Jan 25, 2009

Feeding the kids: A new approach

Thank you for all of the emails and comments regarding my dilemma over feeding the kids and handling their rejection of my cooking. It's nice to know I'm not alone, and it was very interesting and enlightening to read all of the different perspectives. Camille's comment in particular really grabbed my attention because I realized that she's absolutely (and rather obviously) right: I haven't been putting myself in the kids' shoes enough.

I haven't been asking myself on a regular basis if they'd be interested in what I was planning to make, let alone asking them (or at least Alex) if they'd be interested. I've been more focused on cooking things that I want to eat, rather than things they might be willing to try.

Which isn't to say that I haven't made things that I was sure they would like, only to have them rejected upon sight. (Like the bolognese with alphabet shaped pasta, as I previously mentioned.) But overall, I have to admit that I haven't been respectful enough of the boys' opinions.

So last week, I pulled out my folder of new recipes while Alex was eating and asked him what he'd like for dinner that night. We ran through a few general categories and he picked (unsurprisingly) pasta. I pulled out my pasta recipes and showed him a few that I thought he might be interested in, but all he said was, "That sounds yucky."

Then I got to a page from an old Martha Stewart Kids issue, which included a recipe for Baked Rigatoni Cake. "That looks yummy." Okay, we had a winner.

I considered making the "cake" with whole wheat penne, because I've never been able to find whole wheat rigatoni. But I really needed a flat end, so I had to use regular rigatoni. Instead of making the sauce in the recipe, I just pulled out some frozen bolognese base and made some of our favorite bolognese. It wasn't as red as the sauce in the picture, but it was probably a lot tastier. The rigatoni wasn't as hard to assemble as I thought it would be – in fact, it wasn't hard at all. And one pound was the exact right amount for a 9-inch springform pan.

I even assembled the "cake" in the early afternoon, wrapped the bottom of the pan in foil to catch any seeping liquid, and parked the pan in the fridge while we went out on a play date. When we got home, I popped the pan into the oven, adding about ten minutes to the baking time since everything was cold.

Alex didn't actually help me with the cooking process – he wasn't really interested, although I did call him over to watch me set up the rigatoni in the pan. And throughout the day and at dinner, I emphasized that we were having something he'd picked out and requested.

It worked. He didn't actually love the dish, but because he felt some ownership of it, he ate a decent amount.

I freely admit that I'm not thrilled with the nutritional content of the dish, but only because the pasta wasn't whole wheat. And it was a good start. It made me realize that I need to include the boys more in the menu planning that I do.

Camille recommended books by Ellen Satter, and subsequent commenter Dina echoed the endorsement. So I ordered Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: Orchestrating and Enjoying the Family Meal.It sounded like what I needed, particularly the parts on ways to involve kids in the kitchen and guidelines on adapting menus for young children. I'll review the book after I've had a chance to read it and implement its suggestions.

Thanks again, everyone!


Meredith said...

If it helps, I have not been able to convert my kids to whole wheat pastas without complaint.

Instead we buy the Barilla pasta plus that is enriched with protein and flax meal. Much more pleasing to the kids, and overall a lower rise in blood sugar than even the whole wheat pasta.

Mercedes said...

I am going to have to start doing the same with my almost four year old. All he eats is chicken nuggets I swear. I am going to check out a couple of books at the library.


Anonymous said...

One quick comment. I have a daughter who is 13 and was never a picky eater, at least compared to her friends. She was also willing to try different things. She ordered and ate the mushroom ravioli and stuffed mushroom appetizer at Olive Garden when she was 7. However, you might want to try one of her absolutely favorite meals when she was young (up to about age 6). It was "appetizer night". Basically, it was a combination of cut-up fruit, cubed cheese, cut up veggies, and occasionally small, bite-size meatballs in various sauces. Except for the meatballs, everything could be eaten with fingers, even plain steamed green beans and sugar snap peas. Your boys may not like this, but it can be very colorful and it's easy for them to eat, so you might want to give it a try.

Anonymous said...

Ooooh, I don't envy you! I know I was super picky as a kid, and my parents weren't really all that health conscious about what we ate. Although, for whatever reason, my mom got it stuck in her head that I HAD to eat a serving of lima beans with every meal. YUCK!

But, I'd be interested to see how the recipes in that book turn out for you! I'm still super picky - and like your kids - not a fan of wheat pasta. So I've been looking for healthy recipes that don't make me gag or bore me. Looking forward to your review!

Anonymous said...

We also like the Barilla pasta plus, but one way I've been able to work more whole grains into our diet is to combine whole grain with white, gradually increasing the amount of whole grain every time I serve it. It just takes a moment to figure out how long to cook the whole grain item (rice, pasta) before adding the white item to the same boiling water, then voila! You've started down the road to healthier eating.