Today’s post comes from my good friend, Sarah. Our children have basically grown up together, so we have talked, moaned, and worked through our kids’ food issues together. Here she shares a technique that helped her oldest daughter.
It’s about the lessons an American mother learned while raising her kids in France. It is an interesting and pretty fast read if you are curious about another culture’s child rearing practices. Much of the advice/wisdom is a useful reminder of things we should be doing. For example, make sure to make time for you; provide boundaries, but allow kids free play within those boundaries; kids don’t need their entire lives to be scheduled activities… I got a little annoyed at the extremity of the American helicopter parent examples (chosen for effect, of course). And I personally feel the French methods may have its merits, but there is an element of selfishness in how far they take it, like how few women breastfeed because of the perception it will ruin their figure. I came away with the image of the Parisian women in their high heels on the side of the playground having adult conversations… I appreciate a great adult conversation on the side too, but I also enjoy playing with my kids on the playground (to the point where I made sure I have shoes that are good playground, non-heeled shoes for the summer!)
But all that aside, one particular item the book discusses I wish I did better. According the author, the French are rearing a nation of little gourmands, who will try everything and have a huge range of foods they will eat. There are no kids menus in restaurants, because they are unnecessary. Even their state sponsored day care has three course meals for toddlers that include a cheese course! And we are not talking about a cheddar cheese snack stick. Reading that section made me sad about how little success I seem to have avoiding the go-to kid foods in our own home. But how does one change that?
I have two girls, an eight month old and a picky two-and-a-half year old toddler who often refuses even to taste new foods. One thing has made a difference for us – if I involve her in the cooking and food prep, then she will at times taste things that I have unsuccessfully attempted to make her have in the past. Our first success over a year ago was pasta. I mean, what kid does not love pasta? But mine wouldn’t touch it. Until I had her help me boil water, pour in the pasta, and then taste test it for me once it was ready. And voila! She ate a lot that night and loves it to this day.
Now whenever feasible, I try to involve her in the cooking. This is not as often as I’d like. I often try to prep and even cook dinner while the girls nap in the afternoon to avoid the headache of dinner prep with two cranky hungry girls (and thus an equally cranky mommy). Plus it gives us the freedom to go out post nap time without rushing home for dinner. But just this past week, for example, my toddler helped me make taco meat. She sat on the counter as I chopped onions and browned the beef, and tasted and then sprinkled on the seasoning. And that night, she ate tacos for the first time. Hallelujah!
One of the easiest ways I have found to involve my daughter in cooking is to bake. The book also emphasizes this – apparently, the French often bake on Saturdays. A typical French family often spends the morning baking the treat they will have in the afternoon snack time. And as early as possible, the kids bake their own treats as self-sufficiently as possible. And what wonderful lessons that can teach – familiarity with different foods, following instructions, patience for the preparation and cooking, and finally the delayed enjoyment of a sweet treat that comes at snack time… My toddler loves to taste every ingredient that goes in (she even wants to try the baking soda!) no matter how sour or strange. I set her up on the counter or high chair and away we go.
And while cookies, muffins, and snack mixes are all wonderful and easy cooking experiments with kids, my most recent fun has been with bread. A friend turned me on to a wonderful method from a book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.
It is an easy no-knead dough that kids can help make. Then once the dough is made (you make large batches), you can pull off pieces of the dough and make lots of different kinds of bread with it. My daughter and I even recently made cinnamon raisin bagels! That was a bit more messy than usual, but still a lot of fun.
So while I have not yet produced a gourmand in our first little girl, I hope to continue to create with her in the kitchen as much as possible. Does it take longer? Yes. Have I messed up recipes because of my divided attention? Yes. But every time I get this joyful feeling of creating something together, teaching a bit along the way, and slowing down to enjoy something with my daughter. I can’t wait for my baby to be old enough to join in too!