This post was originally published on my other blog, I [Heart] My Life, in June 2012. I'm reposting it here because of its relevance as well as because it is one of my favorites.
I do my best, but I'm not necessarily any more a nutritional wiz when it comes to feeding my kid than anyone else.
Sometimes that means that all she wants to eat for dinner is bread and roasted chicken skin (she actually frequently says lately with a greasy grin, "I'm a chicken skin girl!").
I feel like I'm constantly urging protein and veggies on her. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much. Luckily she loves beans and eggs (hard boiled or sunny-side up, please, but don't even try to give her an omelet or a fritata!). (Since first posting this, she's discovered that she can cook her own scrambled eggs -- with supervision, of course -- and that she likes poached eggs.)
In the past, nori has saved us in the vegetable department: If she's not eating many other vegetables in a given day, at least she's eating sea vegetables!And occasionally we successfully combine eggs (protein!) and nori (veggies!) into this tasty breakfast/snack/lunch/dinner.
But even lately, she's not the nori monster she once was.
Druckerman was discussing the differences between how American children eat and how French children eat. Mainly, that French children eat vegetables and not just pizza, chicken "fingers" and grilled cheese sandwiches. She talked about a given in France (even in preschools!), which is serving food in courses: a vegetable course, followed by main course (that can also include vegetables), and finishing with a cheese course.
A vegetable course! (Que the light bulb over my head.)
I'll tell you why it's brilliant: 1) If you make sure your kid comes to the table hungry, they'll eat the first thing you set before them, 2) if vegetables are all that are available, they'll eat them.
It takes a little bit of planning to space out your dinner into course, but I've seen it payoff so well if the pasta, chicken, potatoes, corn, etc. stays in the kitchen until the first course vegetables are eaten. And they are eaten!
This can work in restaurants, too. Recently Nia and I went to the Crepe Place for dinner. We ordered a steamed artichoke to share and I asked the waitress to wait to bring our main dishes until we'd finished the artichoke. Nia was really hungry, so she dove into the artichoke. As soon as her pasta appeared, though, she was over the artichoke, even though she'd been so into it moments before. Which made me really glad I'd asked for the delay in bringing it. I've also gotten in the habit of asking for the bread to be brought half way through the main course, instead of before or at the beginning.
When Nia and I are eating alone at home for lunch or dinner, it works out well to prepare her vegetable course first and then while she's eating it at our kitchen bar, we can chat while I finish cooking/preparing the main course. A lot of times, she comes into the kitchen wanting a snack 30 min before dinner, claiming she's starving, so the vegetable course has been a great way to be able to say "yes, you can have a snack -- here's your vegetable course!" (Yes, in a super nerdy way we literally call it a "vegetable course." Sometimes she asks if she can have corn for her vegetable and since I've explained that corn is actually a grain, she asks for a "grain course." Tricky girl.)
When introducing this method in your house, I'd recommend starting with the veggies you already know your kid likes. Then branch out from there to introduce other veggies. And remember, just because they didn't like it last week, they might like it now.
In our house, I expect Nia to at least try everything. While she may announce that she still doesn't like beets, she gets excited when she discovers she does like red bell peppers -- it makes her feel like she's growing up. So instead of saying, "I don't like xxx," I'm trying to get her to say something my wise kindergarten teacher taught me 30 years ago: "No thanks, I have not yet learned to like xxx."
Some simple, kid-friendly vegetable course ideas:
~ Steamed artichoke with mayo, butter, or garlicy olive oil for dipping
~ Cooked peas with olive oil and salt
~ Steamed broccoli with cheddar cheese
~ Roasted sweet potato plain or with butter
~ Glazed carrots (combine cut carrots with water, honey, butter and salt in a large skillet; cover and simmer until carrots are tender; uncover and cook until liquid is a syrupy glaze.)
~ Raw or steamed sugar snap peas (it's fun to eat them out of the pod)
~ BBQed green beans
~ Brussels sprouts cooked with a little bacon grease
~ Simple veggie stir-fry (frozen veggie mix stir-fried with 1 tsp of peanut or canola oil; toss with 1 tbsp oyster or hoisin sauce or Soy Vay and 1 tbsp rice vinegar)
One more idea: The wonderful children's cookbook Pretend Soup as several recipes for vegetables that are meant to be mostly cooked (and eaten!) by children. Fun!