From Picky Eater to Squid Eater
“Holidays” are a great excuse to introduce your kids to new foods. Yes, I’m using air quotes as I type. Cinco de Mayo–literally, the 5th of May–is an American invention (granted, there was a battle in Puebla, Mexico, in 1862 where the much smaller Mexican army defeated a large French force). But you won’t find any big celebrations in Mexico, outside of Puebla, to honor Cinco de Mayo. Nope, as a couple of writers recently put it: “Cinco is as American as apple pie. So is the U.S. Hispanic melting pot.”
Whew, with that out of the way, it’s time to move on to the good stuff–getting your would-be picky eaters to sample something new.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Swap the cheese
Queso fresco, a fresh Mexican cheese (I know, that’s pretty much a direct translation, but it’s true), tastes like a cross between feta and mozzarella with a hint of ricotta thrown in. The cheese usually comes in a solid circle that you crumble up to put on enchiladas, nachos, tacos, tostadas…you get the idea.
Picky eater tip: We call this ‘crumble cheese’ at our house for good reason–you have to crumble it before you use it. Perfect. Kid. Job. Ask your child to be the official crumbler and when she wants to sample what’s all over her fingers, say, Yes!
Bag the regular tortilla chips
My all-time favorite tortilla chips are El Milagro tortilla chips. No Tostitos. No Santitas. Not even Xochitl come close. Ahem, yes, I get a bit particular about my tortilla chips. Get this, there are all of four ingredients in El Milagro tortilla chips–stone ground corn, corn oil, sea salt, calcium hydroxide (it helps glue the corn together according to the all-knowing folks at Wikipedia). And the chips are thicker, heartier than your standard “restaurant-style” chip. Admittedly, El Milagro can be hard to find–I see them most often in Mexican grocers, but they’re starting to pop up in larger grocery chains too. Look for them!
Picky eater tip: Dip it! Give your kids some salsa for their chips and let them dip away.
Use corn tortillas
Toast them! Please. Corn tortillas are bland and caulk-like until you toast them and then something magical happens–they become entirely different in flavor, texture, aroma. It only takes a few minutes to toast up a stack of corn tortillas. Then try out your favorite taco fixins’ in the toasted corn tortillas instead of the stale, hard-shelled kind.
Picky eater tip: Break out the cookie cutters. You can make small shapes in the corn tortillas (before or after toasting). Granted, your filling may fall out of the tortillas with too many openings, so you might want to keep the cookie cutting to a few conveniently placed shapes. I use my linzer cookie cutters from King Arthur Flour.
Make your salsa
Homemade salsa is simple to make, really. You can keep it basic and just chop up tomatoes, onions, fresh jalapeno chiles, and cilantro for a pico de gallo. If you want more of a authentic salsa consistency, put all of the pico de gallo fixins’ into a blender with a little lime juice for a thinner salsa.
Picky eater tip: Have your kids help you make the salsa. When my kids have friends over, we often whip up salsa together. I let them cut up the ingredients and adjust the seasonings.
Bring on the cumin
Add something new to your standard Tex-Mex recipes–ground cumin. You can find cumin in pretty much any grocery store. Sprinkle in cumin with your taco fillings, guacamole, salsa.
Picky eater tip: Your kids aren’t likely to notice this subtle seasoning added in. But it will give your Mexican dishes and added depth and more authentic flavor.
Your turn: Are you planning a special meal for Cinco de Mayo?
Here’s a quick way to add some ambiance to a family meal that you want to make a little special (and yes at my house it’s required that you say ambiance with a fake French accent–the worse it sounds, the better).
I have my kids cut up fruit into small pieces to put into water goblets. Add seltzer (or club soda) water and you’ve got a fancy, colorful drink.
I’ve found some kids are reluctant to try seltzer water (La Croix is my favorite). The sugarless, fizzy water is an acquired taste but it’s such a great replacement for soda it’s worth trying to get your kids to sample it.
How did I get my kids hooked on seltzer water? Well, I used to drink it all the time and my kids would ask for sips. At first they didn’t like it, but I kept drinking it. Fast forward several tries and my kids are regular seltzer drinkers.
If your kids tend to be especially picky, my suggestion is to mix half seltzer water with half juice. We’ve tried the half-half approach with apple, orange, lemonade, grape…and pretty much any other juice we might have on hand (tomato juice the big exception, of course).
Now, I haven’t mentioned the best part–once you’re kids have downed their drink they can eat the fruit. And the fruit will be “fizzified” (yes, it’s true we do make up words at our house). The carbonation in the drink works its way into the fruit giving it a bit of a bubble bite.
This Easter my kids are going to be taking care of breakfast. And yours can too with these easy ideas and recipes:
Yeasted waffles: Let your kiddos mix up the batter and use the waffle iron.
Mini quiches: Encourage your kids to make their own mixins’ like broccoli, cheese, tomatoes, and more.
Mini bread: Yeah, I’m on a mini-streak, but kids love to make things that are their size.
Break out the cookie cutters: Deck out your brunch with cheese, thinly sliced veggies, bread, and other little goodies your kids create.
Appoint a fruit salad crew: My youngest loves to make fruit salads. It doesn’t need to be exotic fruits–apples, bananas, and oranges do just fine.
I’m excited about a new project going on at MKES: Kids’ book reviews. I’ve asked my kiddos to weigh in on their favorite books–with this twist–we’re making recipes inspired by the characters.
One of our favorite series is about a clever girl who discovers she has a hidden talent or two (no wonder my daughter is eager to read each new installment!). But I’ll let my 4th grader explain the rest.
Book Review: Molly Moon
Hi I’m the youngest in our family and I finished the book Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism. It is about an orphan named Molly Moon who has a tough time fitting in. She is picked on by the other kids at the orphanage and the staff there. But all of that changes when she finds a book about real Hypnotism! She then learns how to hypnotize people by studying and studying. Her friend Rockie helps too. Along the way she picks up a loyal companion, a cute dog called Petulia! An a interesting little detail about her is her absolutely favorite food is the weirdest food of all, ketchup sandwiches. She loves them so much she hypnotizes people to give them to her! This book is an amazing book. If you are a person who likes realistic fiction/action/comity/thrilling books this is the book for you. I had a lot of fun reading this book. I would recommend this book to children of all ages. So if you haven’t read this book or any of the thrilling sequels I’d go and get them. If you have read it I’d suggest reading the other books in the series or write back and tell me how it was. I hope you read this amazing book!
The youngest squid eater
Recipe: Ketchup pinwheel sandwiches
*I should mention this was more of an experiment than a culinary delight.
Prep time: 5 minutes (or less)
Servings: As many as you can eat
1 slice bread
1 tbsp. ketchup
- Let your child thwap a piece of bread until it becomes paper thin.
- Slather ketchup onto the bread.
- Starting on one end, roll up the bread (yes, you’ll get ketchup on your fingers).
- Cut the ketchup roll into circles.
- Take a deep breath and try a ketchup roll.
Our verdict on Molly Moon’s favorite food: We decided after sampling ketchup sandwiches (even “fancified” ones as my daughter put it) you’d have to be hypnotized to really enjoy these. Sure, Molly likes the ketchup/bread combo and my daughter said she was glad she gave it a try. But as for becoming a ketchup sandwich fan like Molly, she says she’d rather read about it!
My tween went on a hunt today to find something green to wear tomorrow so that she won’t get pinched on St. Patrick’s Day. Her quest got me thinking that this holiday might just be the perfect
excuse inspiration to encourage kids not just to wear green, but to eat more green.
Here are a few ideas that seem to be working around my house:
Keep it smooth
My teen and youngest are now hooked on my magic smoothies, which include spinach and go from green to red once you add in berries.
Add it in!
Whenever I make pasta I try to throw in some spinach or other greens too. I figure the more my kids see it on their plate, the more likely they are to eat it.
Make it easy
I make little baggies of cut up veggies and put them in the fridge so my kids can grab them as a quick snack.
Use the power of TV
While there are plenty of TV shows and ads that might have your child reaching for junk food–there might just be a few that could encourage them eat their veggies. For example, my youngest is a huge fan of the BBC Merlin series. She’s entranced with all things English. So when I mentioned that there were “English” cucumbers she decided they’re now her favorite.
Be an example
If you like greens, chances are your kids will too.
Part of encouraging kids to try new foods is to get them involved in preparing them. To help my kiddos get comfortable using knives–and to teach them to use them safely–I have them start out with a kitchen knife.
Bananas, strawberries, and English cucumbers are easy enough for kids to cut with a kitchen knife.
For harder fruits and vegetables, I start by cutting the apples, pears, or peppers into large pieces. Then I have my grade schooler cut them into smaller pieces using a serrated knife.
Here’s a few meals that are perfect for your sous-chef-in-training:
Maybe it’s from watching one too many episodes of Popeye growing up, but I love spinach. I try to eat at least a little spinach every day, whether it’s a simple salad, sauteed with pasta, or in smoothies.
So the other day when I was hankering for some summertime flavors, I decided to use some baby spinach as a stand in for part of the basil in a pesto recipe I ran across in Lidia’s Italy in America cookbook. Sure, I mixed in some basil, but the spinach gave the pesto just the right consistency and bright shade of green. As Lidia suggested, I mixed the pesto in with my pasta. We used the extra as a dip for the bread. Next time, I’d skip the pasta and just serve the pesto with the bread. I was literally scrapping the bowl of the food processor with bread to get every last drop–it was that good.
Getting kids to try it tips:
- My youngest will eat just about anything if it’s dippable. She gave the pesto rave reviews.
- My tween isn’t a spinach fan. So I thought I might tempt her to give it a try if I mixed it with something she does like–pistachios. She tried the pesto, said it was, “Okay,” and left the rest untouched on her plate (uh, I ate it later;). She didn’t like it this time, but she was at least willing to give it a try, especially when she knew something she liked was in the mix.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Servings: About 1 cup
1 1/2 cup packed baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves (opt.)
1/4 cup pistachios
1-2 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (opt.)
2/3 cups olive oil
1 tsp. white vinegar (or fresh lemon juice or my preference, white balsamic vinegar)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- In a food processor, pulse together the spinach, parsley, basil, garlic, and pistachios.
- Slowly pour in the olive oil. (In my Cuisinart, you can pour the liquid into the feed tube and it works perfectly.)
- Process the ingredients until smooth.
- Add in the pepper, if using, cheese, vinegar, and adjust the seasoning.
My teen has been going through a quinoa kick lately. After several successful meals with quinoa as a side, usually tabbouleh style–with a vinaigrette dressing, lots of fresh veggies, and a dash of feta–we decided to branch out. She found a recipe for multigrain breakfast bars where you toast uncooked quinoa in the oven along with oats and nuts to make the base of the bars.
I knew the recipe was going downhill when I tried to process the quinoa batter in my food processor. The batter was supposed to start to come together. It stuck. You could hear the little quinoa seeds popping as the blades turned. And turned. Undeterred, we figured that’s just how the batter was supposed to be–thick and unspreadable. Spatula in hand I forced the batter out into a parchment-lined 9 x 13″ baking dish and popped it into the refrigerator, just like the recipe said. Thirty minutes later I tried to cut the quinoa bars into squares. The knife wouldn’t even go in. At all. It was quinoa concrete.
We broke the 9 x 13″ bark apart instead and hopped for the best as my teen and I took bites. I should say nibbles really because that’s all that you could get from these quinoa multrigrain bars. My teen claimed they were okay, but today I tossed out the full bowl of our quinoa multigrain bars. No one had seconds (or really made it through firsts).
I haven’t given up on multigrain bars, just the idea of leaving quinoa uncooked before putting it into a batter. My teen hasn’t asked to try any quinoa recipes since. But I’m set on trying more. That’s part of being an adventurous eater, so you don’t like something uncooked like quinoa, or spinach or tomatoes… Next time try it a new way and maybe you will enjoy it.
Do you have a favorite zucchini bread recipe? I had some extra zucchini on hand this week that needed a home so I used a quick bread recipe from Eating Well. But instead of bread–which takes around an hour to bake–I made muffins instead shaving a good 40 minutes off the cook time.
My kids ate these muffins as dessert after dinner, as treats for school, and after school snacks… Yeah, they really liked these. My youngest even told me these were “the best kiwi muffins, ever.”
Courtesy of Eating Well
Prep time: 15 minutes + 15 cooking
Servings: 18 muffins
3/4 cup low-fat milk
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shredded zucchini (about 2 small zucchini; I used my Cuisinart)
2 cups white whole-wheat flour (I used half whole wheat, half all-purpose)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
My additions (opt.):
1 tablespoon ground flax
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, oil, eggs, vanilla, and sugar.
- Stir the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon together in another bowl.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just moistened.
- Stir the chocolate chips and zucchini into the batter. (You can also stir in the optional additions here too.)
- Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with the batter.
- Bake for around 15 minutes or until just browned (insert a toothpick into the center of a muffin to test for doneness, if the toothpick comes out clean, your muffins are done!).
There’s no better place to inspire your kids to try seafood that right where it’s caught. Sure, the Costco jumbo bags of shrimp are fine, but when you really want fresh fish, you’ve got to have an ocean nearby. So last week while visiting Northern California, I encouraged my kids to eat plenty of fish.
After spending the day at the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium we walked down to the Wharf for dinner. Seafood restaurants line both sides of the Wharf. They also compete for guests by claiming to have the best clam chowder. Each restaurant has a person posted outside during busy times to lure customers inside by giving them chowder samples. We must have sampled around five or six different chowders before settling on Albonetti’s.
While the creamy clam chowder at Albonetti’s quickly became my middle daughter’s favorite (seriously that’s all she had for dinner. The child who hates peanut butter loves clam chowder), their real specialty is squid. Albonetti’s uses squid caught in the Bay and then cleans them fresh daily. Albonetti’s is one of the few restaurants that cleans their own squid–some 1,000 pounds each week. Interestingly, much of the squid caught locally in Monterey Bay is sent overseas for cleaning and packaging before making their way back to area restaurants.
At Albonetti’s fresh squid is a passion (I didn’t realize until the waiter enlightened me that for many Italians, squid is comfort food). They have an entire section of the menu just for different varieties of calamari, from traditional to their own take on Buffalo-style squid.
But the best thing on the menu, and that we sampled during our week in No Cal, was Albonetti’s Marty’s Special. It’s been on the menu since the family-owned restaurant opened over 60 years ago. The waiter literally did a jump of excitement when my oldest daughter ordered it. The squid is prepared like veal Parmesan, breaded and fried and served along with eggplant in a rich marinara that simmers for 10 hours before topping this dish. The tender texture of the squid melds perfectly with the robust flavor of the red sauce and the smattering of melted mozzarella cheese. This is one dish I can’t even attempt to make at home. I did find one recipe for Albonetti’s Marty’s Special online.
Your turn–have you ever found a food that your kids were more willing to eat when you were on vacation? How do you find good places to eat while traveling?