Eating well? Well…

I have spent the last three months learning how to be a chef’s widow. Or really, if we’re going for accuracy, a culinary student widow. (As a real chef’s widow could tell you.)

Oh, don’t feel bad for me. It’s not like restaurants won’t be lining up to hand him an awesome $9 an hour line cook job when he graduates in January. Good ones too!

I take comfort in Nate being away six nights a week by reminding myself that I’ve got nights to myself with no one criticizing my TV choices. I’ve got time to write. And of course, I’ve got those delicious, delicious class assignments to surprise me each morning when I wobble to the kitchen and crack open the refrigerator door.

Let’s just say he just finished the pastry section of the curriculum. And he earned a 98 on his recent evaluation.

Yeah, baby.

(That’s my thighs talking. Sorry, they’ve got a thing for quoting Austin Powers. Annoying, I know.)

This week though was something different. Nate came home from his nutrition class like an atheist who found Jesus, ranting about high fructose corn syrup and overprocessing and Michael Pollan and carbs and and type 2 diabetes. And how our children are pretty much the worst eaters in the world and how we need to do less Cheerios and more eggs, less mac and cheese from a box and more fat peas from the garden. Hallelujia, for Mr. Let’s Introduce The Kids To Marshmallow Fluff himself has seen the light.

I am all for my children eating better and not getting major diseases because man, if I think I feel guilty now about not signing them up for ballet lessons, imagine how I’ll feel about having them on insulin the better part of their adult life. I do my best to read labels and ease up on the sugar and buy the organic products that matter (with help from Food Momiac). I try to be the mom who says “no dessert unless you eat your dinner” and to make sure they don’t eat peanut butter for every meal, which believe me, they could do.

But I had this odd sinking feeling at the same time that Nate was ranting about the sweeping dietary changes about to befall this household, and how there would be no more boxed cereals and no more white flour pasta, which pretty much wipes out two of the three food groups in our home.

Ricotta cheese, mercifully, remained.

In part I’m feeling guilty and defensive and kind of annoyed. Mostly defensive.

I grapple with the degree to which my kids are picky eaters because they’re two and four, or the degree to which they are picky eaters because we’ve let them be. I’m sure it doesn’t help that now I’m on dinner duty six nights a week, even as I’ve let my cooking skills atrophy–thanks to a partner who can whoop me silly over a Viking range and doesn’t think twice about criticizing my boiling water ability. (Not enough salt.) I think boneless chicken breast, but somehow I reach for the mac n cheese when I’m too tired to see straight, let alone make a marinade. And if you want to assuage the mac n cheese guilt with the organic kind? You’d better be prepared to shell out three tiems the price.

So I’m sitting at the family dinner table over Nate’s outrageous ravioli with a homemade lemon herb sauce with spring peas, grappling with how I might transition from the ease of Cheerios to me actually having to stand my tired arse over a pan of eggs first thing in the morning.

Slowly, I come around. I’m imagining that with a little work, I might actually be able to deliver on Nate’s Great Nutritional Ephiphany of 2009. It wasn’t an attack on me specifically – it was an observation about the way we live, and the way food is sold, and how we might work together to change it for the benefit of our kids.

Yes! I’m thinking. I’ll totally start making all those vegetable purees to hide in the pancakes and freeze them for the week. I’ll start scouting out the “nutritious family meals you can in 4 seconds” blogs and Nate and I will work together to figure out how make some changes around here. This will be a really good thing.

I let my shoulders down. I breathe deeply. I manage to smile. We’re in this together.

Then Nate looks down, and seeing my utensils in the all done position says, with his most condescending voice possible:

You are going to finish your peas, Mommy. Right?

And I nearly jumped out of my seat and stabbed him with my fork.


71 thoughts on “Eating well? Well…”

  1. My sister is also a Michael Pollan guru. After hearing the frightening facts about our nation's food, I resist the urge to rototill my entire backyard to make way for the organic vegetable garden, chicken coop and grazing area for the goats… and for the hole Jamie will surely put my body in if I try to take away steak.

    When the kids were babies, I made all their food from scratch– organic fresh fruits and veggies pureed with spring water. Really. Now, I desperately try to stick to a few basics: don't eat out often, reduce the amount of pre-packaged goods in my pantry, buy whole wheat bread and pasta, Polaner All Fruit (no HFCS) for the kids' PB&J. I have also been known to toss shredded mini wheat in a bowl for snacktime. “Oh, those are cookies!” Organic Cliff Z bars are also a Godsend for the post-preschool crash.

    Holy hell, if it wasn't for Stonyfield Farms drinkable yogurt, my children wouldn't make it until lunch. They wake up hungry and I can't stomach the smell of food until 10, so they each get one of these every morning (7am) and then 'second breakfast' later on. Sorry guys. You will have to go to community college because mommy spent forty bucks a week on friggin' yogurt.

    I believe strongly that “everything in moderation” is a wise approach.

    And that they will have to pry the Oreos from my cold, lifeless fingers.

  2. I am delurking to tell you be very afraid… I am married to a chef and it is frustrating to be belittled in the kitchen when he is home. And he's not home enough to make it worth it. I have lost much sleep and jeopardized (and lost) jobs because of my husband's schedule. When I had an infant, he didn't get home until 1 a.m. while I was breastfeeding at 2 a.m. and getting ready for work at 6 a.m. Chef's marriages have an even higher divorce rate than the average. You both will have to work very hard to keep it together. I wish you all the best.

  3. Thanks anon – he's been front of the house since the day we met and if he came home at 1 AM that would actually be an improvement over the shifts that ended at 3 AM over the past years. We're in an excellent wacky routine that totally works for us right now and I'm just so happy that he's found his bliss after all these years.

    I certainly wish you all the best right back.

  4. I am so with you on this one – I have been thinking/writing about this for some time; my husband and I are so busy that it is very difficult to eat right… and we don't even have the babies yet. We have tried (thanks to my guru, Sara Snow of Get Fresh with Sara Snow) to make little adjustments over time. More organic when we can, less processed, less flour, HFCS, etc., but it's a huge commitment when all you really want is cheese fries. Stay strong!

  5. It's funny that you are posting about this today. I just had a conversation with my boyfriend last night about cutting high Fructose corn syrup out of our diet completely and I have become almost obsessive about making our meals from scratch.

    Processed food today scares the crap out of me, and I don't even have kids yet!

  6. Funny, I use to be very strict about what went into my child. Then number 2 came along” The Boy who refused everything, except the sweetest food the Earth had to offer. Yeah, even as a little baby he wouldn't eat pureed peas, carrots and barely ate apples. *sigh* He is slowly coming around, but it can wear a person down.

    I have learned to take my small victories as they come and seek comfort in that I seriously doubt I am killing my kids. I mean if the high jump from the stair landing didn't kill him then a little sugar won't either.

    Although, I am very upset that I have tried every alternative to the box mac and cheese with no luck. Even the husband has turned his nose up to my 4 very expensive cheese version. They all scream for the blue box and sometimes I give in. We can't be perfect all the time, right?

    Good luck on the hiding of the purees, my kids found them everytime and ran screaming.

  7. Our friends would describe us as foodies, but our children (ages 6, 4 and 18 months)–not so much. If it's any consolation, my 6-yr-old is gradually becoming more adventurous at the table and is slowly but surely moving beyond the mac-n-cheese/pizza/cereal/yogurt phase. The 4-yr-old still insists, “If I don't LIKE it, why should I TRY it?” and the baby is still a happy omnivore, but will become pickier with age, I'm sure. I felt very guilty when we stopped shopping at Whole Paycheck altogether and buy almost everything at Aldi, but the guilt has mostly worn off. I tell myself that moderation is everything, and if my kids like frozen waffles for breakfast, at least they're not drinking Sunny D and eating Oreos the rest of the day. Baby steps.

  8. As I drink my wheat grass smoothies in the morning I often wonder when my healthy habits will rub off on my boys.

    They are on to me though, and if there is anything healthy in my cooking they will see it and refuse to eat.

    I will continue to feed them what they want in the hopes that one day they too will want to put only healthy food into their mouths.

    Patience is a virtue that I do not have, but am learning.

  9. It's so hard!!! I try my best but as a crappy cook, it's even harder. L eats peanut butter, albeit the natural kind, at too many meals. And I have to comment on him criticizing your tv choices…my husband and I just got into an argument about that this morning! I KNOW The Bachelorette is brainless! That's why I watch it!! 🙂

  10. Glad you blogged about this! My daughter has some minor food allergies, which has led me to end up reading books which can scare the crud out of me about food supply. However, I really think to be sane, its about moderation. I choose organic when possible and feasible, I definitely choose dairy with no growth hormones, I don't buy things with artificial colors or sweeteners… and we go from there. I love the occasional mac & cheese so we are always going to have some of that around, but in general I think we will make good choices. We don't have a good organic produce section near us unfortunately so that's probably my biggest regret – but we do what we can!
    And while I didn't make her baby food I did use the organic store stuff – on sale it really didn't work out to being that much more and there seemed to always be sales.
    So I think we do what we can, while keeping ourselves sane. Because if it stresses you out too much, then we can't be the best mommy we can be…

    Glad to read your post!

  11. I made the kids' food when they were babies; I have a good eater (daughter) and a kid who only eats junk (son) and breastfeeds.

    I'm not the best example in that I've not met a piece or bread or cheese I wouldn't scarf down instead of veggies.

    We buy local when we can; we try to buy organic (but to be honest, I don't have much faith in things labeled organic in the stores since I know a lot of the BIG agribusinesses are jumping on the whole foods bandwagon anyway.

    But I don't make my kids eat their dinners to get dessert all the time. I just think it really puts the focus on only eating to get the foods they want. They get dessert if they try something new, even if it's just a taste.

  12. My husband thinks I've lost my mind. I refuse to feed my daughter anything but Earth's Best Organics baby food. My son ate straight Gerber. My son currently exists on a combination of Cheerios, Baked Goldfish, Chex Mix, and either grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwiches.

    I'm working on it. I figure that first, Mom and Dad have to eat better, then we can force the child to eat better. I'm trying to hedge my bets with the notion that by the time my daughter is ready to eat “real” food, the rest of us will be more or less on board.

    I've explained to my son that when he turns four, he's going to have different eating rules (end of August). I'm hoping that gives the rest of us enough time to get it together.

    Oh, and I can't say enough good about: — my parents are serious foodies and even they like it when I bring food from them.

  13. Adjunct mom, we also stuck with Earth's Best when the kids were little, to the point where I grimaced if it weren't available.

    And I also love Relish! It's a Cool Mom Picks favorite.

  14. I don't cook. I just don't. My husband does, which is good, otherwise we'd starve. But if he's not home? Breakfast is graham crackers and cereal (milk optional) and MAYBE some cut fruit.

    Blend up some veggie puree to stick in their waffles? How does one get the puree in the Eggos, exactly?

  15. Oh, herbadmother … just throw the puree over the top. Don't worry about injecting.

    And … I should have mentioned earlier: count me among those who's husband/other does the bulk of the cooking. I made babyfood and do the baking and the candymaking. Candy is totally a food group, right?

  16. Well, we've long been proponents of organic, less processed, etc. (even before green and organic was all the rage!) but we roll with it in out-of-home scenarios. So, no, at a party I'm not going to refuse Laurel the electric orange Cheetos if she wants them; I ate plenty of those in my day and I turned out fine (plus, she's lucky enough to have Jon's long and lanky genes).

    I think that the best parents can do is make change where and as they can without beating themselves up too much about it. Because crap, we beat ourselves up plenty already right? I figure if you're offering counterbalancing options (e.g., fruit alongside the Cheerios) it's all good.

    As for being on dinner duty 6 nights a week….I imagine that gives you free range to do whatever the hell you want.


  17. 13 years of parenting and I still struggle with this.

    The only port in this storm for me is Jumby is tube fed. His food is already nutrionally balanced and I don't have to worry about it.

    But the older two, oh dear lawd, I am so tired of trying to feed them well and not just feed them easy.

  18. Some people are picky eaters because their taste buds make them that way. Some portion of this (and I tend to think a fairly large portion) is genetic. I hate peas. Not because of anything irrational. No, I hate them because I can't stand the taste. It makes me gag.

    I've read the research on veggies. Heck, I was a biochemistry major. At one point in my life, I could have told you the role each and every major vitamin plays in our bodies. And drawnn you the reactions that depended on those vitamins. That doesn't make them taste good to me. Apologies to Nate. (:

    Also, there was at one point in our evolution strong selective pressure to be a picky eater. That random plant you just picked up and ate could kill you! You had no way of knowing. So going slow on adding in new foods was a SMART thing to do. Have Nate go read Michael Pollan's other book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, if he hasn't already. And have him really think about why there is a dilemma. Pollan discusses this at the beginning of the book, but I find that part didn't stick with most people.

    I was an incredibly picky eater as a kid. I'm better now, but still on the picky side. I'm healthy, fit, and have no sign of any major lifestyle diseases.

    All of this is to say- I think its not worth worrying about. We can introduce our kids to healthy foods. We can't make them like those foods. We can limit their access to junk food, but if we ban it completely I think we just make it forbidden fruit and set ourselves up for problems when they are a little more independent. My personal goal is to have my daughter grow up with a healthy relationship with food. I hope that if I do that, she'll do a good job of figuring out for herself what she likes to eat.

  19. We are vegetarians and my 18 month old daughter has a milk allergy which makes us pretty much vegans. We're lucky that she is not a picky eater. She pretty much will eat anything that we give her.

    Given our vegan restrictions, cooking healthy is pretty much the default. The problem for me is the expense. I would love to be able to only spend the 50 cents for a box of mac and cheese rather than the multiple dollars on fresh veggies and tofu.

  20. Wow, it sounds like if you read up on what's in all the foods that me and my family eat on a regular basis it's truly terrifying. Well, as they say–ignorance is bliss. Pass the Twinkies, I'm sure there's eggs in there somewhere.

  21. Oh crikey – ANOTHER child-related thing to worry about. You know what I think? I think do a little mac and cheese if that's all you have time / energy for, and then make sure you cram a few organic fruits and carrot sticks in to them a bit later.

    It's a constant battle to make sure my toddler is getting the right foods. Sometimes things don't go to plan and he only wants to eat half a cucumber and a cookie for dinner. We have a pretty healthy diet in general so I figure he's getting a decent range of food groups over the course of the week.

  22. Here is my question: why is there so much LESS discussion on other ways to make sure our kids are staying healthy, i.e. instilling a lifelong love of the outdoors, and of physical activity? I think if we achieve that, we buy ourselves a little wiggle room if we need to do the mac n' cheese a few nights a week.

  23. Fantastic question Kirsten.

    I suppose at least for me, my kids already love running and jumping and playing and swimming. So it doesn't seem to warrant personal reflection in the same way. If they were lazy or lethargic it would worry me the way it does that they ask to eat pure butter.

    Are you worried about your own children's lack of physical activity?

  24. Does hiding some organic corn within the mac n' cheese count?

    After a while (years) of cooking evening freaking night of the week, I would welcome a chef to come in and cook better for my family.

    But sadly, I do not see that in my future so I guess I will just have to live with the fact that I do try to cook healthy at home. I figure it's better than eating fast food every night of the week.

    Wishing you a scent-sational day!

  25. I'm coming back with a practical tip for the cooking healthy w/no time or energy problem- it is all about the recipes. I know this sounds obvious, but 90% of the recipes I have are no way going to happen while there is a child under the age of 6 in my house. I sat down one day and did recipe triage, and came up with a list of things that were quick, easy, and had at least some chance of being eaten by my two year old. The majority of the recipes left standing were from three sources:

    1. Cooking Light's “fast and easy” recipes. They really are fast and easy.

    2. A cookbook from the Minimalist. I forget his real name, but I think he has a column in the NY Times.

    3. A cookbook called “While the Pasta Boils” that delivers what its name implies- sauces that can be made while the pasta boils.

    Unfortunately, a lot of my quick and easy recipes involve pasta, and I'm no help on a source of pasta that would pass muster for a foodie while also not depleting the kids' college fund. I didn't marry a foodie- I married an engineer. He's not too critical about food, and the cost vs. benefit argument will almost always work on him (except for beer- there he feels the benefit of good beer outweighs the cost). Don't be jealous, though- it takes us forever to buy anything technical, because we have to analyze all of our options and compare them on a spreadsheet.

  26. so, they shouldn't be eating peanut butter at every meal? is that my take away today? um, uh-oh, is all I can say.

  27. I've had three kids with feeding issues beyond the 'picky eater' thing so I'm more of a stickler than most for avoiding kid foods and food jags and being mean mommy enough to stop buying the favorite cereal bars or mac and cheezers wheezers altogether. I have a feeling I could let Mrs. Q do my food shopping for me. I try to focus more on produce—getting them to 'eat the rainbow' and the rest falls into place. My husband can barely boil water, so at least I've been able to come to the changes bit by bit!

  28. I've said it before — just how big and tall and strong and healthy would my 17 year old be if he'd actually started eating vegetables before he turned 15? Ok, 15 and a half. Nothing wrong with better choices and lots of awareness, but your kids will be fine, even with the mac and cheese. Add peas and carrots. Makes it very colorful.

  29. I also have a picky eater, and feel free to blame her. she ate EVERYTHING until age 13 months. at that point, she became a little independent monster. we try to offer her all we can, but she lives on pb&j, rice and beans, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries, and pretzels. at least that's what we have now.

    as far as changing things for the whole family, it gets easier the more you do. when we first cut out high fructose corn syrup, I didn't know that we'd ever eat again — it's in everything. however, we now eat more fresh foods, drink water instead of soda, and empty our fridge of food every week, not a pantry of boxes. it's easy now, and I feel good about what I eat. the transition's tough initially, but stick with it — you'll like the rewards.

    ps. organic or not, sometimes kids just need mac n cheese. we all do.

  30. I have tried to cut out artificial colors and HFCS as much as possible. Fortunately, we already don't do fruit juice, so my kids don't expect anything else to drink except water.

    My kids drift in and out of being picky eaters. Since we primarily cook Indian at home, they are left with few choices anyway.

  31. So, what is wrong with Cheerios? I'm not up on this research. They seem pretty healthy to me. My kids are allergic to eggs!

  32. Cheerios is better than Lucky Charms.

    But then, steel-cut oatmeal is better than Cheerios. It's relative of course, but the less processed a food the better. ie eat things that are grown.

  33. LOVE this. We're all trying, right? And trying is better than not. Good luck! It really does pay to make the changes while they're young.

  34. My Chef husband is now in catering as opposed to a restaurant because the last time he worked in a restaurant when my son was 2.5 and I was pregnant? I almost went insane. So now it's only a few nights that he is gone which is much easier to handle.

    I am right there with you on cooking for the kids though. Cooking is not easy for me and those kids are definitely getting more (baked!) chicken nuggets and mac-n-cheese then anything else. One suggestion? I usually throw some frozen veg and sliced deli ham in with the M&C – it's covered in cheese so they eat it and makes me feel a little better!

  35. I was just about to comment about my love of Michael Pollan and saw your first comment. Oh, yes, that “sister” is me! I saw him speak (sat in the front row) and almost levitated right out of my seat, so powerful are the things he says.

    That said, I make brownies from a box and love Burger King's Veggie Burgers, so I don't think I'm exactly where “he'd” like me to be.

  36. If I didn't know better, I would swear you were my sister-in-law. We're all ex-restaurant people and my brother in-law still works brunches and has recently taken their household (their mac n cheese and chicken finger and wonderbread w/ Kraft slices household)on a wild whole food organic bender that has her feeling lost in her own kitchen. Luckily he stays home with the kids during the week.
    But boxed macaroni WITH broccoli thrown into the pasta water. That's my go-to.

  37. Nate can cook up all the organic, healthy, high fructose corn syrup-free meals in advance and put them in the fridge, so that you can just take them out and reheat.

    We do very little cooking during the week – mostly reheating stuff prepared in advance, because there's no way my temper or stomach could wait long enough to cook properly after work.

  38. Lady M's suggestion to have Nate prep food that you can reheat sounds like a winner to me!

    We have food issues in our house too. Moderation, and modeling. If you and Nate can educate the young'uns on healthy eating habits, put some vegetables in front of them at every meal, even if they refuse to eat them, then you'll be doing better than many.

    I grew up on ramen noodles, canned chicken,and canned vegetables. Rarely had fresh vegetables until I was 30. My eating habits have gotten better over time, and I am trying to influence my husband and kids.

  39. That's awesome your hubby is in culinary school! Mine went a couple years ago and while it was a small fortune (about $36,000) he is now happily employed as a chef. It does take some time, but I think it's worth it. And I hear ya on the Chef's widow thing. Good luck!

  40. I was a mom struggling with feeding issues, and I got help. I was also a doctor, giving bad advice, it turns out. Now, my career is to help people with feeding problems. My first client was a nutritionist. Its not that we don't know what to feed kids, its that as a culture, we have forgotten HOW. Please read Child of Mine by Ellyn Satter. It changed my life, and my career. My 3 year old will test, she will say “yuck,” she went through the normal “picky” phase starting from early toddler, but now she eats almost anything. The key is not to worry, not to stress, keep putting it in front of them, even if they appear to reject it. (Stay neutral, and don't bribe with dessert, it backfires!) And, if feeding is torture, or something you dread, get help. Good luck, it can get better! for some insight into how it works for our family!

  41. I make nearly all of our family's food from scratch and it's heavy on the veggies. You can learn ways to do it quick and cheap, or at least one or the other. It may not always please a master chef though, but if not then he can help. 🙂

    We occasionally have mac and cheese for a treat but it's pretty rare. My husband's family is all overweight. A lot of our adult friends already have diabetes and high blood pressure, and it's shortening their lives and making them miserable.

    It's just worth the cost and trouble. Bottom line. If the house is messy, oh well. If they're not in every kind of sports or activity they can be quite happy without it. But if they grow up with junky food they'll get fat and get health problems. It's just a matter of time, and I can't do that to my kids.

    Not that you're feeding your kids junky food. Just answering the commenters who said things like pass the twinkies, it's all fine. 🙂

  42. Love all the advice and resources, keep them coming! I am inspired.

    @Magical Childhood, I love the notion of everything nutritious being cooked from scratch full of veggies that my children will ooh and ah over–and quickly too! But for some reason I'm having trouble buying it.

    I'm a full time working parent and entrepreneur with a grueling schedule, the sole income earner of my household, home alone six nights a week with two under four. I'd imagine when my kids are old enough to help out (or at least not eat pennies when I turn my back) it will get easier.

    We gave up on the clean house long ago, let alone the “everything cooked from scratch.” But I'd be delighted to be proven wrong. Got any 4 minutes nutritious recipes for me that a toddler will eat? Because at times, that's all the time and energy I have.

  43. I haven't read all the comments so hopefully this isn't a repeat.

    I think the thing to remember is that there are many forces actively working against parents. Whether it's how our food is produced to the sexual images and ideas being targeted towards our preschoolers, parenting is HARD. Pure and simple.

    So we do the best we can. We try to give them food that is good for them, protect them from ideas and images they aren't yet ready for, teach them what is truly important in life while walking the fine line between protection and paranoia.

    I'm glad at the end you realized he wasn't attacking you but the system itself. So try not to beat yourself up. I have no doubt you are raising some healthy kidlets!

  44. We often have “appetizer night” which is basically a bunch of healthy foods on trays that the kids can choose from. They think this is so fun, it's practically cause for celebration in my house, and it's a way to give them a good variety of healthy foods. And fast! Cut up veggies with hummus to dip, cheese and crackers, grapes, almonds, apple slices. Milk to drink. And a nice giant glass of Chardonnay for me.

  45. OK. A few other ideas for the 4-min meal. If you can find time to do a big shop and moderate cooking session on Sunday, you can make a few staples that turn into your dinners during the week.

    This lemon chicken is a big hit with my kids. Makes 2 pounds of chicken breast strips you can dole out during the week. (Don't bother with the satay dip).

    Cook a big pot of whole wheat pasta (or tricolor pasta) and keep it in the fridge until time to nuke it at dinnertime. You can add parmesan and butter, or sauce and mozzarella.

    Cut up veggies in a tupperware so they are easy to serve (red pepper, cucumber, carrots, sugar snap peas). Dip in ranch dressing or hummus.

    Do your kids like eggs? Hard boiled eggs are great. Or scrambled eggs (wrapped in a tortilla with cheese), or eggs and toast and fruit.

    Rice is a good staple to have pre-cooked. You can get some pre-made curry sauce to pour over yours, and if too spicy for kids, serve theirs with eggs or the aforementioned chicken. Have you tried that packaged Wildwood tofu? Kids love it (Savory flavor); serve on side of rice. With some frozen peas (still frozen — pea popsicles!)

    Amy's frozen pizza is good. My kids will eat the spinach variety, which makes me feel pretty good about it.

    What would you make yourself for dinner, if no kids around? You could try going that route (unless of course it's a vodka tonic and potato chips). They'll only reject a food a few times if you keep exposing them to it. They will eventually get hungry and try it.

    Good luck. It's so hard to be a single working mom every evening. Wish I were still in NY to have you guys over for a meal or two.

  46. I came back looking for more tips (tired, pregnant working mom here….) and Susan's ideas are great. We may adopt appetizer night at our house… except the only “dip” my toddler likes so far is ketchup.

    Another one that works in our house is pancakes + home made smoothies for dinner. Anytime fruit is heading past its prime, I cut it up and toss it in a tupperware container I keep in the freezer. I keep a bag of frozen berries on hand, too. On smoothies night, I dump my stash into a blender with a little juice and/or water and make a smoothie. Sometimes I add a tub of frozen yogurt (makes a creamier smoothie- I freeze a single serve tub of vanilla yogurt for this purpose). I recently learned that the berries are key because they cover any weird colors from the other fruit- everyone drank the odd brownish smoothie I made last week (it even tasted nice), but I wasn't too thrilled with it.

    I hear that you can hide spinach in a smoothie and no one can taste it, but I haven't tried this. I'd know it was there, and although I like spinach, I don't really want it in my smoothie.

    Pancakes really do take about 4 minutes to mix up. And you can even make wheat or oatmeal pancakes if you want to be extra virtuous.

    I do smoothies with quesadillas, too. Basically, I feel that adding a smoothie greatly increases the nutritional value of whatever half-assed meal I'm doing.

  47. Lucky for me, my daughter loves sweets and I'm a pastry chef! Easy, right?! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    I love Susan's tips. Those are the suggestions that I really need. How to shop/prep/organize so that things are quick and easy when everyone's hungry and cranky.

    I think my 17 month old inherited my junk-food-junky-gene. Damn.

  48. I'm confused…Cheerios have almost no sugar at all…and eggs are all high fat…so why shouldn't eggs be a couple of days a week and Cheerios a couple days a week?

    Crap. I'm from the Bay Area, and even I am confused.

  49. Jellyjules, I suck at the nutritional stuff but eggs actually are really low in saturated fat (1.5 grams each) while Cheerios are processed grains and high in carbs. What I do know from South Beach and the Zone and blah blah blah is that carbs make you fat, not fat.

    You'd think they'd rename fat or something and make it easier for us!

  50. I can't for the life of me get my child to eat anything healthy, and this morning, I came downstairs to find that my husband had given her CAKE for breakfast. Oy. Someday, she'll eat a green vegetable.

    I missed the part about the husband in cooking school. I am somewhat jealous, as well as awestruck.

  51. Magpie, what – you didn't recognize Nate's inner culinary prowess when you saw him wielding that squeeze bottle of mustard over his Hebrew National hot dog?

  52. I disagree about carbs being bad, no matter what the diet gurus say, but I agree that over processed carbs are bad. So what you say about Cheerios makes sense. I like them because they don't have a lot of sugar, but yeah, they are over processed.

    My 13 year old is on a Special K bender right now, and while I would prefer to see her eating shredded wheat or something like that, I know better than to make eating into a battle. So I let her. Once in awhile she'll eat eggs if I cook them for her.

    I liked Susan's idea of an appetizer dinner, esp for little ones. Sandwiches can be quick and healthy, too, and there's nothing wrong with scrambled eggs for dinner, esp with some good whole grain toast and fruit on the side.

    In summer, we often have smoothies for breakfast…fruit, yogurt, a little OJ, that's it. Fast and yummy.

  53. Well, kids need fat. In particular, growing brains need cholesterol. That's why we're told to give kids under the age of 2 whole milk. Their bodies can't make enough to supply their brains yet.

    The thing that bothers me about the anti-processed food “movement” is that it feels to me like a command to do everything myself rather than availing myself of the efficiencies of the division of labor.

    So the cereal bar I give my daughter to bribe her into her carseat after day care is bad, because it is “processed”, but if I personally bake something similar to that bar (and yes, I do have a recipe for this), it would be OK? Would I have to make my own filling from fresh fruit, or could I cheat and use jam as long as it was locally produced? Is the worry about some ingredient the store-bought bar has that I wouldn't add? If so, tell me which one, and I'll decide if I think it is worth worrying about. Or is it just that people working at a corporation, using machines made that store-bought bar, and corporations and machines are somehow bad?

    I've read some of Michael Pollan's books, and I agree with a lot of what he has to say. But from a nutritional standpoint, I don't think it matters who makes the food my family eats- me, a local baker, or some big company. I think it matters what is actually IN that food. Now, from a “good of the earth” standpoint, maybe it matters. But I want to see a detailed analysis on that, because it all has started to feel to me like people with more time and/or money than I have making arguments to justify the way they spend that time and/or money and making me feel bad in the process!

    OK, end of rant. (Mom-101- this rant isn't directed at you. I'm not sure who it is directed at, actually. Maybe pundits who write articles and go on TV and make blanket statements about how we should all eat without really analyzing what they are saying. A lot of what I hear people say and support by referencing Michael Pollan doesn't at all match what I understood from reading his books!)

  54. Well, here's what I had to say on the topic of picky eaters a while back:

    Other than that, I'm all for “add ins” as I'm also for a box of Mac and cheese with a dab of ricotta and some real cheddar mixed in as I'm all for making things from scratch with organics that cost more than my car. I try to balance physical health days with mental health days with “not going to feel too guilty” days with “today I'm going to try something new” days.

    And just think of this story: Had a friend who lived in an earthquake zone who fed her kids very healthily from scratch every day. Comes to find out that at the local shelters, they stock only non-perishable “lasts forever” kinds of food – mac and cheese and ravioli in a can, etc. A letter came to families encouraging them to make sure their kids would eat these things in case of a disaster. So…there's your choice: healthy now or survives to rebuild society after doomsday. 😉

  55. This made me laugh. It feels so familiar… like my husband and I have had the same interaction – probably not over food – but I totally know the feeling that you were writing about.

  56. This is definitely a “toughie.” We're so busy with other things that convenience foods have sort of taken over (I'm somewhat guilty myself). I just try to get as many veggies and fruits down their throats as possible and call it a day… : )

  57. Yowtch! I have to say we're very much taking the “nutritious eating” process one step at a time. Baby steps. But the power of small is making progress: now my daughter will actually eat brown rice, and my son is cool with whole wheat bagels!


  58. Okay, Nate and my husband should totally hang out. He has had a similar epiphany and I had a similar reaction as you: defensive and totally annoyed.

    (You are such a talented writer!)

  59. Ahh, the life of a Mom who is “single” yet married. I know it well and I've just begun to BLOG for the first time. I am planning to include my own personal “single-mom” anecdotes and I loved reading yours. Be strong, it sounds like you're well-fed even if you handle it ALL on your own- Kudos to you-
    (Crazy Mom)

  60. AS far as processed grains go, Cheerios are pretty darn good. The ingredient list is small. If your kids dig them, there's no reason they shouldn't be a staple. Plus, Cheerios are a fairly decent carbs. High in fiber.

    Mini-wheats are also pretty good. Though I'm not sure if they contain the HFCS. I should check on that.

    Having just taken a nutrition class, I get defensive about carbs. We require them for energy, and the breakdown should be around 55-60% carbs, around 10 -20% lean protein, and 20% healthy fats. One course does not an expert make, I know. But some carbs are really, really good!

  61. I hear ya sister. I've just been “turned on” to Michael Pollan (and Mark Bittman who actually has great RECIPES to back up his “eat food. not too much. mostly plants.” way of eating.

    My kids are 3 1/2 and 8 months and I've, of course, been expecting the second one, who is much more easygoing than the first, to correct all of the misbehaviors (including picky eating) of his older brother. Well, he's now on solids and is making the same gaggy, choky “get that vegetable AWAY FROM ME” faces his brother did. Though he does like toast (wait, am I even supposed to be feeding him toast yet?).

    That said, I have a little advice for you. Call it a 6-step program (they're half-pints after all):

    1)realize your own eating habits are abismal and your kids learn to eat from you
    2) start cooking with lots and lots of veggies and every time you want a snack, grab fruit (and offer it to your kids).
    3) plant a garden to get your kid interested in growing food
    4) take your kids to a farm, cheese factory, chocolate factory, whatever, to show them where their food comes from
    5) involve your kids in cooking, even if it means you're tearing your hair out as they spray pasta sauce all over the white walls of your kitchen
    6) offer that healthy, fresh, good-for-you food at every meal. Put it on their plate if they'll let you. Con them into taking at least one bit of it before you cave in and nuke the mac'n cheese, make a peanut butter sandwich, etc.

    Mind you, this is still in the experimental stages in my house. I'm keeping close track and writing about it, so will let you know how it goes! And good luck to you!

  62. trader joe's multigrain pancake mix, a little extra wheat germ tossed in, mixed with two eggs (farmers market free range etc etc), maybe some yogurt, and then milk to mush it together. Make pancakes. Put in chocolate chips or m&ms. Your children think you are SOOOO NICE. They have had a (reasonably nutritious) meal. Repeat at dinner, maybe with peanut butter and/or jam instead of choc chips. I feel your pain: my eight year old has not knowingly eaten a green leafy vegetable in his life, and he's teaching his younger brother the same habits – such a good sharer, eh? I figure if they see me (or Husband HAHAHAA) actually cooking, see actual fruits and veggies at the farmer's market, and if not every meal comes in delivery bags, then…eventually…maybe…they will eat something outside the white food groups. Eventually. Hope springs eternal.

  63. My mom went to culinary school in NYC. French Culinary Institute and then she did an internship in France. Where is your hubby going to school?

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