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.
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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.

Nor can I go #2.


Toddlers know exactly when you are unavailable. It’s like they have innate radar that alerts them to do something naughty when you’re at your most vulnerable. How are they so smart?

This morning while pumping (clearly a case when I’m not able to jump at the drop of a hat), Eliza managed to find the small shells I had hidden from her in the bathroom drawer and do – I can only imagine what – with. I have found two of the five, and the other three? I honestly would not be surprised to find them come out the other end in her diaper tomorrow.

Which leads me to poop. Here’s another example of her craftiness, fresh from this morning. I sat Eliza down at the dining room table with her oatmeal, set Zach on his play mat in such a way that if he rolled 3 times in any direction he’d be relatively safe, and took the moment to head to the bathroom. Of course, tonight I’m supposed to make a French side dish for a fun girls dinner party, so I grabbed my “Art of French Cooking” masterpiece and sat for what I hoped would be 4 or 5 uninterrupted minutes to flip through the vegetable chapter. Not so. One of Eliza’s current annoying habits is calling my name over and over and over until I respond. I chose to ignore it (again, if she doesn’t get what she wants, which is a response, perhaps she’ll stop), but after about 25-30 “MAAAAAAA-MEEEEEEs” I finally got up and went to look. She had punished me. Her oatmeal was everywhere – on her clothes, the rug under her, her cloth-padded chair – and she was standing up in a pretty precariously dangerous position. She then proceeded to require me to feed her, probably because I started Zach on solid foods yesterday and she wants the attention.

The point is that I have to start giving her more credit than I do, and I must begin anticipating her antics. Both of these situations, at least to some extent, were avoidable. I have a child lock on the bathroom doorknob, but I had failed to close the door before sitting down to pump. Likewise, Eliza has this week decided to refuse sitting in her high chair anymore. It’s a timely choice because I now need it for Zach, but the only alternative we currently have is for her to sit in the Bumbo on a dining room chair. It’s not safe, for one, and she can’t be strapped. She’s also not tall enough to reach her food easily, which is part of why she threw the oatmeal everywhere. (Thank goodness we have the dog. In fact, I’m sure I will complain inexorably about Abbey, our mutt, so this is a good time to remember why I keep her around.) So I could have asked Greg, my husband, to sit with her and help her eat while I went to the bathroom, or I could have brought her to the bathroom with me before sitting her down to eat. Or I could somehow make the time to get to the store for a proper booster seat.

Part of being the parent of a toddler is accepting a lack of control. Things are going to get messy and that’s part of the fun. But another part is realizing she is learning how the world works, and because I already know the answers to that, I can prevent a lot of frustration. The best offense is a good defense, right? Eliza might have stealth radar, but I have the atom bomb.