My four pillars of feeding children and a meal that satisfies both mother and daughter (sort of).
My daughter's lunch (left) and mine (right)
My just-turned-4-year-old daughter is spirited, strong-willed, and determined. (Aside: I’ve lost track of the number of times these traits have been attributed to her hair color, but I don’t think redheads have an exclusivity clause on them.) And although she’s never expressly verbalized this to me, it seems clear that she recognizes there are few areas of her life over which she maintains complete control, so she has seized dominion wherever she can.
This means she now occasionally leaves the house in combinations of clothing that make my eyes hurt and oftentimes she's already protesting before her dinner is fully set down on the table in front of her: “But Mama, I didn’t want that on my plate.” (That is something horribly offensive, like a green vegetable.)
I don’t have any words of advice or magical solutions to get your child to eat something they profess not to like. I’ve tried nearly every suggestion I’ve come across. I have her help pick produce in our garden, and then watch her refuse to eat it when it is served. I take her to the farmers market and let her pick out what she’s excited about, and then watch her refuse to eat it when it is served. I let her assist me in the kitchen to make meals, and then… well, you get the picture.
Try everything: She needs to take at least one bite of everything that is served. (And I try to remember to excitedly chirp: “And if you like it you can always eat more!”, instead of the more negative, “And if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat any more of it.”)
Variety: I try to provide a lot of variety on her plate. That way I know even if she isn’t going to be excited about one item, there are multiple other options for her to refuse eat.
Transparency: I’m not into “hiding” vegetables in dishes. With all due respect to Jessica Seinfeld, I don’t want to serve deceptively delicious meals. I’m up front about what is in a dish, and if she doesn’t like it, that’s okay, maybe she will the next time. If a dish just happens to contain puréed vegetables, that’s fine, but I don’t think anyone is well-served by being tricked into eating something and I don’t think it sets up good messages about our relationship with food.
- She eats what we eat: I don’t want to make separate meals. I will separate out components (this helps make #2 easier), or set some of a dish aside before I add strong flavors (like certain herbs, black pepper, or hot sauce), but not entirely different meals.
Heidi Swanson’s Sushi Bowl has long been in my rotation of go-to meals. It’s endlessly adaptable based on what you have on hand, and it easily works with all four of my philosophies. It is essentially a deconstructed nori roll, served in a bowl. I love one-bowl dishes and Japanese flavors, so it’s a meal that I’m excited to eat; Josephine does, too, which makes trying everything (#1) and eating the same meal (#4) a non-issue.
I combine everything in one bowl for myself, but it can easily be deconstructed further—I serve Josephine the same ingredients separately (#3) and she ends up with a lot of variety on her plate (#2).
My bowl (far above, with the chopsticks) has brown short-grain rice, pan-fried tofu, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, avocado, nori, shichimi togarashi, and a citrusy dressing. Josephine’s (above, with the Elmo spoon) doesn’t have nori, the spices, or the dressing; her tofu is uncooked; and there is a blob of mayonnaise for dipping the vegetables into (life in Japan taught me that it was a good idea to dip stuff in mayo). If I limit the portion of edamame on Josephine’s plate, she starts taking it off of my plate, so I keep it on a communal plate.
We eat lunch together at home every day, so I have the luxury of taking a little extra time on lunches when I feel like it. But this lunch can easily be packed up for your kids (and yourself) in not much time. Skip the avocado slices, they will turn brown—or if you’re packing it for yourself, bring the entire avocado into the office and share with lucky coworkers. Leave the tofu uncooked, pack the sauce in a separate container, and as Heidi suggests, use pre-cooked rice.