Any time you want your kids to eat something slightly different. Or try something new. Let them help you in the kitchen. This is not an earth-shattering, rock-you-to-your-core discovery. It’s something I have practiced since Nick was Madeline’s age. Because it works. Each and every time. Without fail.
The kids, more often than not, ask to help in the kitchen. I don’t always say yes. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy to deal with the extra mess. Because Lord knows, there’s a lot of it. But I try to let them be engaged when it makes sense. If I’m hurrying to get dinner done because we’re running late, then they might just do the final toss of the salad or wash and plate the fruit. That way they’re at least involved in the process and learning more kitchen tips and tricks along the way.
But the times when they really dive in and get their hands dirty? Awesomesauce. Because then they’ll try just about anything.
Mystic’s daughter came over after work and Nick was busy hanging out with her, so last night when I was making dinner, Madeline took full advantage of her brother being out of the picture. I heard the familiar sound of her dragging the little chair over to my side, as she declared she was going to cook.
“Well, I have already started. How ’bout you help me instead?”
Luckily she was ok with that, since I was already way behind schedule, and still wasn’t even sure of what I was making.
I knew I was making vegetarian burgers. With beans. I just hadn’t decided the exact plan yet.
My first thought was to use quinoa with it. One of my co-workers loves the stuff, and I’m trying to use it more. But apparently I used up the last of my quinoa. My eyes scanned the cupboard and landed on the couscous.
Hmmm. Similar beasts. Similar effect? I was hoping for the best.
I love couscous. Nobody else I know does. I love it as a light Spring or Summer salad, mixed together with chick peas, feta, and Kalamata olives. Delish.
But as a binder?
I started dumping all the ingredients in a bowl and instructed Madeline on mixing first, then mashing it into a paste. I stuck a spoon in it midway to test for seasonings, and she went right in with her fingers.
She looked at me, deer in headlights.
I was just messing with her, because I knew she had washed her hands right before we started.
“Oh this is so good,” she exclaimed, as she went back for more. “I want two tonight. And I want it for my lunch tomorrow.”
We mixed and mashed, formed the patties and started cooking them up. Nick wandered in to see what we were having for dinner. He thought it was a black bean and rice burger. I didn’t correct him.
The table got set. And we finally sat down. Toasted whole wheat buns. Caramelized onions. Sliced avocados. Cheese. And a random assortment of toppings.
Madeline went with just the burger and the bun.
I went with the burger, bun, a slice of cheese, half an avocado, caramelized onions, hot sauce, and ketchup. I’m all about the toppings. Always.
Guys, I have never seen the kids devour burgers the way they did these. Which kind of shocks me. I mean, they’re definitely good, but such a huge departure from a regular beef burger, I was ready for resistance.
It just reinforces the truth that I already know. COOK WITH YOUR KIDS. Madeline was so proud to tell Nick that she made the “black burgers” (which is why they are so named). Because both kids love black beans, I knew I had a little bit of an in. And they always love something they can customize themselves.
Winner, winner, black burger dinner.
While we’re on the subject of kids and eating, there is a new book out that you might be interested in, particularly if the dining room table has become your newest battleground. Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed With Insight, Humor and a Bottle of Ketchup (American Academy of Pediatrics, March 2012) by Laura A. Jana, MD, FAAP and Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP addresses everything from the decades-long debate about kids drinking juice to getting your kids to stop whining at the dinner table. They recently sent me an excerpt that I thought you might be interested in. Although my kids don’t typically whine about food, we definitely have stiff negotiations sometimes about what they think they will and won’t like, so I can totally relate.
According to the dictionary, whining is defined as complaining through the use of a high-pitched or distressed cry. By our definition, whining is an incredibly annoying yet seemingly unavoidable part of childhood that at the end of a long day can have the same effect as fingernails on a chalkboard. As it relates to dining, children are quick to learn that whining can be an extremely effective way to get what they want to eat and/or drink everywhere from the crib to the kitchen table to the grocery store. It’s not hard to see how a child’s persistent whining about food can cause a parent’s nutritional decision-making abilities to become temporarily impaired. After all, it is a whole lot easier to yield to whining for food rather than something you just can’t give in to.
When you find yourself faced with a child who whines about food, the best thing you can do is come to the table prepared.
• Expect the Expected. Simply being aware that whining about food (and just about everything else) is inevitable will hopefully allow you to prepare yourself and keep it from grating on your nerves quite as much as it otherwise might.
Whining and Dining
• Keep Your Cool. Whining is an intuitive way for your child to get what she wants. It’s also her way of luring you into battle. We highly recommend that you refuse to take part. If it’s food she wants, then resist the urge to give it to her when the whining intensifies and you find you can’t take it anymore. If whining is met with reward — or even if you hold out but it becomes clear that it drives you nuts — you can expect the agony to be prolonged.
• Let Whining Fall on Deaf Ears. Once your child is old enough to really get into the swing of whining — usually around 3 or so — start reinforcing the fact that her whining is going to fall on deaf ears. If she is sitting at the table whining about what she does or doesn’t want to eat for dinner, tell her as calmly as you possibly can that you can’t understand her when she talks like that and ask her if she has something to tell or ask you. If she continues to whine, go about your business. If, on the other hand, she makes an attempt to rephrase her “request,” be sure to acknowledge her efforts. Remember that stopping mid-whine is a tough task at any age, so don’t expect her to drop the whine entirely. It’s not settling for less to respond to a toned-down snivel.
What’s in a Whine?
• 9 Months. Starting as early as 9 months, kids learn to point with a purpose as they figure out the benefits of pointing out what they want, including food.
• 12 Months. Children typically utter their first words, and “no” is often one of the stand-alone favorites.
• 2 Years. By this age, you can expect your child to put 2 words together—as in “no way” or “want that.”
• 2–3 Years. Kids begin to make better use of basic manners such as “Please” and “Thank you.” This, in turn, allows for the development of the characteristic “puhleeeeeeeze” so commonly employed in the context of whining and dining.
• 3 Years. At this age, kids can typically string together 3 or more words in a single sentence, and 75% of what they say is supposed to be understandable to parents and other caregivers. This means that the “I want one!” or “I don’t like it!” is likely to come through loud and clear for all to hear.
• 4 Years. Even innocent bystanders should be able to understand most of a 4-year-old’s speech, whining or not. A more sophisticated form of whining may ensue, including the classics: “How come she gets to have one and I don’t?” “You never give me anything good!” and “Please, just this once can’t I….”
April 10, 2012 – Bonus Photo
Bright orange sweet potatoes on a bright orange plate, there was no way I could show you the color version of this photo. But do you see the heart that turned up? Love it.
Recipe courtesy of Cate O’Malley
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 package of Near East Couscous, prepared using package directions
3 small onions, thinly sliced and caramelized (reserve some onions for topping)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
whole wheat bread crumbs
In a medium size bowl, add all the ingredients. Mix together, then mash so the black beans lose their shape. Form into patties. Spray a small pan with non-stick cooking spray and put on medium heat. Sprinkle bread crumbs on the top and bottom of the patties, spray with cooking spray, and place in pan. Cook until they begin to crisp. Serve in buns with your favorite toppings.
Yield: Approximately 9 patties