Stick to your veggies, but cut the little ones some slack in the kitchen
I am open and honest with clients in my cooking classes when they state, “Wow, your kids are so lucky to have a chef for a mom,” or “Wow, your kids must have amazing palates!” I am here to tell you my kids are kids. Like most parents, I wear baby goggles, but even I have to admit my kids are just like everyone else’s.
They gag, complain and spit out food that I have painstakingly created with such love and devotion it can bring me to tears. It happens all the time at my house.
In fact, it happened just this week.
It’s not hard to look back on my childhood and list all the foods that gave me instant gagging reflexes: zucchini, broccoli and mushrooms to name a few.
The rejection was instant, unpleasant and always initiated a battle at the kitchen table.
I hated zucchini with such passion, I got caught stomping on them in the garden. (Red heads have tempers). Now, I love zucchini, so I am making up for my former disdain in abundance.
Each of us is born with thousands of taste buds that are fresh, ripe and ready to sense whatever we place in our mouths. This sounds like a great thing, but is it?
Over-sensitivity can deter young people when it comes to experimenting with new foods. As we age, our taste bud rejuvenation cycle decreases as does our sense of smell.
Foods that were once strong or unpleasing can become not only tolerable but interesting and satisfying. For example, you don’t find many young people who love blue cheese. I certainly didn’t as a youth. I didn’t acquire a taste for it until my 30s.
Even though your child may gag and complain, I encourage parents to persevere. Deal with the tears, and keep trying. If you steamed broccoli to no avail, roast it next time or puree it for a soup.
My kids are not fans of cauliflower but they sure love the creamy white soup I make with croutons and basil. Someday, I will tell them the main ingredient. Of course, they may read this column and game over. My kids don’t like sauerkraut, but they sure love sauerkraut meatballs. Our kids never liked guacamole. A few years ago, we traveled to Branson, Missouri, and went to an up-scale Mexican restaurant where guacamole is prepared at your table and to your preference. Our kids loved watching the skilled waiter prepare the green mash and getting to choose their ingredients. To this day they fight over who gets to make it at home.
If only I could find a restaurant to do this with Brussel sprouts!
Evidence exists that kids naturally have dislikes, many of which they will overcome with time, education and maturity. I am a perfect example of this.
Unfortunately, dislikes are more contagious than likes. I have found that most children are born skeptics and assume parents are trying to trick them. Let’s face it, we do.
Be careful as an adult with verbalizing your dislikes because kids can catch this bug quickly and jump aboard. I won’t name any names here, but I know plenty of adults who have yet to outgrow their youthful dislikes. But don’t pass your judgements on to the little ones. Let your kids make their own discoveries, and I am sure you will be surprised.
On the flip side, do be careful about exposing them to foods that you may not be prepared to deliver as often as they would like.
My father encouraged my sister for years to try seafood. We lived near the ocean and seafood was fresh and plentiful. To this day, my father regrets that decision as my sister became obsessed and our grocery bills became outrageous.
Some things to promote open-mindedness in kids that have worked for me include helping make out the grocery list, grocery shopping and meal prep in the kitchen.
We have a large chalk board on the wall in the kitchen and everyone is welcome to write their grocery wishes on it. Yes, some are denied, but I encourage the kids by allowing them limitless options if they are healthy choices.
I know you can get in and out of the super market more efficiently without corralling kids, but a it really can be inspirational for kids.
We always go to the store with a prepared list, however we all know that spontaneity is more fun. So as far as I am concerned, the produce department is fair game. I always encourage the kids to look around and pick out a new ingredient for us to try.
Taking part in the selection process somehow creates an acceptance level in kids that parents cannot create in other ways. Manipulation? Who cares, right?
Get your kids into the kitchen even if it is just for a little task.
I know we are all busy and sometimes the last thing you want is to supervise while you are making dinner. And not all kids love to be in the kitchen. But all kids love to eat.
Allow them to take some ownership in preparing part of the meal and earn some bragging rights. Even if after the meal, my kids decide it wasn’t their favorite, they still celebrate their success. It is amazing what kids can do with a butter knife, a cheese grater or a blender, all relatively safe options with minimal supervision.
A little more effort on our part to include our kids in the decision-making in the kitchen will allow for growth, acceptance and creativity.
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SOUP
1 quart whole milk Pinch kosher salt
1 head cauliflower, cored and broken into florets, divided
1 small onion, halved and sliced
8 fresh thyme sprigs, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bay leaf Fresh ground black pepper (or white pepper)
4 slices rustic bread, broken into large bite-size pieces ¼ cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoons fresh parsley or fresh basil, chopped Good extra virgin olive oil Pour the milk into a saucepan, add a pinch of salt and bring to simmer. Set aside about 1 cup small florets and place the remaining cauliflower in the simmering milk. Add onion, 4 thyme sprigs, butter and bay leaf. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Discard thyme and bay leaf.
Puree soup with an immersion blender or blender. Place the soup back into pan and season with salt and pepper (white pepper is cool here if you have it).
While the soup is cooking, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice up the remaining cup of cauliflower florets.
For topping, combine bread, the remaining sliced florets, leaves from
4 thyme sprigs and pine nuts. Drizzle melted butter over top. Place on sheet pan and roast 5–7 minutes or until browned. Remove from oven and toss with fresh herbs.
Pour soup into bowls, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with roasting topping.