Third Thursdays: Variety … Isn’t That a Spice?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The ever-fabulous (and fun) One Hungry Mama is our resident Mother on a Mission, aiming to get us eating and serving good, healthy, colorful, fresh food at home. As OHM puts it, “Kids change the way we cook, but they don’t have to change how well we eat.” So, every Third Thursday of the month, OHM + MMM will be chopping it up in an e-mail exchange about good food and even better family.


From:     Ms. Mary Mack
Subject:  Variety…isn’t that a spice?

Date:     May 10, 2011 9:29 PM EDT
To:       One Hungry Mama

Hey, OHM-

So the good news is, we’re back on the road to eating again. (Smell ya later, Finicky Toddler!) The so-so part? Now I’m kinda sticking to the same three or four lunch/dinner options. It’s somewhat automated—and I don’t know if that’s a good thing. How do you mix things up with these youngsters’ meals without pulling out the Julia Child cookbook on French cuisine?

Hope you’re well … and hungry!


__ __ __ __

From:     One Hungry Mama
Subject: Re: Variety…isn’t that a spice?
Date:     May 12, 2011 9:58 PM EDT
To:         Ms. Mary Mack
Well, hello, Ms. Mary Mack!

Glad to hear that mealtime is back on track. That’s great news! Not just because your little one is eating, but also because it sounds like you’re feeling more in control. It’s such an important part of establishing a healthy dynamic at the table.

Now you’ve got to parlay the good feeling you have from getting mealtime back on track into confidence about the healthy foods you serve—whether the little one eats them or not. I’m not suggesting that you suddenly start cooking with just yourself in mind. But I am suggesting that you don’t cook with just baby in mind.

Listen, I understand the need to pull out reliable recipes when mealtime gets out of control. A couple of days, maybe even a week or two, of some gold old fashioned (homemade!) mac ‘n’ cheese and other family favorites can get kiddo eating again, which gives mama time to re-group. This is important for re-establishing order at the table. At the same time, it’s a slippery slope. The longer kiddo gets only his favorite meals, the harder it will be to switch things up. Also, if you’re sticking to three meals because that’s all baby wants, you’re either eating the same three meals too or making more than one lunch and dinner. Either way, who’s in control of the kitchen?

When it comes to mealtime, just like with other areas of parenting, you need to be in control. And just like with other areas of parenting, being in control shouldn’t mean ignoring your child’s needs or feelings. What you make to eat—and how you change things up—should depend on what kiddo likes to eat as well as on what you like to eat, what you like to cook and what’s practical for the day’s schedule. So if you feeling like pulling out a Julia Child cookbook, you know what? Do it! The kids will deal. Most times you won’t actually do it, and that’s OK, too.

As you think about making mealtime more interesting again, start by thinking about yourself and your husband. Take time to reconnect with your love of food. Ask yourself:

  • What do you and the hubby like eating?
  • What are your favorite cuisines?
  • What are some favorite meals that you made before you had a baby?

Think about which of the dishes you come up with work for your current schedule and which have ingredients that kiddo likes. Can you adapt any of your favorites to make them more kid-friendly? The recipes you end up with are a good place to start.

From there, expand into sharing foods that you love that are new to your kid. Make it about the experience of sharing your love for something, not about trying a new, healthy food. Or try something for the first time together. Don’t be afraid to tell your kid that you’re not really sure you’ll like quinoa either, but you thought it would be fun to try it together. (And if they refuse, that’s fine. Sometimes it’s a little scary to try new things! Model it for them and then try again a week later.)

Basically, stop thinking about mealtime as “mealtime for kiddo.” You are the cook, you are the parent, you make one meal based on your mood, how much time you have and what you know your family—all of your family—likes. There will be times that you try new foods, other times you crave familiar foods. Don’t make it any more complicated than that.

With all that said, here are a few tips for thinking about how to successfully introduce new foods to kiddo:

  • Start slowly. If your kiddo is naturally very picky or just coming out of an intense picky phase, go easy on them. Slowly introduce unfamiliar ingredients by working them into beloved foods. Make sure to show kiddo that you’re still thinking about them when you cook by throwing in a couple of their favorite meals over the course of a week.
  • Ask kiddo to help in the kitchen. The more unfamiliar a food, the less likely you are to get a favorable response when it shows up on kiddo’s plate. Bring your kids to the supermarket or farmers market. Ask them to help unpack the groceries and identify foods as they come out of the bag. Have them help–or even just watch–part of the cooking process. All of these activities acclimate children to new foods away from the pressures of mealtime.
  • Be strategic about when you introduce new foods. Sending kiddo to school with octopus salad when everyone else will have PB&J is not the way to set him up for success. Giving your toddler something new at the end of a long day is also probably not the best idea. Think about when your child is most receptive and least tired—that’s when to encourage them to try something new.
  • Develop a family food culture. A food culture is the way everyday interactions with food define how your family thinks about and emotionally connects to food. A child who grows up in a home where they see adults loving and trying new foods, where they watch cooking, where the family shares special moment over good meals, is more likely to be receptive to new foods than a child who grows up in a home where cooking is all about convenience.  Here are some questions to help you identify your family’s food culture and ways to develop it so that kids are more open and excited about healthy foods.

I have a funny feeling that you were looking for specific food recommendations. There are, of course, foods towards which kids gravitate, but you don’t need me to tell you that anything in pancake form (these Zucchini Pancakes are killer!) is likely to do better than a bowl of stewed kale.

My goal isn’t to give you a list of recipes that are new twists on kid favorites. You can skim One Hungry Mama for that! Rather, my goal is to get you to think about what you want to cook and eat; to encourage you to take control of your kitchen; to help you figure out your own family favorites.

Hope this helps!

With love,

Stacie, One Hungry Mama

  • 1

    Love this dialogue and the advice. I think one of the keys to picky eaters is having one meal that the whole family likes, but you can improvise with, ie. pick out the mushrooms or whatever. You don’t want to be stuck in the trap of “only serving kid food.” Serve more spice and honestly your kid will begin to try it. I found with my own kids that they were pretty open to spice as babies and young toddlers, but that in the 4-5 yr range they became more picky. Just keep on trying!

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Thanks, Grace! Actually, my little guy is doing well with trying things. And now his mother is making sure to keep up that trend. Last night I made stir-fry with organic udon noodles. Today’s lunch was the left-overs, and the Youngster ate it up. “More noooodles,” he said. Of course that made his Mama smile.

  • 2
    hayley says:

    hey nicole! feel like i just found you again… and love this entry. The one meal rule that everyone likes is crucial. I agree. I just did a rainbow striped salmon platter with salmon broken up in pieces and an assortment of veggies in stripes down plate. My husband, daughter and I love it. Picky son, not so much.

    Ended up my picked eater LOVED snap peas. In NYC today at farmer’s market: “Mom, I want my snap peas.” Who knew?

  • 3

    […] month, another great food parenting conversation with my friend Ms. Mary Mack. The last time we chatted I reminded MMM that there are times when we should not feed our kids […]