Kids in Restaurants – Part 2

October 25, 2010 by

It happens to us all, even you serious restaurant mavens.  Kids enter the picture, and the next thing you know, your definition of “eating out” goes from late-night hot spots to pizza at Chuck E Cheese.  But if you’re the parent of a young child, are you doomed to years of Chinese take-out?

For my book My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything, I interviewed lots of chefs who are also parents.  The number one thing they told me: Don’t be afraid to bring your kids when you eat at nice places!  Yes it’s true: Most restaurants really do welcome groups with young children.  “I want families to be at peace bringing children to our restaurants, so we’ll build a future generation of diners,” says top New Orleans chef John Besh.

Here are seven chef hints to make restaurant dining with a preschooler fun for everyone – maybe even the people at the next table:

Go Early

You know your kids and you know their schedule; best to stick to it. If your children typically eat at 5:30 or 6:00, waiting for a 7:30 reservation is asking for trouble.  “Blue hair special” time may not be hip, but your odds of success are higher.  And if you do have problems, you’ll have less of an audience.

 

And Often!

Practice, practice, practice.  Frequent dining out helps both kids and parents feel relaxed and comfortable. 

 

Set the Scene

Don’t be afraid to ask for a good table, especially if it includes an interesting view for your child.  Ceiling fans, windows with street scenes, open kitchens all provide visual diversions.  Position the high chairs so the kids have something to watch.  Remove from the table things like extra place settings, candles or sugar packets that can be thrown across the room in a two-year-old moment.

Toys with No Noise

The chefs I talked to were all for bringing things like coloring books and little hand toys to amuse the kids before the food arrives.  But virtually all of them frowned on DVDs, video games and electronic toys at the table.  Why?  

“It’s distracting to other guests,” said Bob Carter of Peninsula Grill in Charleston, SC.  “The pinging and the noise make it offensive to the dining experience.”  Chefs equated the use of these toys with adults blabbering on cell phones or texting throughout meals.  “What are you teaching? That you can go and sit and not socialize.” says Marc Murphy of New York’s Landmarc restaurant. 

Know Your Limits

For most little kids, that’s about an hour and a half, max. This is not the night to linger over coffee.  When the server comes to take your drink order, be ready to go with what you want to eat.

 

 

 

 

Let them Eat!

If you’re taking your child to a great restaurant, let him eat there!  Skip the children’s menu and the food brought from home.  Instead, look for things on the real menu that appeal to kids, or will give them something new to taste.

 

Talk, Talk, Talk

Many parents run into problems with their children in restaurants because they simply forget that the kids are there. 

“I get it,” one chef said. “Adults are looking forward to a night out with their spouse or friends, some good food, a break from the day.  But if children are there, you can’t just socialize.  Somebody has to keep them engaged”   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out with my family and hoped for just 15 minutes of adult conversation, only to end up telling my kids another “Thomas the Tank Engine” story.   But oh well.  The conversation may not be the best, but at least the food is.

And what if, despite these best efforts, a meltdown does occur?  You’re out of there. Pack up the food, pay your bill and leave.  Kids should never be allowed to disrupt the enjoyment of other patron’s meals.

Then write this one off to a bad night, and don’t be afraid to try again!

 

 

Kids Restaurant Menus – Can’t We Do Better Than This?!

October 18, 2010 by

One of my favorite restaurants in Washington, D.C., Dino, posted this notice on our neighborhood list serve about their new Sunday brunch:

 We also have a Kid’s Brunch menu and Kids’ Dinner menu where kids under 12 pay their age for up to three selections. Sorry, we do not have chemical filled processed foods like nuggets or cheese food on our Kids’ menu, just the same natural foods we serve adults in kid sized portions {with milder spicing as well}. Imagine that! 

Yes, imagine that!  Going into a restaurant that welcomes young children, without having the wait staff automatically hand you a “children’s menu” comprised of pasta, hot dogs, pizza and a grilled cheese sandwich. 

If you’ve followed my book, “My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything,” you know I think that dealing with children’s menus in restaurants is one of the problems parents have to overcome in their quest to teach their kids to love to eat everything.  Eating out at a restaurant should be a treat for everyone at the table, an opportunity to try new foods and flavors.  And that includes the kids!

Fortunately, more and more chef-owned restaurants are following the route of Dino.  They’ve realized that even little kids can enjoy “real” food when they eat out, with some encouragement from their parents and assistance from the restaurant management.  Serving smaller portion sizes of the adult fare, at a reduced price, is a great way to do this.

First Lady Michelle Obama, a big advocate of kids eating well, addressed this topic in a recent speech to the National Restaurant Association.  “I’m asking you to use (your) creativity to rethink the food you offer, especially dishes aimed at young people, and to help us make the healthier choice the easier choice,” Mrs. Obama said.  “And today, no matter what kind of restaurant you visit — whether it’s Italian, French, Mexican, American — most kids’ menus look pretty much the same.  And trust me, we’ve seen a lot of them.  One local survey found that 90 percent of those menus includes mac and cheese; 80 percent includes chicken fingers; 60 includes burgers or cheeseburgers.

“ And I think — and I know you all think — that our kids deserve better than that.”

Yes, kids do deserve better than a steady diet of that – foods that are not only healthier, but tastier and more interesting as well.  I’m betting that if you start exposing your children to a broader array of foods when you take them out to eat, they might surprise you by actually trying and eating them!  And note that this works especially well when your kids are really young; don’t wait until they are 10 or 12 and you have some bad restaurant habits already ingrained.

Next week:  Tips on restaurant dining with kids, including how to make it a food experience, even for the little ones.

School Foods: What You Can Do!

October 4, 2010 by

So you’ve taken a look at the breakfast, snacks or lunch that your kids are given to eat at school, and think there is room for improvement?  Have you noticed that your kids aren’t eating the lunch that you pack for them, and they say it’s because they aren’t hungry because they’ve had a large “treat” that morning?  Or maybe that they aren’t eating their dinner every evening, and you suspect it’s because of a snack served during late afternoon after-care hours?

Maybe you’re just glad that your kids are eating something.  Maybe you’re relieved that you don’t have to think about their food choices during the day.  I definitely know that feeling!

But for some parents, this is an issue to take on with the school or school district, perhaps because of specific medical concerns like food allergies, or general health issues like weight and nutritional awareness.  Or maybe, like me, you just want to teach your kids to eat well by exposing them to a wide variety of flavors and foods and tastes.  And you’ve realized that once their meal choice is out of your direct control, this is harder than ever to do.

Schools and daycare centers and other organizations that service children are in a tough spot when it comes to menu selection.  For one thing, the dollars available to spend are usually extremely limited.  They may not have kitchens or even ovens in which to prepare “real” dishes, so they are forced into serving “heat and eat” items that only require a warm-up.  Snack foods often have to be shelf-stable, inexpensive and served in pre-packaging; you can see how that severely limits possible offerings.  And, unfortunately, most of these places do not view food issues as a major priority: They are there to educate your kids or to take care of them during the day while you’re working.  Whether or not they are taught about food choices is not really high on the list of priorities.

Still, there are things that you as a concerned parent can do to make changes.  Here are some tips from parents who have gotten involved in the school food service issue:

n  Observe and note what your kids are being fed every day, at breakfast, snack time and lunchtime, for at least two weeks.  Look it up on-line, if the information is published there, or ask your child or the teacher.  Get as specific as possible, noting that Mondays are Goldfish, Tuesdays are Saltines, Wednesdays are Ritz crackers, etc.  There is probably also a pattern in the lunch choice, as in pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, repeat.

n  If your kids are old enough to remember and tell you, ask them specifically what of these offerings they eat each day.  If your child is too young, e-mail the teacher and ask for details.  Don’t be afraid to do this!  You need to know how much s/he is consuming every day at school, so you can get some insight as to how it is affecting food consumption during home meals.

n  Start talking about this to other parents at the school.  I predict that you will be pleasantly surprised at how many agree with you…. But probably, like you, have never thought about what can be done to improve school food choices.  Knowing that there are others who think as you do is most affirming!

n  Start with your Parent-Teacher Association, Home-School Association, or whatever your local parents club is called.  Tell them that this is an issue that is important to a number of parents, and ask if it can be made a topic for discussion at a meeting, or through a community newsletter or list serve.  Ask if the group can conduct a survey of teachers; their input and insight will be invaluable, as they see these issues first-hand every day, and deal with the repercussions of “bad” eating.

n  If your kids are in public schools that deal with food issues through a district policy, do some research to see if any other schools are already working on the issue.  Most major cities have parent groups that are already working with foodservice operators to implement nutritional improvements.  (In Washington, DC, where I live, it’s Parents for Better DC School Food.)

n  Set up a meeting with your school’s principal or head administrator to discuss foods issues.  You may be pleasantly surprised, again, by how much interest and support you get.  At minimum, you’ll see how much of a challenge you have on your hands. 

n  Ask the principal or food service administrator to sign-up for the White House’s Chefs Move to Schools program http://www.letsmove.gov/chefs-step-1.php, so that a local chef can be assigned to work with your school.  And ask about the possibility of allocating some land on the school property to start a student-run garden.

n  If taking on the whole school or school district is more than you want to do, start with your child’s class.  Talk to the teacher and home room parent about snacking policies.  Little steps can mean a lot – see if you can get parents to volunteer to bring in fruits or vegetables one day a week, in place of packaged crackers.  Ask the teacher to substitute water for fake juices or “lemonade.”  Try packing lunch at home for a week and see if that is a manageable option.

n  If your kids are old enough to understand, talk to them about what you are doing!  Tell them that you’re concerned about the foods that they eat every day and that you want them to be served the best foods possible.  Turn it into a positive in their eyes, and look for their support.  Instead of being the “mom who took away the Rice Krispie treats,” be the mom who cares about good eating!

School Food: What Can You Do?

September 27, 2010 by

It’s an issue that is front and center right now, for kids of all ages and schools of every size and description: School lunch, school breakfast, school snacking – and what, exactly, is being provided for our kids to eat during the day.

First Lady Michelle Obama may not have started this, but she certainly put the issue in the spotlight with her Let’s Move! Program, and its school food component, Chefs Move to Schools. There is a rising recognition that the choice of foods that schools provide for kids to eat makes a difference not only in how children grow and learn, but also in the message that we as adults are sending them about how we value them our country’s future leaders.

I have some first-hand experience with this. It started with the research I conducted for my book, My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Everything,” then as a member of a local group that is actively trying to improve foods served in Washington, DC public schools. I’ve also been involved this year in working through channels at my own young children’s schools to review feeding policies there.

What have I found? That there is a lot of bureaucracy and government regulation in place that governs food choice decisions on many levels, and that some foods policies are what they are simply because no one has ever questioned them. Many of the current practices are nothing more than lingering habits, some put in place to serve good purposes at the time, but have outlived their need and effectiveness. Oh, and that there are definitely parties who have something to gain by keeping things the status quo.

I’ve learned that it’s easier to introduce changes if you’re involved with smaller schools that do not fall within the jurisdiction of a major school district, and if you’re talking primarily about the feeding of younger kids. I’ve found that plenty of other parents feel the same way that I do about the need for a more critical look at food choices, even if they are not yet speaking up, but that different families see “improvement” in different terms. Some parents are just glad to see their kids eat anything; those with a food allergy in the family have to take into account medical issues when planning their children’s meals. All of these points of view contribute to the overall situation, and must be taken into account when proposing reform.

I’ve also been delighted by the reception I’ve received by school administrators I’ve encountered when bringing up the topic of snack time, lunch time, and before and after school meal service. Granted, they have so many other educational issues to contend with, but have often been pleased to see parents taking an active stance on an issue that is important to them, and offering time and ideas for bringing about progress.

Next week, I’ll offer specific steps that you as “just a parent” can take if you want to get involved in this issue at your kids’ school. So please send me any tips or experiences to share!

Snacking at School, Part 2

September 20, 2010 by

Last week, I published here an article that I wrote for this month’s Washington Parent magazine, about young kids and snacking, and the round-the-clock eating pattern that so many have adopted. Now that school and all related activities are back in session, organized, planned, eat-this-whether-you’re-hungry-or-not snacking is making its way back into my kids’ daily routine. (Never mind that they got along fine throughout the summer by eating only at mealtime!)

Is snacking throughout the day, along with or instead of the standard breakfast-lunch-dinner meal pattern, the new norm for children?

There is certainly evidence, both statistical and anecdotal, to suggest that it is. I have written here in prior weeks about the fascinating research conducted by Barry Popkin, PhD, at the University of North Carolina, about the dramatic rise in the last 15 or so years in the percentage of kids who snack every day.

At both of my kids’ schools, mid-morning and late-afternoon snacks are an accepted and expected part of the daily routine for all of the children, who range in age from 3 or younger at Daniel’s pre-school, up to sixth grade at Willie’s elementary school. Every day without fail, they are presented with a “child-friendly” snack, usually crackers or Goldfish or Teddy Grahams, string cheese or a popsicle if it’s a big occasion, within about an hour and a half on either side of lunchtime. Is it any wonder that the moms grumble that the kids don’t eat or finish their lunch?

What concerns me about this is not that this new eating style exists, and seems to work, for some children and their families. It’s the fact that parents like me who prefer that their kids do limit their eating to “mealtimes” as much as possible, are forced to contend with such a barrage of snack offerings that it’s almost impossible to keep our kids we could just throw in the towel and When did this line of thinking become so outside of the mainstream?

I am also concerned that leaders of schools, sports organizations, Sunday school classes, playgroups and other places where children gather are serving up these snacks with such frequency, for all the wrong reasons. I detail much of this in my book, “My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything.”

There is no positive nutritional argument to be made for dishing out pre-packaged, processed food products, especially when they take the place of better foods that may be served at mealtime. Yes, little kids with little stomachs need to eat more frequently than do older kids, but that is obviously not what is driving this snacking obsession, or the practice would be phased out by the elementary years.

“Maybe it’s something for the kids to look forward to during the day?” one mother that I discussed this with suggested. But I bet I’m not the only parent who hopes that if my kids are looking forward to eating, it’s not shelf-stable crackers or applesauce that they are craving!

No, I think the real reason that that every group or organization associated with kids continues this “We. Must. Feed. Them.” practice is simply because it has become a habit. A habit that most likely started out with far less prevalence and impact, but one that has expanded over time to the point that it has become a part of any activity where two or more children gather. It’s cheap, it’s easy, the kids like it and it provides a few mindless moments of down time. And if the result is that the child doesn’t eat his lunch or dinner, well, that’s something that the parents can deal with at home.

Let me know what you think about kids and snacking at school, particularly if you have older ones. I know I’m not the only parent around who thinks it’s time for us to start questioning this practice, rethinking this “habit”

It’s Time for a Snack!

September 13, 2010 by

This is an article on kids and snacking that I wrote for Washington Parent magazine. Let me know your thoughts about kids and snacking, and next week I’ll post more comments.

I was discussing plans for an afternoon pre-schooler event with some neighborhood moms: crafts, games, singing. And inevitably someone asked, “What about the snack?”

If you’re the parent of a young child, you’ve probably noticed that just about every activity involving little kids seems to involve some period of time for eating, no matter what time of day it happens to be. Why, I’ve wondered, does every kiddie event have to include a serving of food? At what point do children outgrow their nutritional need for daily noshes, rendering ongoing snacking more of a habit? And perhaps most important, what implication does day-long eating have on common parental concerns, ranging from childhood obesity to Picky Eating?

Fascinated by this trend, I started researching the issue. What I learned in numerous interviews with leading pediatricians, dietitians, scientific researchers and others is detailed in my book My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything. (Bull Publishing) I discovered that a lot has changed in the word of childhood eating, and especially snacking, even in the last fifteen or so years.

For one thing, it’s not your imagination: There really are a lot more kiddie snack products on the market today than ever before, churned out at a relentless pace by a food processing industry eager to bank on the presumed need for parental “convenience” products. American food companies have introduced over 600 new children’s food products since 1994, half of them candies or chewing gum and another quarter other types of salty or sweet snacks.

What has also changed over the last quarter century is the number of structured activities for young children, most of which provide an opportunity for a snacking break. Kids go from one organized event to another, often starting as young as their daycare years. Adults who supervise these activities rely on a set snack time as an integral part of the program. In talking to some of these teachers and administrators, many acknowledged that often the kids aren’t particularly hungry or are asking for snacks. But there they are, anyway.

Should we as parents be concerned about all of this perpetual eating?

Perhaps, say experts like Barry Popkin, PhD, of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who in March published the first real research about American children’s snacking habits. Among all kids, ages 2 – 18, Popkin found that:

 Kids are consuming almost three snacks a day, accounting for 27% of their daily caloric intake. (That’s in addition to three standard meals a day.)
 Sweetened beverages and desserts remain the top snacking items, but salty snacks and candy are gaining ground.
 The prevalence of children-who-snack at least sometimes went up from 74% in the 1970’s, to 98% in 2006.
 Kids ages 2 – 6 have the highest number of snacks per day.
 Children take in 168 more calories per day as snacks than they did in 1978.
 Thirty years ago, children were eating more whole fruit as snacks. Now, they are drinking more fruit juice as a snack.

Popkin’s real concern? That children are actually losing the ability to discern hunger cues – to even know when they are hungry – because snack foods are available so often!

One problem we face is the lack of guidance and information from the medical and food communities on the need for children to snack. We are told that our newborn needs to eat every two hours, day and night – which is a lot, as any new mom can confirm. Then, just a few months later, that infant may drop a nighttime feeding or two, and be down to eight or so feedings a day. Gradually, as he starts on solids, he will begin to adopt an eating schedule more like everyone else’s in the family, perhaps with a pediatrician-recommended morning and afternoon snack. But at some point, these snacks become unnecessary, and perhaps even a deterrent to healthy eating at mealtime.

For Snack Parents at school or when preparing snacks for younger children at home, the best advice seems to be: Keep them healthful, which means keep them as natural and unprocessed as possible. “When your kids are snacking, avoid the typical ‘kiddie’ snack foods like Goldfish crackers, fruit roll-ups, and juice boxes, that are loaded with carbs and provide only a quick and empty calorie boost,” says Patricia Bannan, MS, RD, author of Eat Right When Time is Tight. “Just like adults, ideal snacks for kids include a mix of protein and fiber.”

And don’t forget that these more healthful snacks provide kids with something equally important: The opportunity to experience a range of tastes and flavors in their foods.

Making Snack Time a Healthful, Tasty Time

Here are some suggestions for kids’ snacks that are big on flavor and nutrition:

Whole Fruits — Move beyond popular children’s foods like apples, grapes and bananas. More unusual fruits like kiwi, papaya, pineapple chunks, mangoes, cherries and blackberries, will provide flavor and texture variety. Focus on local, seasonal fruits to ensure that you are getting top-quality taste-wise.

Cheese and Crackers — Nix the Ritz crackers and packaged string cheese in favor of a better-tasting and more wholesome snack. Serve small portions of quality parmesan, goat, mozzarella and other mild cheeses, along with whole wheat, sesame and other interesting crackers.

Yogurt – Compare the sugar content of most children’s yogurts to yogurts in the adult product category; you’ll see a big difference in the sweetness factor. Serve your kids Greek yogurt, topped with a spoonful of granola or dried fruit.

Crunchy Vegetables – Slice carrots, celery and bell peppers, along with radishes, zucchini and even broccoli and cauliflower. Emphasize the crunch factor as part of the fun of eating.

Go Nuts – Assuming there are no allergies, of course, tree nuts are among the healthiest and satiating snacks for both kids and adults. Try in-shell pistachios, which taste great and are fun to pop open.

Edamame – Steam and serve with small pinch of sea salt.

Hummus – Try pita roll-ups spread with hummus, bean sprouts and a few drops of olive oil.

A Late Summer Labor Day Meal

September 6, 2010 by

This Labor Day holiday weekend, our family has enjoyed burgers on the grill, watermelon, bar-be-que, peach cobbler and last-summer picnic foods. And in the coming weeks, I’m trying to take advantage another seasonal treat: vegetables like zucchini, tomatoes and corn, as well as herbs like basil and oregano, that are thriving now and should be around through early fall.

If you’re ever going to get your children to try and like vegetables, now is the time to do it. All you need is some of this tasty local produce, which should be available at your farmer’s market if not your own yard, and perhaps a new cooking method or recipe that will appeal to everyone in the family, including your kids.

Today I’m sharing one of my family’s all-time favorite late-summer recipes. This is an almost one-dish meal that is simple and fast to make; the whole thing cooks in the microwave. And it features chicken tenders, one of my favorite parts because they are easy to cook and eat.

Here’s a recipe for a simple, almost one-dish dinner that uses the best of summer produce. Try it and let me know if your kids like it as much as mine do!

1.5 pounds chicken tenders
8-10 fresh basil leaves
3-4 sprigs fresh oregano
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon capers
Juice from one large lemon
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 ears fresh corn, kernels scraped off
1 medium zucchini
2 large tomatoes, chunked

In food processor, combine basil, oregano, mustard, capers, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Chop quickly. Slowly add olive oil and process until dressing is smooth.

Place chicken tenders in large bowl, add about one half of the dressing and toss well to coat. Let chicken marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes. In medium bowl, combine corn, zucchini and tomatoes.

Tear four large pieces of parchment (about 12” x 12” each.) Place chicken tenders in center of parchment paper, divided equally among the four pieces. Divide vegetables in the same manner and place on top of chicken tenders. Fold up sides of parchment paper to form sealed pockets.

Place pockets (2 at a time) in microwave oven; microwave on high for 6 minutes. Open steaming packets and serve cooked contents on top of -brown rice. Top chicken, vegetables and rice with remaining dressing.

What’s In the Lunch Box – Part 2!

August 30, 2010 by

So what are some good ideas for healthy, tasty, affordable, easy-to-make lunches to stash in your children’s lunch bags or boxes? If that isn’t narrowing enough, often there is no refrigeration available, so the food has to be OK at room temperature for several hours. And of course there is the final factor: The kids have to actually want to eat it.

I’ve struggled with this over the last two years that my oldest son has been taking his lunch to school, and expect it to only compound this year as my little one heads off for pre-school. Too often, my lunch bag lunches end up being a rotating cycle of turkey-and-cheese-and-then- ham-and-cheese sandwiches, plus a piece of fruit and maybe some cut-up carrots. No wonder the boys are really sick of this by the end of the week!

This year, I’ve vowed to do better, on both the health and the “taste” fronts. I’ve talked to a lot of mothers who are more creative about this kind of thing than I am, and researched a bit online and in some cookbooks. Here are some ideas I’m actually looking forward to trying:

 Frozen, shelled edamame (soy beans), stored in a plastic bag or container. They will thaw out by lunchtime and provide a cruncy, delicious source of protein.
 Pita bread and tortilla wraps as an alternative to bread. Fill them with purchased spreads like hummus or guacamole, and add chopped or sliced tomatoes. Finish off the pita bread with golden raisins, and the tortilla wrap with sliced olives.
 Almond butter, soy butter, cashew butter… anything but peanut butter, just for the sake of something new! These are just as delicious with a favorite jam or jelly.
 Couscous or quinoa salads, packed in a small plastic container. Season up anyway that you like with chopped fresh fruits, dried fruits like cranberries or raisins, and chopped fresh herbs like basil. Add in drained chick peas for a protein boost.
 Hard boiled eggs. If you want to go the route of egg salad but worry about using mayonnaise without a way to keep the sandwich cool, substitute mustard and use relish with juices.
 You can’t go wrong with fruit, but at least once in a while, try something beyond the standard roll of apple, pear or grapes. Things like kiwi, as well as chunks of pineapple, mango or papaya may be a hit with your kids and at least will provide a little variety.
 If your kids like raisins, they will most likely go for other dried fruits. Try dried apricots, cranberries and slices of dried apples.
 If it is a turkey and cheese sandwich day, change another element of the sandwich. Try arugula instead of lettuce, or mustard in place of mayonnaise. Add sliced tomatoes and/or pickles, and a piece of bacon instead of cheese.
 If the kids insist on cheese (and at some point, mine always do), think about the taste factor; cheese is a great food to expand the range of eating. String cheese may be cheap and easy, but it’s also extremely bland, as are packaged slices of American cheese that are on many sandwiches. Instead, go for Monterey Jack, good cheddar, Parmesan or other better cheeses. A smaller serving will suffice, and the difference in quality is amazing!
 Finally, if you do have time to put together a small sandwich recipe, here is one using tuna that my kids love:

1 can (9.75 oz) tuna fish, well-drained
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
½ cup chick peas, drained and mashed
½ cup currants (or golden raisins)
½ teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup sliced or slivered almonds
2 stalks celery, chopped finely
1 – 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Mix all ingredients together in small bowl. Serve in pita pockets

What’s in the Lunch Box?

August 23, 2010 by

Boys' Lunch Boxes, Ready to Go!

Is it back to school time at your house? If so, you’re probably jumping back into the morning chore that we parents may thankfully get a break from all summer: packing the kids’ lunches. I don’t know about you, but I’m not afraid to say that it’s not one of my favorite Mom roles! And that as much as I want my boys to have a healthy and tasty lunch, too often the convenience factor wins out when I find myself searching for lunchbox ideas.

For my book, “My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything,” I interviewed about 50 chefs across the country who have little kids themselves. These are people who know the value in teaching their kids to eat decent, healthy foods, but as busy , working parents, they’re as strapped for time as the rest of us. So I asked them about school lunches: What do they pack in those lunch boxes and bags?

I thought it was interesting that I got about a 50 – 50 split. There were those that said that they really worked to make their kids’ lunches a little different, interesting and tasty, and those that have thrown in the towel and pack a standard turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich most days.

Dan Sachs of Bin 36 in Chicago is one chef who puts forth extra effort at home to send his little ones off with tasty treats for lunchtime. “It’s a pain in the butt to do that as a parent, to have creative lunches, but for better or worse, I don’t give them the same lunch every day. I want them to be excited about what they are having,” he said.

Equally adamants were chef-parents like Steve Chiappetti of Viand, also in Chicago. When it comes to school lunches for his eight-year-old daughter, he says that is one thing he doesn’t fool around with. “It’s PB&J and things like that for school,” Chiappetti told me. “We stick to the norm. We don’t want her to be in school and have people say ‘what is that?’ We want her to eat.”

Next week, I’ll post some ideas for your kids’ school lunch boxes, including some great idea from my book given to me by these chefs. I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for healthy, tasty lunch foods that your children look forward to.

Summer Veggies At Their Best

August 16, 2010 by

Daniel shucks some corn.

If there is any time of the year that is best to try to entice your little ones to try vegetables, it’s now: mid-August, when the summer bounty is at its peak. Squash, eggplant, tomatoes, okra, corn, beans: They all should be in abundance now at your farmer’s market, roadside stand or grocery store, tasting their very best. Now you just have to convince your kids of that!

As I write in my book “My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything,” children’s rejection of vegetables is a problem that just about every parent will encounter at some point along the way. Most uncooked vegetables, particularly dark green vegetables, have a sharp (or bitter) flavor that takes little palates some time to get used to. And too often, we parents give up in exposing our kids to these vegetables, instead of purposefully working to teach them to like them.

I give lots of tips for this in my book. One of the best is to emphasize vegetable exposure in a seasonal manner, so you can be sure that your kids are really getting the very best in terms of freshness and flavor. There is simply nothing like a perfect August tomato; let your kids try them on their sandwiches and take the time to point out how good they taste. Here are some other examples:

 Corn on the cob is a great food for little kids; one that can really engage them. Children as young as two can help you shuck, and they all enjoy eating right off the cob.
 Same thing with green beans: Let your kids help you string them!
 If you’re trying something that may present a new texture, like eggplant, cut the pieces into very small bites and make sure that kiddie bites are well-cooked, even more so than are yours. Don’t be afraid to sauté in olive or canola oil to soften the vegetables and add a familiar flavor.
 Often, the problem with kids eating vegetables is simply the preparation. Summer is the perfect time to try something a little different, like grilling vegetables. Slice up some bell peppers or zucchini and put them right on the grill with your burgers and hot dogs.

If you can get your child to taste and perhaps even like one new vegetable this summer, you’re doing well! Just remember to build on that: Remind him the next time how much he liked that squash or green beans when he tried them. Serve fresh vegetables often this month, when they are really at their best. And this is also a good time to make the point that vegetables are seasonal and we won’t have them again in this top form for another year.