Treasure family dinners


Growing up, it was a rite of passage.  If someone could survive an “Elliott family dinner,” the person was okay in our book.

coming to america

What happened at these dinners?  We shared stories.  We made fun of each other, even berated each other, but in love: I don’t think any of us is in therapy because of them.  We all had the chance to laugh at my dad’s perfectionism and my mom’s quirks, as well as each others’.  My brothers and I played out movie scenes we memorized, all taking on different characters such as those in the “Coming to America” barber shop scenes. My older brother always had a quick-wit, and we laughed hard.  My younger brother was funny and a performer who kept us giggling.  I was simultaneously the most studious child in my family and the one with the least amount of common sense, asking stupid questions in an entirely unsafe environment where I paid dearly for it.  And the stories we share of these family dinners still get repeated over and over again when we are together.

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My own experience – along with scientific proof that family dinners are impactful – are reasons why having dinner together as a family is something I work hard to make happen.  To name a few benefits, family dinners help with health, brain growth, vocabulary and family relationships, as well as promote good behaviors and stave off bad ones.

If I haven’t lost you already, I’m hoping you’ll stick with me.  My husband travels a lot and my kids have activities some nights that make eating together impossible.  This means we currently eat together as a family about three nights a week.  On the nights we can eat together, I work to make these count.  Here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. I keep our meals simple.  It’s okay if family dinner is Chipotle.
  2. It makes me SO MUCH HAPPIER when everyone enjoys their food.  That means I make a lot of the same meals for the sake of peace.
  3. I make big pots of spaghetti, chili, soups and stews so I can freeze the leftovers for a night when Greg is traveling or to give to a family in need.
  4. When I had babies and toddlers, I gave them what we were serving as early as possible.  Once a child is about 1, there is very little he cannot eat if you cut it into small enough pieces.
  5. I used the Deceptively Delicious cookbook when the kids were younger to help get more fruits and vegetables in them.  I’ll write another blog about healthy eating strategies for toddlers – someday …
  6. Now that they’re older, I often serve raw vegetables or a salad as the side dish and let the kids pick the ones they like.  They eat vegetables and there’s no arguing, gagging or nose-holding.
  7. Everyone has to at least TRY all the food.
  8. If you don’t like it, we’re not making something else for you.  I have a friend who grew up in a family with six kids, and the alternative if you didn’t like dinner was a microwaved, scrambled egg.  (That sounds more disgusting to me as an adult than an asparagus and Brussels sprouts pie would have as a child.)  Come up with something that works for you if you are concerned your child might not eat.
  9. Though we don’t always remember to do it, we have a “thankfulness journal” where we write down something each of us is thankful for at dinner.  This is a favorite for everyone, but especially our most reserved child, who gets a chance to be thoughtful and heard over the louder two.
  10. Another conversation starter is the “roses and thorns” concept.  Everyone goes around and shares his or her rose (high) of the day and thorn (low) of the day.  I actually got that one from the Obamas!

IMG_4135When I prioritize an activity in our family life, I often ask myself, “Will I regret doing this or not doing this when I look back some day?”  And then I remember my childhood family dinners – which sometimes went very wrong – and how they make me smile.  My mom’s spaghetti, roasts, chicken and dumplings … these foods take me back.  And none of my family will allow me to forget the night the Domino’s commercial came on television announcing (in my defense, with buffalo flying through the sky, flapping wings) that it was now selling buffalo wings.  And I looked at everyone, and before I could process the question that came to my mind, I blurted out, “Wait – do buffalo wings come from real buffalo?”

I want my children to have their own “Elliott family dinner” memories.  And based on our meals so far, I’m sure they’ll have plenty to talk about when they’re older.

A “get your kids to eat veggies” idea


Okay, I’ll be the first to admit from the get-go that this idea is laborious and geared toward home cooks.  But I seriously think I came up with a great idea while driving home and salivating over the August issue of Bon Appetit.  (And even those who “can’t cook” can steam, roast in an oven, and defrost a bag of frozen veggies).

For 20 weeks from spring to fall (May to October), do a Family Veggie Challenge.  The idea is to come up with rankings for 20 different vegetables as a family to see which vegetable wins out as your family’s favorite.  I think I will wait to try this next year when Zach and Eliza are both a little older.  (So if you try this, please send me your feedback!)  Here’s the gist:

1. Each week, pick a vegetable to show-case, based on what you can get freshest in the grocery store or farmer’s market.

2. For that week, include one vegetable prepared 3-4 different ways (for consumption at 3-4 of your dinners).  Obviously, this won’t be the only vegetable you eat all week, but it needs to be showcased enough for you to try it several ways without making everyone sick of it (so perhaps every other meal).  You can even eat the vegetable out at a restaurant for one of the nights.  You can try including them in your dinner menu raw, roasted, grilled, sautéed, batter-fried, or steamed.  Of course, you can be creative and search for top-ranked recipes online.  The idea is to make them taste GOOD and not to over-do it by combining the vegetable of the week with too many other ingredients (so your kids really understand the flavor of each veggie).

3. Print up rating cards for each family member for the week and create a rating system (such as “Ew, gross”, “I can swallow this without gagging”, “These actually taste good”, and “Personal favorite”).  At each meal, write down each preparation in a left-column (such as “steamed broccoli with cheese sauce,” “roasted broccoli,” “raw broccoli,” and “tempura broccoli”) and create a chart for people to mark which ratings they choose.  Discuss how everyone has rated the vegetable each night.

4. Each week, declare a winning recipe for each vegetable based on which preparation had the best ratings overall, and collect the rating cards.

5. At the end of the 20 weeks, have your kids declare a winner – the best vegetable.  And you will not only have tried 20 different vegetables, but also 60-80 different recipes for making them.  My guess is that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy tasting for the sake of being able to rate them (even if just about every rating is “Ew, gross!”).  And in the end, you will have a documented reference bible for what vegetables your kids like the most and how they like them best prepared.  You can also give your kids free passes from 3 vegetables at the end of the challenge, so they can choose to not to eat those when you serve them.  (It really is hard to force your child to eat something and watch it come back up through the gag-and-vomit process.  They’re just not going to like every vegetable.)  This would make them have to choose their very least favorites, and would probably help get them to eat the other vegetables that they can get down without gagging.

I’m so excited about trying this out!  Maybe I’ll do a five-week trial this fall.  I think we need to get Zach a little better at consuming food at dinner-time before starting.  Let me know what you think about it!

I wish there were Mary Poppins for instant potty training


It's not rocket science ... but it can feel like it.

No matter how you potty train your children or when you believe it should be done, the truth is you have to do it (well, someone does).  It is as inevitable as diapering, and feeding, and answering millions of inane questions.  And like any training, it is learned over time.  It must be worked for, like anything worth having.  Sure, there are methods for speeding up the process, but even so, the concept of “Toilet Training in Less Than a Day” sounds too good to be true because it is.  Accidents after training are a part of life.  (Eliza’s been potty-trained for half her short life, and yet she pooped in the pool last week, remember?)  For my kids, so far it has been “Toilet Training in 3 Days.”  If that sounds like magic to you, read on.

This morning around 10:30, Zach walked up to his potty, said, “Mommy, pee pee,” pulled down his pants, sat, peed, got up, emptied the pot into the toilet, flushed it, and put his training toilet back together.  I’d call that success.  It was proof that he now understands not only the urge to go, but what to do with that urge before urine starts trickling down his legs.  He has kept his pants dry for about 24 hours (except when sleeping).  But about an hour later, he came and got me because he had pooped himself.  You see, in all the training time so far, he has only pooped twice, and both times it’s been during his nap (in a diaper because he’s still in a crib).  Now he has to connect the fact that yes, even for poop, he needs to get to the toilet as well.  We are far closer than we were on Saturday morning when we began, but we are still working at it.

The point is that I wanted to give up.  It seemed inexorable at times, and Zach just seemed to be struggling so much.  But now he’s proud of himself and his new skill.  I would still recommend this book to anyone looking to potty train his child.  It’s just intense.  It also has some flaws, so even if Greg and I are partly to blame for our kids not “getting it” by the end of a morning, the book should shoulder some responsibility.  The most frustrating thing about this book is that it makes it sound so easy, so if you have issues, it does not give you troubleshooting help.  For example, it gives a specific process you are to go through with them when they wet themselves, yet we almost never made it through that process without our kids peeing during it, which completely derails what you know you’re supposed to do.  It also doesn’t account for children who cry throughout the process because they are upset about wetting themselves, or sitting on the potty, or peeing out the front of the toilet seat.

Regardless of the details of this method, or any method anyone uses, it takes a lot of effort to get your children to connect their brains to their bladders so they pee in a potty before they pee on you or your furniture.  Accepting the responsibility of toilet training is accepting that you’re going to have a lot of crap to clean up, accepting it’s going to be gross and uncomfortable at times, and accepting that your wishes are basically on-hold while you go through it.  In retrospect, it’s a Cliff’s Notes version of the whole parenting experience.

It’s not magic.  There’s no Mary Poppins, spoonful of sugar, snap your fingers and it’s done process.  No matter how you do it, it’s hard work for everyone.  But in the end, you get to look back and realize what you’ve accomplished, and be thankful you’re not changing poop diapers any more.  And I’m hopeful I won’t be cleaning it off of Zach’s legs or washing it out of his pants very soon, too.

The potty training saga continues


Zach has spent a lot of time the past two days on this - doing nothing.

Zach was not trained yesterday, either.  I would detail out our frustrating issues right now if I weren’t afraid that taking my focus off of Zach would result in more accidents.  (I’m really, really tired of cleaning up pee.)

I was in tears yesterday and this morning.  I was ready to throw in the towel.  There are so many things that seem to be going wrong.

But for the first time, Zach just peed in the potty on his own.  Not in the middle of wetting himself and our carpet or floor or faces.  It ALL went in the potty.  I have been given new hope!

Here we go …

Parenting lesson #14: The embarrassing moments are often teaching moments


Eliza pooped in a public pool on Friday.  Every now and again she is way too interested in what she’s doing to take the two-minute break to do her business.  Unfortunately for me, she is also exploring whether she has the freedom to lie.  Unfortunately for all of us (some of her friends and some poor strangers), her fibbing to get out of taking a potty break resulted in the entire pool being evacuated.

She went to the bathroom before we got in the pool and she said she did not need to poop.  Once in the pool, I asked her a few times if she needed to go when she seemed to be doing her turtle head dance.  Fast forward and, well, you know what happened.  So instead of further embarrassing her and me, I will share what I have learned in the hopes I can save you from the same fate:

1.  I will no longer refer to pooping as “dropping the kids off at the pool.”  A college suite mate used to say this and it stuck.  I’m pretty sure I’ve used the expression in front of Eliza.  Never will I confuse her again about where poop is supposed to go.

2.  If I see anything remotely like her poopy dance while she’s doing something fun, I will get her and take her to the bathroom.  This is going to be a pain in the rear end for me, especially because her poopy dance resembles a lot of other things she does, like plain old dancing.  But I will not ask her if she needs to go anymore, as I already know she will tell me “no” regardless of her inclination.

3.  I will make a point to have her use the bathroom before fun things.  Yes, I did this and the incident happened anyway, but it has prevented accidents on other occasions.

As we are preparing to potty train Zach, I’m sure this is just the beginning of what will be many fond poop memories (no ifs, ands or butts about it).

Someday, the war will be over, and our everyday battles will be a distant memory


Eating peas one at a time took too long. I preferred to get it over with, putting one on each spike of my fork per bite.

Some days my kids don’t eat.  What I mean is not a lot and not what I want them to eat.

I used to see parents out with their kids in restaurants, judging them for allowing them to eat bread, french fries and ice cream for dinner.  Now I’ve been there and done that to keep them quiet.  In my defense, we’ve taken the kids to some nice restaurants where I’ve weighed the unavoidable disapproving looks for malnourishing my children against those glares I would get if a tantrum about anything ensued (like someone using someone else’s crayon, or one or both not wanting to sit in a seat).  Malnourishment wins a lot of the time.  It’s called picking your battles.  Even at home, mealtime can be a mine field.

Me: “You can eat your dinner, or you can not eat your dinner, and then go straight up for a bath, without building a fort and without a popsicle.  It’s your choice.”

Eliza: “Mommy, I don’t want to build a fort.  I don’t want a popsicle.”

Seriously?  I know she’s lying.  But right now, I’m trying to deal with the not eating, so I can’t get into a discussion about whether she’s telling the truth because I have to deal with the consequences of her answer.  I cannot get sidetracked by her efforts to derail me.  So, we take her up for bed and that’s that.  She doesn’t eat.  My 41-inch tall, 31-pound daughter chooses to go without food.  (She might get to move out of her car seat and into a booster by her sixth birthday.)  Zach refuses to eat any part of his dinner about half of the time.  The pediatrician assures me that he must be getting enough in the earlier parts of the day.  But how infuriating it is that he won’t even taste what I’ve cooked!

I remember my childhood.  I remember secretly feeding my veggies to the dogs.  I remember refusing to eat.  I also remember my parents threatening to reheat the food for breakfast if I didn’t eat it right then (and they did).  When I realized they were serious, I started negotiating.  “I’ll eat 3 peas.”  “No, Christine, eat 20 peas.”  “Four.”  “Ten, and that’s final.”  And then I would hold my nose and gag and make all sorts of crazy torture-enduring faces at them while I drank the peas down with milk.  And now?  I actually like peas.  And I enjoy most of the vegetables I didn’t like as a child.  I grew up and had to make a decision about whether I wanted to live a healthy lifestyle or not.

Someday I’m going to look back and see that the truth is, my kids get food.  They get nourishment.  The probably get more calories each day than 80% of the people in this world.  Could they do better?  Sure.  Everyone probably could.  But there are actually kids who don’t have enough food.  And there are actually kids who don’t eat, like they must be intubated to get the nutrition they need.  I saw a news story on it once.  Those are real problems.  What I face is … annoyance and a lack of control.  (Welcome to parenting 101.)

Thus, I’m hopeful that if my kids see Greg and me eat well, they will grow up to eat well.  I hope they one day make good food choices on their own, because at ages 2 and 3, they aren’t capable of it.  And that’s okay.  I have to stop looking at all these obstacles (they don’t eat, they don’t sleep, they fight, they’re defiant) as battles.

Instead, they are opportunities for growth.  I’m here to teach them to make good food choices, and teach them how to behave and have self-control even when they’re tired (hmm, am I capable of that?), and teach them how to value putting others first, and teach them to be agreeable or others won’t want to be their friends.  (And okay, that sometimes, a person is just asking for it and that’s when you slug ’em.)

Someday they will not be children any more.  They will still be mine, but my prime time for parenting will be over.  So I want to get over the random days they don’t eat and realize that this, too, shall pass.  It’s not letting them win the battle, it’s giving up fighting at all.

Parenting lesson #4: Your to-do list will never be the same again


If you’re a mom, it’s more like 10 or 10,000 things

There is nothing that will re-prioritize your life like having children.

Your to-do list expands overnight when you’re pregnant and you feel the pressure to read the countless books there are on hosting your little human parasite, birthing it and taking care of it.  Once you have the baby, your to-do list is almost entirely decided for you.  You never know how much time you’ll have before the baby needs you, so you have to decide whether to take a nap (as everyone advises), do laundry, eat something, do the dishes, write thank-you notes, or somehow try to feel like a normal person by talking on the phone to someone or e-mailing.

When I went back to work, the weekends became a juggling act of errands, going through mail, and trying to have “family time.”  Personal, pre-children projects like scrapbooking (laughable!) weren’t even in my “top 200 things I want to do list.”  When I quit my job five months later, my priority became figuring out what to do with an 8 1/2-month-old who couldn’t have a conversation.  Then I found out I was pregnant.  Of course, our biggest to-do list item became getting our personal wills done, as the thought of the government deciding what to do with our parent-less child would have been an overwhelming one without pregnancy hormones in play.

When Zach came along, my priority was surviving.  My to-do list was to -NOT-die, and not accidentally kill or maim either of my children from lack of sleep.  Honestly, the first few months of Zach’s life are a complete blur.  I wish I had started blogging then, but even the idea is ridiculous because, well, when could I have done it?

And here we are, with a 3 1/2-year-old and a two-year-old, and things seem a bit more manageable, but now my to-do list has more weighty items on it, like teach the kids to swim, figure out how to build Zach’s character, and research where we should send Eliza to kindergarten (because that decision is, scarily, a year away).  And of course, the scrapbooking from pre-baby days has fallen off the list, because it’s never going to get done.  I’ve come to terms with that.

The thing is, having kids pushes a lot of things you thought were important in life out of the picture.  And kissing them goodbye in return for newborn cuddles was a really tough pill for me to swallow.  I like control and I like thinking about myself.  But what I’m coming to realize is that I’m just beginning to understand what’s really important, and our kids are showing me that.  I am sitting here trying to think of what my normal, after work to-do list was like before we had kids, and I can’t even remember (maybe planning home improvement projects?).  I think that is more evidence that a lot of it didn’t matter; it isn’t lasting.  What’s lasting is leaving a legacy of children who will love others like we love them, and care about others like we care about them.

So if your to-do list is currently diaper-changing, spit-up cleaning, and round-the-clock feeding, hang in there; it will change again pretty soon.  Perhaps not to something easier, but at least, in my opinion, to something more rewarding.

I’m forever changed, and I wouldn’t ever want me – or my to-do list – to be the same again.

The scoop on “Deceptively Delicious”


Sweet potato pancakes (well, sort of)

I’m willing to do just about anything to get my kids to eat the foods they need.  I have made up songs and dances about eating.  We get Eliza to eat by telling her the food will make her “BIG AND STRONG” as we all raise our arms and flex our muscles.  (Annoyingly, Zach likes to do this, but it doesn’t encourage him to eat.)  I have really enjoyed using “Deceptively Delicious” by Jessica Seinfeld to sneak veggies and other nutritional foods into their bellies.  I’ve probably tested at least half of the recipes in the cookbook, so I wanted to give my “review,” if you will, of the book thus far.

1. Yes, I would recommend it.  If you have general cooking knowledge, you can easily follow the recipes in this cookbook.  Additionally, all of the baking recipes I’ve tried have been fantastic and I love thinking that my kids are getting a little extra nutrition from their sweets.

2. The “fried” recipes don’t work so well: Chicken nuggets (p.75), mozzarella sticks (p.91), aloha chicken kebabs (p.95), and tofu nuggets (p.100) haven’t come out like I’d hoped.  I did change the chicken nuggets recipe substantially to make it work better.  I’ll send that out in a different post.  But generally speaking, vegetables mixed with egg don’t really stick to the foods very well, and thus the breadcrumb coatings don’t stay on very well.

3. These recipes work well and are easy: French toast (p.49), oatmeal (p.68), pita pizzas (p.96 – you can also use broccoli),  tortilla cigars (p.144), avocado spread (p.136  – this goes well with the tortilla cigars or tacos), tacos (p.148 – they’re just a little advanced for our kids still), chocolate pudding (p.159), chocolate peanut butter dip (p.163), frozen yogurt pops (p.167), and chocolate fondue (p.174).

4. My family’s favorites: Meatball soup (p.72), Italian meatloaf (p.79), mashed potatoes (p.80 – and you can add parsnips instead of cauliflower), beef stew (p.83), buttered noodles (p.108), burgers 2 (p.115), spaghetti pie (p.116), and lasagna (p.131).

5. Great baking: Banana bread (p.54), peanut butter and banana muffins (p.58), brownies (p.156), doughnuts (p.160), carrot cake muffins (p.185 – so moist and you don’t even need the frosting), and yellow cake (p.186).

6. I can’t get these to work: Pancakes (p.57) and pink pancakes (p.143).  See the photo above, but I am seriously wondering if these are missing the eggs.  I’ve tried to cook these as flat as possible, but still they don’t seem to cook on the inside.  I’ve cooked them up to 15-20 minutes total (and they’re supposed to take about 5).  I will not try them again unless perhaps with egg to see if that helps.

7. These are not tasty: tofu nuggets (p.100 – they’re just gross), burgers 1 (p.111 – everyone said they tasted like veggie burgers, but I liked them), and grilled cheese sandwiches (p.135 – maybe if you severely cut back on the amount of veggie puree).

Those are my initial thoughts.  I have a lot more recipes to try, and I’m thinking of getting Jessica’s second book, “Double Delicious: Good, simple food for busy, complicated lives.”  If you have either of these books and can recommend recipes or share tips based on what I’ve found, please comment!

Going from two naps to one is not rocket science, but it sure can seem as difficult


Zach slept through his first haircut ever (in March).  He never even opened his eyes.  My friend took pictures to prove it (and if she gets them to me, I will post one here).  It happened because he was transitioning from taking two naps to one, and he had been up too long, and he – was – zonked.  And more than three months later, he is still transitioning from two naps to one.  For every day he takes one nap, he has a day he takes two.

Changing from two naps to one happens around 15-months: the same time a child is teething either some molars or canines or both.  This is cause for extreme parental confusion because you often can’t tell if the child is over-tired and cranky or in pain, or both (which is SUPER fun for you, the parent).  There is no math formula you can use to deduce the answer of how and when to do it (as it is for many aspects of parenting, which drives someone like me crazy).

Maybe this hasn’t been your experience, but I found that with my first child, I often felt helpless because I didn’t really figure out what was wrong with Eliza until whatever the problem was had been resolved for a few days.  You can watch for the signs of teething, and your baby might have them all: low-grade fever, excessive drooling, spitting up, orneriness, and gnawing on anything he can get his hands on like your jewelry, furniture, the dog’s bones, and everything that’s NOT a teething toy (because neither of my kids actually wanted to chew on something meant for chewing).  But until you see that tooth start to come through the gums, you wonder if your child is getting sick, or has cancer, or has decided you’re a horrible parent and you can no longer console her because she wants a new mom.

So when Eliza started fighting taking a nap in the morning around 13 months, I thought she was in pain because she was teething, so  I continued my two nap schedule.  (And I probably pushed a bit more ibuprofen than the poor thing ever needed, but when you’re beyond done listening to screaming, you’ll medicate in case pain is causing the relentless episode.  Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.)  I tried to force her to sleep in the morning, and she would cry in her crib for, like, dozens of minutes.  And then she’d get so exhausted that she would crash at about 11 a.m. and take a three-hour nap.  And thus, she’d skip a nap altogether in the afternoon, and I finally put two-and-two together.  So after about a month of fighting her to take two naps, I gave in and at 14-months, she was taking one, nice long afternoon nap.  (It was easy to push her one nap about 10-15 minutes later every day for a few weeks until it was around 1 p.m.)

Of course my experience with Zach has been completely different because he’s 18-months-old and – as I mentioned above – he still naps twice some days.  But I’m much more likely to let him make the decision instead of force him to take a nap he clearly doesn’t want to take.  I know he’s a different child, but I’m also a different parent, too.

I was more rigid with Eliza, thinking, “You need a nap right now.  I know you do because you do every day at this time.  So you’re going to sleep even if you cry for 45 minutes.”  Now I can take Zach’s cues a little better and go with the flow a bit more.  But I will say he’s the more sensitive to pain of my two kids, so the fact that he’s been transitioning from two naps to one for several months has meant that he has teethed through all four molars and all four canines in the process, and that’s thrown me for a bit of a loop.

That said, I think I see a light at the end of this – in the scheme of things – short tunnel.  Until now, on the days Zach has been taking only one nap, he seems unable to take a LONG nap.  But he’s finally extending the length of the one nap, so I think we’re almost there.

It’s a good thing, because he already needs another haircut, and I don’t want to schedule one until I have a better idea of when he’ll be awake and when he’ll be asleep.

Dinner dilemmas and solutions


If you want to be cured of perfectionism, become a parent.  I can’t tell you how much I am struggling to rid myself of this terrible disease, especially in the area of meals.

Before having kids, I definitely looked down on other parents for allowing their kids to eat McDonald’s and other fast food.  Just the other day I told Eliza we were leaving the library, and she said, “So we’re going to stop at Old MacDonald’s for lunch and get chicken nuggets and then go home and eat and then take a nap.  Okay?  Okay.”  How quickly they learn what’s behind the facade of those golden arches.  It’s amazing how living out being a parent can quickly change you.  I read a friend’s Facebook post about how she had two glasses of wine, a fudgesicle and a sleeping pill for dinner (sounds good to me!) and her daughter had pot stickers and chocolate milk.  And instead of thinking about how awful that was (which is what she was implying), I thought, “Hmm, cabbage, meat, carrots, dough, oil, milk and chocolate.  That just about covers all the major food groups.”  See, I’m changing.

But kidding aside (because I do have to laugh about my kids’ eating habits, otherwise I would cry even more than I do already), I daily struggle with getting them what they need.  It baffles me how a child can eat just about every vegetable known to man between the ages of six months and a year, only to shun every single one of them by the time she’s 18-months-old.  Once you add another child into the mix, it just becomes more stressful, because every child has different tastes.  (And I’m sure each subsequent child exponentially worsens the problem and can plunge you deeper into becoming a short order cook.)

Right now, Zach is anemic and Eliza’s iron levels are low.  I am constantly walking a tight rope, where one side is force-feeding what they need, and the other side is letting it go.  I try to stay in the middle, constantly offering good, nutritious food (along with special treats) and trying not to freak out when they refuse to eat it.  I often require Eliza to eat a certain number of bites of whatever it is we’re having before she can be finished.  But I also try to make meals that all our family can eat, which is very hard to do when you have a 16-month-old, a 2-and-3/4-year-old, and two adults whose idea of a delicious meal is a soy-ginger glazed filet of salmon on top of a bed of pea shoots.  (If that sounds good to you, too, the recipe is here: http://aveceric.com/wp/recipes/season-1/seared-salmon-with-sauteed-pea-shoots-and-ginger-soy-vinaigrette/)

So, I figured I’d write about a few of the ways I TRY to keep my sanity when it comes to feeding my kids.  Let’s face it – it’s one of the biggest struggles because they MUST EAT TO SURVIVE.  Please, if ever you were to comment with helpful tips, now would be the time I would beg you to do so.

1. Meal planning – I generally don’t go to the grocery store without planning.  I take a list based on the 4 or 5 dinner meals I plan to cook.  I plan the week’s meals out on either Sunday, Monday or Tuesday (depending on when I get the energy and make the time).  When I run out of inspiration and ideas, I look to the cookbooks and cooking magazines I have on-hand.  To help plan out the week’s meals, I use the “What to Eat” pad from Knock Knock Stuff (http://www.knockknock.biz/catalog/categories/pads/kk-pads/what-to-eat-pad/).  I write my grocery list each week on the back of the “What to Eat” sheet from the previous week.

2. I keep a list of meals that get eaten –  It’s impossible to remember what works for each kid and also what they BOTH end up liking.  Plus, their tastes continue changing and evolving.  So, if I need some go-to foods or meals, I consult this list.

3. Breakfast is key – My kids eat the most in the morning when they are hungriest.  I take advantage of this and generally cook old-fashioned or steel-cut oatmeal with fruit, or I make them a spinach and cheese omelet, or I do both.  (I keep a frozen bag of spinach instead of the boxes of it, so I can dump a few ounces in a glass bowl with some water and heat for 30 seconds and voila – have a serving of spinach.)  I save cereal for those mornings I just don’t have energy.

4. Sneaky sneaky – I add pumpkin to pancakes, parsnips to mashed potatoes, and do things like roast kale and call it “potato chips.”  (At the very bottom is my recipe for kale and Eliza loves it!)  If you make it fun and cool, your kids are more likely to eat it.

5. Don’t give up – I am constantly reminding myself of this.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve planned a great meal, served it, and been greeted with blank stares and, “I don’t like its.”  It is frustrating and exhausting.  But just like every other parenting challenge, you must not give in and stop trying.  If you eat a wide variety of healthy and nutritious foods, your kids will, too.  You just have to stay the course.

6. Don’t give in – Eliza has to at least try every food I put in front of her before she can leave the table.  My friend, Debbie, has a five bite rule.  Your kids will not die if you force them to eat food they don’t like that you know they need.  Remember, you’re the parent and you know best.

7. Give yourself a break – Date nights or nights when you put the kids to bed and cook together with your spouse or a friend are the perfect times for making a pizza or heating up some frozen chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries for the kids.  I will be the first to tell you – it is OKAY to do this sometimes!

This will not be the last time I write about meals and planning them, I’m sure.  I’ll try to post some of my kids’ favorite recipes over time.  For now, tell me what YOU do!  We can all use a little inspiration, even those of us who are perfect.  😉

KALE CHIPS – enough for a small side dish; ingredients: kale, about 1 Tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 375 and make sure there’s a rack pretty far from the heat (if your burners are on the bottom of the oven, put the rack near the top and vice versa).  Get out a big cookie or baking sheet.  Then pull all the kale leaves off their stems, and while doing so, break the leafy parts into small pieces of equal sizes, like a small potato chip.  As you’re breaking them apart, put them straight onto the baking sheet.  What you want to do is make sure all your kale “chips” are the same size and thickness.  Some kale is big and thick, and some of it is more “baby,” so the leaves are thinner and curlier.  So try to separate them out even to that degree so you bake “like kale” with “like kale.”
Once you have a tray full so the pieces are all in one layer, drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil on it, and sprinkle on some salt (I use kosher) and freshly grated pepper.  Mix it all together with your fingers so all pieces have some seasonings and oil on them.  Bake them for 11-13 minutes, watching them at 10 minutes.  They go from perfectly baked to burned in about 1 minute.  So as the thinnest pieces start to turn brownish, you know they’re done.