I had always wished I could write with Erma Bombeck’s or Click and Clack’s of Car Talk sense of humor since much of child rearing as a single parent was intense, insane, riotous and funny. A good deal wasn’t funny but I figured Erma or Tom and Ray would manage to find plenty of humor in the day-to-day stresses of parenting. Although I don’t write like my idols, I am delighted that two of my children possess their sense of humor. This past Mother’s Day, four of my five children were here, and as is often the case, we reminisced about their younger days, growing up with their crazy, macro-neurotic mom. I am blessed to say that now we all sit around laughing over the past, holding our tummies with tears of laughter streaming down our cheeks. You’ll recognize us at family gatherings. As everyone else quietly discusses serious things, my kids and I are the ones at the end of the table hysterical, laughing away. I have manifested Erma, Tom and Ray.
My children now range in ages from 24 – 35. I find each of my children to be amazingly wonderful adults, each with their own quirks, as we all have, and each has become successful and happy. In retrospect, I recognize many things I would never do again had I the chance, and the things that I applaud myself for persevering through. I only hope my children will listen to their mother’s sage advice in the future. But as my own mother said, “I was determined not to make the mistakes of my mother, and I don’t think I did. I made my own!” Yup, I agree mom. I made plenty of my own.
But, I digress. I am supposed to be writing about food – I’m getting there.
I firmly believe a parent’s job is to set the standards for behavior and health in the home, which I took seriously. I praise myself for insisting on family meals and healthy foods at the table, every meal, every day. There were no options. Junk food and cane sugar was not permitted in the house. Yes, they would sneak it in and hide it in their bedrooms and then I would throw it out when I found it. A bit of an irritating game on both our parts.
I might upset a lot of people here, but I don’t believe in the philosophy of hiding healthy foods within other foods to get kids to eat. Doing this, we are still just catering to the whims of kids, allowing them to eat a horde of processed foods (although homemade), often filled with some sort of sugar. Muffins, cakes and cookies that include beans and veggies are really not the same as eating a plate of steamed broccoli or squash or lentil soup. Vegetables are one of the most important foods that children should enjoy from an early age.
There is a direct correlation with the practice of parents allowing children to choose what they want to eat and the rise of childhood diabetes, childhood obesity and many other, never before existent, childhood maladies. The worst thing for children’s health is the invention of child-friendly food. The kid friendly peanut butter is the one loaded with sugars, oils and a whole bunch of other not too good for you ingredients. Doesn’t sound too friendly to me.
My rule of thumb is threefold. Prepare something that you know your child loves. This shows your child that you care about them and want them to be happy and satisfied. Prepare something that the child can choose not to eat, which acknowledges the importance of control and choice. Lastly, have something for which there is no choice, often a vegetable dish. I’d say, “Sweetie, you’re eating it, like it or not.” Hey, if I only ate what I “wanted” I’d eat chocolate all day, preceded by pasta, or just yogurt. Actually if it was up to me, I’d never cook again as long as I lived. But the option would lead to illness, which is not an option I’m interested in, so I cook, like it or not.
Now, I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t cater to my children at all. I did, by making sure there were always foods on the table that they would enjoy. But these were healthy dishes that the entire family would also enjoy. For some reason around age two, many children get a bit picky. Ahhh, those wonderful “terrible twos”. I remember them well. Children test boundaries to see how far they can push before we crack. I found this to be a critical time to ensure children continue to eat what is presented to them. To get my children to eat their veggies at a young age I would make special sauces and dips, I’d put veggies on skewers and find a variety of ways make the vegetables more interesting. I was more careful using salt for young children than for my teens. Younger children cannot tolerate salt well. Packaged food is loaded with sodium – a good reason to avoid it.
I know from my own experience, and that of like-minded parents, that when healthy eating standards are set at home, long-term health is often the result. Every parent I know who stuck to these rules, set vegetable based meals on the table, kept the junk food out of the house and had family meals, found their kids were a pleasure with which to share a meal. Their children ate most everything on their plate with a smile and asked for more. Compare this to the fate of children who are pampered at mealtime and allowed to set their own food agenda. The national statistics on childhood obesity and disease say more than I ever could.
Sometimes what is easier in the short run is difficult in the long run. Setting these standards at home, when the majority is not having family dinners, is having instant mac and cheese, and lunchables is not easy. Honestly, is processed food which lasts for years on a shelf, consisting of who knows what, really good to give to your kid for lunch? This is incomprehensible. Parenting isn’t easy; a lot of it is hard, very hard. Going against the grain is hard. But the fact that my kids had very few illnesses and were only in the doctor’s office to get their annual exams paid off. Now, as adults, my children value eating a healthy diet and recognize that their current health is attributed to how they grew up. Hey, if I could do it raising five as a single working mom, so can you! Get creative and you can do it. Their health makes all the hard stuff worthwhile.
Here are some sauces, dips and spreads that my children enjoyed with veggies. I made my own, controlling the salt content and eliminating sugars found in most sauces available in markets. Most of these sauces will keep in the fridge for a week or so.
White Bean Dip
1 (15 oz) can organic white beans such as cannellini, navy or great northern, drained
OR 1-½ cups cooked dried white beans
1 – 2 cloves minced garlic (optional for young children)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (or more to taste)
1/3-cup organic olive oil
small handful up to ¼ cup fresh basil
salt to taste
Optional ingredients: a little freshly ground organic black pepper, 1 teaspoon dried oregano
Put the ingredients into a food processor. Pulse until all ingredients are well blended. Serve with steamed or lightly boiled veggies. What could be easier?
For peanut allergies try cashew butter or sunflower butter instead of peanut butter.
1 c Organic Peanut Butter
1/4 c Organic Chickpea or White Miso
2 T Organic Brown Rice Vinegar
2 T Organic Shoyu or Wheat Free Tamari
1/4 c Organic Brown Rice Syrup
3 T Toasted Sesame oil
Juice of 1 large Orange
lemon juice to taste
lime juice to taste
Optional ingredients: 2 cloves garlic, minced, 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, 1 tablespoon or more chopped cilantro and or scallion.
If you are avoiding soy use the chickpea miso and replace the shoyu or tamari with a small amount of sea salt.
Put the ingredients into a food processor. Pulse until all ingredients are well blended. Serve with steamed or lightly boiled veggies. Easy, breezy: Stores for at least a week or more.
This is a lovely sauce created by my friend’s daughter Mowenna when she was 10.
It’s great on tempeh, tofu, pasta and diluted more as a dip for veggies! Make a lot and keep it on hand in the fridge.
1/2-cup organic shoyu or wheat free tamari
1/2-cup Suzanne’s organic brown rice syrup
1/2-cup organic balsamic vinegar
1 T fresh grated ginger
1 – 5 cloves garlic, minced
You might find that the proportion of the ingredients needs some tweaking depending on the brand of ingredients that you use. Each brand has a different flavor.
Mix all the ingredients. That’s it! It’s really yummie!
Add more water for younger children.
Brown Rice Crispy Treats
It’s nice to be able to give kids a snack they love and that is really not very bad for them. We all need a something a little sweet sometimes
4 cups Erewhon Organic Brown Rice Crispies
2 cups Suzanne’s Ricemellow Cream – made from rice syrup and pretty amazing
¼ cup any Nut Butter
Put the Brown Rice Crispies into a bowl.
Heat the Ricemellow Cream and the nut butter in a saucepan until it becomes hot and creamy. Stir constantly while you are heating it.
Mix with the rice crispies.
Dampen your hands and press into a square Pyrex pan. Let it cool.
Couldn’t be easier, there’s no cane sugar and kids love it!
Raisins, currants and nuts are a nice addition to this. Or of course there are always chocolate chips. To keep it sugar free use the Sunspire grain sweetened chocolate chips. If your child has wheat allergies than leave the chips out. The gluten chips are have a bit of cane sugar in them.