Monday, February 15, 2016

Cooking While Parenting

It's been a loooong time...years, in fact, since I've last posted. I'd love to think you've all been waiting with bated breath for a new post, but I doubt that's true. And perhaps this post will only appeal to some of you, but this is my new reality, so I have to write about it: cooking for a toddler. Yes, more difficult, readers, than splitting the atom, I assure you. Where once I imagined my son was a gourmand, I've come to realize that if he could, he'd happily live off pizza and Honey Bunnies. Wait, can he live off pizza and Honey Bunnies?? Because there are days where that seems to be all he'll eat. And even though I know he won't starve or die from malnutrition, it still kills me that he won't eat a vegetable. It kills me that he spits out the "green stuff" (nothing worse than basil!) in the sauce or that he can find the tiniest piece of onion in anything and somehow manage to extricate it from the food it's in, like tying a cherry stem in a knot in your mouth, and deposit it on the floor. It simply kills me.

So what's a parent to do? We've all read that it can sometimes take 10 tries with a new food for a toddler to accept it, but I just don't have the stamina for that. And we all have friends whose kids will eat anything, putting ours to shame (How does this happen?! And is it every kid but mine?). And then there are all those good-for-you foods that come in cute shapes meant to trick kids into liking them, or at least tolerating them, and I've tried those too. They tend to work for about 45 seconds in our house and then it's over. So short of bribing, cajoling, screaming, crying and eating everything myself, I've resorted to ice pops. Yes, ice pops -- after breakfast, after lunch and dinner, in between and sometimes before bed. But before you stop reading, rest assured that these are the good-for-you sort of pops, and our one rule is that they're never a meal themselves, but they are an anytime treat.

Zoku Fish Pop Molds
A friend in passing mentioned that she makes pops for her son and uses the Zoku pop molds. They're cute and easy to use, they come in a few different designs and can be found on Amazon, and it's one gimmick that actually worked for us and has continued to work (key). My son thinks he's getting one over on us because we always say yes to a pop (but only after he's finished his meal), and I feel great knowing that there's nothing rotten in them. Here's how I do it and a few tried and true varieties:

Frozen fruit works great in these -- I usually buy frozen berries, nuke them until they're slightly soft (about a minute or so) and puree them in the food processor.

I always add a banana for sweetness. I let them practically rot on the kitchen counter and then freeze them. Nuke them for 30 seconds or so, peel and puree.

100% juice (blueberry, carrot or whatever other sort works for your child) can be added to enhance the flavor or stretch out the puree.

A squeeze of lemon juice adds a nice tartness to the pops.

VEGETABLES! I've added butternut squash, zucchini and carrots with great success. Again, cook in microwave until soft and puree. I keep batches of pureed vegetables in the freezer to add to the pops (and sauce, as it turns out, which works well), which saves a lot of time. You would be hard pressed to know there are vegetables in these pops, and even a toddler wouldn't know. My son once ate so many of the carrot pops that his poop was orange the next day. Success!

And here are some of his favorite varieties:

Banana, pineapple, carrot
Blueberry, strawberry, banana, butternut squash
Blueberry, banana, carrot
Banana, strawberry, zucchini
Mango, banana, butternut squash

A word on sugar. I rarely, if ever, add sugar to these pops. The banana takes care of the sweetness, but if you must, try coconut sugar, which is a healthier option than refined, white sugar.

Other healthy additions include almond or peanut butter, Greek yogurt, pumpkin puree and ground nuts.

The cute shapes are perfect for toddlers
So this might not be revolutionary, and I might not be the next James Beard recipient, but this has given me a lot of relief in the toddler food department.

Have good ideas for getting kids to eat their vegetables? Please share!

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