wouldn't eat it anyway because he's the only kid in America who doesn't like spaghetti). I want real ideas.

And, by the way, how do you eat healthy meals if your children flat out refuse to eat them when you prepare them. It's a waste of time, energy, and money. Do you break down and fix kid-friendly meals or do you let the kids go hungry or fix other things? I ask this, expecting to hear "the kids should eat whatever you make" but do kids really want poached salmon, brown rice, baked sweet potato, and a salad with ginger dressing? Will most kids eat that?

My friend L. prepares two meals most nights. Either she fixes something the kids will eat and she and her husband snack or have a separate meal or the kids snack and she prepares a meal she and her husband will eat. Which is kind of what I was doing, but decided was a bad idea. Now, I'm wondering if it is such a terrible thing to do.

Alright... Let me have your best ideas!

And thanks in advance!


Jen said...

I don't have any kids, but my mom always got us to eat things by giving them funny names or funny stories.

She'd do "ants on a log"--celery with peanut butter and raisins (the ants)--and tell us stories about how the ants lived in an anthill and they only came out to get peanut butter.

Or she'd roll up turkey lunchmeat in a piece of lettuc and tell us that it was a "lettuce cigar" and we'd pretend smoke the cigars and eat the lettuce.

She'd make "baby burgers" (nothing but extra small burgers on biscuits instead of hamburger buns). She found some book on making garnishes and learned to make radish mice, pineapple roosters, and all kinds of other stuff.

She'd also melt some cheese and cut up fruit and veggies and let us do a nice messy cheese fondue.

She also did a lot of baking--banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, veggie bread--that got us to eat fruits & veggies without realizing it.

I hope that gives you an idea or two! I can't imagine how difficult and demoralizing it is to put that much effort into cooking, and then not be appreciated! I would TOTALLY eat your salmon!

Just Me said...

I posted this once but I don’t think it went through so if it is there twice. Sorry.
To be honest, No, most kids may not think they want poached salmon but I am a firm believer that kids will get used to it. My best friend has salmon all the time and her kids eat it, so there is hope :)
I totally understand, I have one picky son, 5, and a daughter, 8, who will eat anything even salad: ) And my son doesn’t like spaghetti either, I thought he was the only one, now we know it is at least two. I used to do the same as you and end of giving him something else but I realized I can’t do that the rest of my life and I am the parent not him : ) Now, things that I KNOW he doesn’t like (like spaghetti) I will give him a hot dog or something because the rest of the family like spaghetti but if we are having something that he has no reason not to like and he is just being stubborn, I put it on the plate anyway. I just don’t put as much and add some ketchup if needed. In the beginning, he always whined and complained that he didn’t like it, etc but I stuck to my guns and said he had no choice, it was either this or nothing. A few nights he would not eat or even now, he won’t eat much and I have him put his plate in the microwave. About 2 hours later, he would come and say he was hungry and want a snack…I would give him the rest of his dinner, he would get mad but he would eat. It was rough in the beginning but it is getting better slowly. He still whines and doesn’t always eat everything but I am not going out of my way to cook anything special. So I don’t have any advice for different cooking methods but from a mother that has the same problem, maybe it will help some. I got that trick from the show Jon and Kate plus 8..when asked about the 8 kids not eating, she says she cooks one meal and they can eat it or wait until breakfast in the morning : ) My standard answer if he says it doesn’t taste good is “You will be OK, keep eating.”

Jeremy said...

I know it's hard with 2 (trust me, I know), but I've found that Nathan is much more interested in what he eats if he feels like he played a part in preparing it. Sometimes that consists of pushing the buttons on the microwave (vegetables), sometimes it's adding spices or pouring something (pasta, beans, whatever) in or helping place something in the oven–no problem as long as it's under 400 degrees. He also loves stirring simmering pots and scrambling eggs (with some help, of course).

We also present him with options that we can live with: if he doesn't like his vegetables, we offer to add some lemon pepper.

I cook most of the meals in our house. I don't have much in the way of can't-miss, healthy meal solutions. We just try not to make a big deal about it, and if one of our kids is real, real hungry an hour or two after passing up dinner, he will be given a piece of whole wheat bread.

I hope this helps.

Leila said...

I don't know whether or not this will help, but I wanted to share these two things: first, I like Satter's _Child of Mine_ (, which suggests the following philosophical guidelines for child feeding (which I'm sure don't work for everyone): you (the adults) decide WHAT kids eat and WHEN they eat; the children decide WHETHER they eat (any given thing) and HOW MUCH they eat. (I'll just say right now that we've had to modify this with guilty pleasure foods like french fries, for example, because if we let Carter decide whether and how much he'll eat only fries and nothing else. with "sinful" foods we ask whether or not he wants it and then provide a reasonable portion.) so in this model you would set the meal (bring on the poached salmon!) and the boys would decide if they wanted it or not and how much they wanted to eat. you would not make a substitute (but a good idea, which I'm sure you already do, is to have a few different things as part of the meal so at least they can have rice or something if they don't want the fish). while they may skip meals once and a while, over time they learn to eat (or sadly, be a bit hungry until the next meal). it also puts the control and responsibility back in their court (which I'm beginning to think is the solution to a lot of the power struggles I have in my house--I finally got sick of having to rock my daughter for an hour to get her to take a nap and decided it was time for her to learn to fall asleep by herself, thus minimizing our power struggles and making life together so much easier. Satter also suggests that this teaches children to listen to their bodies and thereby learn how to control portions and avoid obesity, etc. (something I'm still not sure I've learned!). anyway, a number of my friends found the book really useful so we're trying it for a bit. (Gavin is not fully on board--he wants Carter to at least try various things, but in my opinion this nearly always leads to a huge battle and frustration for everyone. Satter says they will try it when they are ready.) the other thing I wanted to say is that no matter what path you pursue with eating, it's still not ok for the boys to say mean things to you and make you feel bad. Carter used to do this to me about meals and it really hurt my feelings too although I had a LOT more insecurity because he was basically rejecting me since he didn't want me to be his mom. but in my opinion we should treat this like any other hurtful thing a child might say, which in our family means explaining that it's not nice, hurts our feelings, etc., and eventually giving consequences if it doesn't stop. I don't think that eating should be an excuse to abuse mom!

happy mother's day,

Aleta said...

I don't have a lot of advance to offer as I don't have children. But I remember this one simple trick that my mom did to my brother and I and it worked most times. She would make a plate for herself and we would ask what's for supper. She would respond, "Oh, not this, this is Mommy's food. It's adult food. You can't have this."

Well, you know children are defiant and they want what they cannot have.. Of course we asked to try it and said we liked it and wanted it as well. It didn't always work, but a good number of times it did!

Just Me said...

leila, that was good information. I am working on my daughter with portion control because she has a distorted view and I know it comes from me not limiting. We are working on portion sizing and eating healthy now because she is larger than she should be for her age. Luckily, she is not picky but the portion control thing is hard and she always wants more, it is getting better. She always wants more and my son would rather not eat or try anything new. So I have both extremes. I may check out that book.

A. said...

Just wanted to second the paradigm of the grownups deciding what/when about meals and the children deciding whether and how much. I finally quit cooking two meals about the time my youngest was 2. Prior to that I really did need to make separate dinners for him, as he wasn't allowed to eat all that the rest of us could have. I now follow the "they'll eat if they are hungry" philosophy, but I generally make sure that there is at least one side dish (usually a pasta one) that the children like. I also try to not allow any snacks for about 3 hours before dinner, which assures a fair amount of hunger on their part. Our struggle is that my 3 year old takes about 45 minutes longer to eat than the rest of us. I resent having to be at the table for more than an hour every evening, when I'd rather be done, cleaned up and outside playing/gardening. One other thing we do that makes dinner "fun" is that we eat outside a lot. We'll just take our regular dinner and eat it on paper plates on our patio. oh and I forgot to say that I no longer save a plate of dinner for either child. After a few nights of "I'm hungry" about an hour after dinner was served, followed by me saying "I'm sorry, we already had dinner," they started eating at least something that was served. Yes, mean mommy that I am, I sent my kids to bed hungry (or I got them a slice of bread or some crackers and water and that was it).

Tana said...

Lots of great advice here! Something that's working with my three year old is a very simple negotiation. I always include SOMETHING that he wants to eat- fruit, a cookie for dessert, a side dish he likes- as part of the meal. He asks for that, and if given the choice, would eat nothing but that. So I ask him, "Do you want some oranges/a cookie for dessert/whatever it is that has you salivating?" He predictably says, "Yes, please!" And I smile, and put a bite of the chicken/broccoli/whatever on his fork and say, "If you want fruit/whatever, you have to eat this first. When this is all gone, you may have fruit." Doesn't always work. Some nights he chooses not to eat, and I have to stand firm and refuse snacks (dinner is always available, but as he gets older, his dinner window of time will get shorter). Most of the time now, he eats what's on his plate (speeds him up, too, having a goal...I resent spending an hour or more at the table, too), and then gets the reward food.