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.

Fewer naps, dwindling sleep … thank goodness for Daylight Saving Time!


Tonight is the night I’m going to sleep in.  Even though it won’t be a real gain on the number of hours I get to snooze, I am blissfully assuming that when we roll the clocks forward an hour, my kids will just start sleeping until that time.

Until recently, my kids slept from 7 to 7.  Then somehow both of them decided 5:30 to 6 a.m. would be a good time to wake up, despite going to bed at the same time and despite not napping longer.  (In fact, Zach is transitioning from two daytime naps to one, but that is another post.)

We have tried putting them to bed earlier for several days in a row because the “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby” book says to do that.  It didn’t work.  We have tried putting them to bed later, around 7:30 to 8, because my dad told me I should do that and they would adjust, eventually, to sleeping later.  But two weeks into that, I’m here to tell you it hasn’t caused much improvement.  This represents a huge pain in my butt because having your kids decide all of a sudden that they need an hour or two less sleep each day, despite that causing multiple tantrums and fits and ornery-ness, is like having your house broken into and robbed of your most prized possessions, and all of your furniture pooped on by the thieves.

Although I haven’t put much research into sleep, I’ve put a lot of effort investing into bedtime routines and scheduled naps, and it’s worked for me.  My kids generally don’t fight about heading to bed.  So this is an unexpected thorn in my side.  And perhaps I just need to accept that they are getting older and sleeping less.  But why is that so hard?  Why am I clinging to their sleep patterns of old?  The answer, of course, is because this change doesn’t meet my expectations and I don’t like getting woken up by crying children who need more sleep at 6 a.m. but are up anyway.

So, if Daylight Saving Time doesn’t work (and oh, how I hope it does), I’m going to buy a large, digital alarm clock for Eliza’s room, draw a 7 and put it above the hour number, and tell her she’s not allowed to leave until the clock shows a 7 or higher in that hour spot.  But what to do about Zach?  I guess, in the words of Princess Leah, help me Daylight Saving Time, you’re my only hope.

My child would rather throw up than give up


Children are smarter than we think they are.  A few evenings ago, Eliza refused to eat her dinner.  What’s so frustrating is that sometimes when she does this, she will actually taste the food and say she likes it.  But, her highness is just not interested because … well, the only conclusion I can make is that she either likes to annoy us or she wants to prove that she is in control.  Here’s how it went (and goes often):

Eliza: “I’m not hungry.  I don’t want my lunch.”  (She has her meal names mixed up.)

Me: “Well, that’s okay.  If you don’t want to eat it now, you can have it for breakfast tomorrow.”

Eliza: “I don’t want to.”

Me: “Well, you can either eat it now or eat it later.  It’s your decision.”

Eliza: “Mmh, I ate it!  I ate a bite.  It’s good.  I like it, Mommy!”

Me: “Great.  Eat some more.”

Eliza: “I don’t want to.”

And on and on it goes.  So, the next morning rolled around and I heated up about 7 bites worth of the chili for her.  (Translation: not a lot.  I mean, she could have eaten it in about one minute.)  Greg and I stayed the course, confirming her worst fears: she was not going to get a bagel or eggs until she ate her chili.  You would have thought we were asking her to eat wriggling scorpions and worms on Fear Factor.  After about three bites, she gagged.  About 15 minutes into breakfast, Eliza reluctantly gulped down bite number four, only to throw it up – mixed with her morning milk – all over her lap and into her bowl.  And of course, this upset her.  “Mommy, I spit up!” she cried.  At this point, as a parent, what are you supposed to do?  She’s two, not twelve.  We calmly consoled her and cleaned her up.  And then I dejectedly set the plate of bagel and eggs in front of her and she ate it up happily.

It’s hard to walk away from the situation feeling like I didn’t just get schooled by a two-year-old.  Is she really playing a mental game?  Did she think, “I know, if I throw this up, I’ll get out of eating it?”  I remember gagging as a child on purpose, trying to show my parents what a torturous and inhumane thing they were doing by making me eat my peas.  I definitely thought I might get out of eating them if I showed them how uncomfortable they were making me.  But I’m pretty sure I was at least four before I figured out I could do this.

It’s so hard to figure out what battles to fight with the strong-willed child, because I know I will fight many useless ones if I don’t give her some decision-making power.  I also want to have a fun-loving house where we laugh, don’t take life too seriously, and, where, well, eating your vegetables isn’t always important.  But Eliza also needs to learn to submit to authority, and she’s at an age where she is constantly testing.  Today it’s eating her chili, but when she’s six, it will be a fight about doing homework, and when she’s 8, it will be a daily fight about getting a cell phone until I give in, and then when she’s 13, we’ll get a call from the police that she wrecked our car.  I know where this road can lead if you don’t tread it carefully.  And what’s always so amazing to me is you see these parents on the news, wondering where they went wrong.  And I think, “You went wrong when your child was two and you allowed her to do what she wanted.”

So, for now, I’m going to assume she’s as smart as I think she is, and I will continue to parent her firmly when the issue at-hand matters, such as in the areas of nutrition and sleep and danger.  And then I’ll mix in moments of grace – because we all need that.

Boy, can it be tough to know what the right thing to do is.  Especially when I just really don’t want to clean up any more milk and chili throw up.

The saucy solution to a spicy attitude


the nectar of the discipline gods

We can add lying and back-talking to Eliza’s repertoire of not-so-great qualities.  When we were busy packing up our car in Florida, my dad came up to me, saying, “Why on earth would you give Eliza gum?”  And I replied, “What?  I didn’t.  I never have.”  And he said, “Well that’s interesting, because she’s chewing it and when I asked her where she got it, she said you gave it to her.”  Hmph.

The back-talking has also begun.  She uses phrases I say to her against me.  For example, if she is talking incessantly and asking the same question over and over again (see previous post about the phrase “because I said so”), sometimes I will say to her calmly, “Eliza, I’m not going to talk about this anymore right now,” or “I’m not going to talk to you right now.”  So she has turned this around like in the following scenario:

Me: “Eliza, we need to leave.  Can you please put on your coat, or do you want me to help you with it?”

Eliza: “No, we ah not weaving right now.  Mommy, I’m not going to TALK TO YOU RIGHT NOW.  YOU’LL NEVER GET (incomprehensible mumbling)!!!”

I know she is just doing what normal, strong-willed two-year-olds do (right?  Please agree with me.)  I am not interested in spanking her except in very specific cases, and I also want her to be able to express herself.  However, when she is clearly talking back because I am asking her to do something she doesn’t want to do, and it’s something that is non-negotiable (like wearing a coat in freezing weather when you already have a cold), I need to have a disciplinary option.

Say “hello” to vinegar.  A friend told me her friend with seven children uses it.  A few days ago when Eliza was using her tongue against me, I went and got the vinegar and put a drop in her mouth.  She didn’t cry, she just stood there, stunned, twirling the flavor around in her mouth with a stone-faced glare.  I then talked to her about why I did it, what she did wrong, told her I loved her and gave her a hug and a kiss.

Already on two occasions, we’ve been in the car driving and she’s started smack-talking me.  I’ve told her, “If you continue to talk to me like this, I will put vinegar in your mouth when we get home.”  She has stopped both times.

I’ve also heard hot sauce can work, but I figured I’d try vinegar first because it is less likely to go bad if I carry a vial of it around in my purse.  (My friend’s friend also does this to keep her seven children in line when they’re in public.)

When it comes to matters of the tongue, I think you should fight fire with a fire extinguisher.  And the vinegar has, thus far, put out the flames.  I’ll keep you posted on how well it works, and if you try it, let me know how it goes!

How to survive a lengthy road trip with young ones


From December 6th through January 6th, our family slept in 8 different places.  We packed up our new minivan with the kids and the dog and headed south to see family, friends, and go on a cruise.  It was … amazing, fun and exhausting.  It made me realize the extended road trip can be a part of the type-A mom’s travel repertoire with the right tools.  Here’s what I learned that I will remember for the next one:

1) Drive as much as you can when your kids would normally be asleep.  If you have young children like we do, this is a must.   We had a 15-hour drive, and we set out right when afternoon naps should have begun.  They slept well, then hung in there a couple of hours until we stopped for dinner.  After dinner, we drove another four hours before stopping for the night – and they slept then, too.  So we made it halfway without the kids really making any noise at all.

2) Break up the drive. Don’t expect little kids to be able to sit in their car seats for more than about three-to-four hours at a time (whether they’re sleeping or not).  You can plan fun, half-day stops at destinations along the way if you’re not on a timetable (think South of the Border).  Or if you just need to “get there,” seek out the Cracker Barrels (because between the rocking chairs and store inside you can keep a two-year-old entertained) and the Chick-Fil-As with indoor playgrounds (so your kids can spend some energy regardless of what the weather is like – and sanitized hand wipes are provided).

3) Have a portable DVD player. When we recently bought our minivan, Evita the Silver Bullet (aptly-named because she has liberated us and has 248 horsepower), we decided against the installed entertainment system.  Instead, for a third of the cost, we purchased an iPad and bought the case that attaches to the back of a headrest.  This was the most important item we had for achieving peace in the car.  We loaded it full of episodes of “Dora the Explorer” and a few movies, as well as educational apps that entertained Eliza for 15-20 minutes at a time.

4) Pack a lot of snacks. It’s amazing how tiny pieces of food can not only stave off boredom and hunger, but also buy you quiet time.  Raisins, Cheerios and Goldfish are some of the best options for keeping kids happier longer.

5) Sit with your kids. For parts of the drive when we knew both kids would be awake, one of us sat in-between the two car seats to help entertain them.  This especially made a difference with Zach, our one-year-old.

6)  Pack long-term and short-term bags. Put items you won’t need for the drive in heavier, larger suitcases that get packed underneath everything else.  Pack smaller, weekender-type bags with all the essentials.  That way, loading and unloading all of your stuff along the way into random hotels won’t be as much of a hassle.

7) Play games and sing songs. Take turns choosing who gets to be in charge of the radio and make sure your kids hear some music that they like.  When my kids get older, I know I will play the same game my parents played with us.  If you grow up near farmland, you will inevitably see cows.  My parents always promised us a dime for every cow we caught peeing and a quarter for every one we caught pooping.  You’d be amazed at how long you can entertain children who are straining to see whether a cow is peeing or pooping while they fly by your car window at 70-miles-per-hour.  I have also pre-emptively bought a “ROAD TRIP BINGO” game.  (www.knockknockstuff.com).  I’m excited to play that when the kids get older.

Our maiden voyage in Evita turned out great, and we look forward to the next trip, whether it’s just a weekend or another whirlwind.

Parenting lesson #19: “Because I said so” makes so much sense to me now.


It’s already started.  Not only has Eliza begun asking every question, regardless whether she knows the answer, about 7-9 times, but now she’s adding the “why.”  Here’s the most recent example from our car ride an hour ago:

Eliza: “Mommy, where ah we going?”

Me: “We’re going on an adventure to the store.”

E: “But where ah we going?”

Me: “I just told you.  We’re going to the store.”

E (after pausing two seconds): “Where ah we going, Mommy?”

Me: “We’re going to the knitting store for some yarn.”  (Perhaps she’s curious about exactly where we’re going.)

E: “Where ah we going?”

Me: “Where do you think?”

E (pause): “Where ah we going?”

Me: “I’m not going to tell you again.”

E: “Why?”

Me: “Because I already told you.”

E: “Why?”

Me: “I’m not going to talk anymore right now.”

E: “Why?”

Silence.

This, I know, is going to be the story of my life from here on out.  I did this to my own parents ad nauseum.  I can recall a specific conversation my dad and I had when I was about five.

Dad: “Beanie, just eat your vegetables.”

Me: “Why?”

Dad: “Because they’re good for you.”

Me: “Why?”

Dad: “Because they have vitamins and nutrients your body needs.  Just eat them.”

Me: “Why?”

Dad: “Because God made them that way.”

Me: “Why?”

Dad: “Because I said so.”

Me: “That’s not a reason.”

The curse of genetics strikes again.  It’s fine.  I know I’m just getting a piece of my own medicine.  I always swore I would never say, “Because I said so” to my kids because it drove me nuts when my dad did it to me.  But this one’s for you, Sparky.  I get it now.  I’m just going to try to avoid using it as long as possible.  Because I know it won’t be long before Eliza responds, “That’s not a reason.”