By Tracey Bush (bio below)
The good news is that I have come to bring you a glimmer of hope, even if it’s a temporary glimmer. You can learn to cook kid friendly meals for all your picky eaters and stay sane at the sane time! I am the mother of a child with food allergies, specifically peanuts, eggs, uncooked dairy, watermelon, shellfish and a gluten intolerance. In basic terms, this means I cook A LOT. The definition of a lot is “to a very great degree or extent”…this does not quite sum it up for me. When you are the mother of a food allergic child, it’s not a trend, not a passing fad or new diet- it’s an entirely new lifestyle. There is no going back if it doesn’t work for you because it’s the difference between being healthy and being sick. BUT (this is the glimmer I mentioned) it is something that will catch you by surprise at just the right times in your life when you really, REALLY need it to. There will be a time that this will happen when you’ve been up all night worrying or spent ten days scouring over cookbooks and googling recipes and your brain is so tired that you wish with all of your mommy heart that your child could wake up and be free of all of the food allergies that they have. Then, in the middle of the chaos of the day, your child will come to you and say “This cupcake is awesome mom! It even looks better than the ones they all have. Thank you.” Your heart will melt, you will get the best hug in the world and then you will feel inspired to cook more…well, for the time being.
1) Simple Things Count: There are some things that I have used that work from time to time with my children. I will admit, these methods do not always work and they may even work intermittently on some days, weeks, and months but then not again until the following year. The trick is not to agonize over making sure your child eats. Simplify breath and remember back to when you were a child and what you liked to eat. As moms, we get so involved in planning, budgeting and recipe-seeking that we forget that sometimes all it takes is a little less involvement from us and more involvement from our children. I do caution you to try these methods on a day when you have some extra patience. As you will see, some of these methods will take longer and you may wind up having a mommy time-out if your goal is to simply feed them and move on.
2) Hidden Help: There is a safe item that you may want to get for your kitchen that will both be safe for your child and also beneficial to getting the right nutrients into their foods. One of these items is a mini chopper like this one or this one. They chop no more than a cup at once but this will be your secret weapon. You see, this is an item that you can set up and ask your child to load up with different “spices”. The mommy definition of “spices” are the green vegetables that you have pureed or finely chopped so that you can add them into your food without the picky eaters trying to gag and make a fuss. What? They don’t believe you? Simply chop up a green veggie in your mini chopper, then reach into your spice rack and pull out anything green..ta-dah! It looks the same. So, you are making a “spice” for the recipe (NOT spinach). I do caution you to watch the blade while your child is helping out because it is very sharp but as long as it’s ready to go, your child can pick something, lock the lid and just push the button as long as they want too.
3) Mini-size it: The next thing should be taking your child out to the store. Let them pick out their own utensils, an apron, mixing bowls and measuring cups. Again, it sounds very simple to us but to them it seems like a fun day out with mom and a new way to be with you in the kitchen. Don’t worry if the apron they choose is 3 sizes too big and don’t try to steer them toward the measuring spoons that will match your décor- just let them choose and watch them be excited to help you. They can even rinse them for you or load them into the dishwasher for you. And when they ask, take them up on it now because in about nine years or so, you will be arguing with them to do it. Online shopping works too! Check out these mod and cute mother-child matching aprons! And what child (or adult for that matter!) can resist helping out in the kitchen using these fishy measuring utensils?!
4) Utensils Can Be Anything: The other thing that my children enjoy doing is eating with different items other than your standard plate and fork. For instance, the first time I used a cocktail toothpick for cut up fruit to make a fruit kabob, my children not only ate all of the fruit but to this day always ask for a toothpick for their fruit. It sounds strange but do I care? The point is that they are eating it. Another thing my son loves to do is to eat out of anything with a handle. Does it taste better? No, but he likes being able to hold whatever he is eating out of. Again, it’s not the proper etiquette that we were all taught but he’s eating and eating happily without a fuss. We spend so much time trying to be the world’s best mom that we forget that our children are still children and that they don’t want to learn how to cut up their meat or how not to slurp their soup. They want to have their soup with a crazy straw and you know what? I let them because, as they suck up their soup in the crazy straw (these reusable spelling straws are fun!), they are smiling thinking that they have gotten away with some super secret act that has never been done before. In reality, I sit there and watch them sucking up all of the pureed “spices” that I have put into their soup…you know, since they don’t like vegetables.
5) Mix Your Mixes: My next strategy is based on the famous words of Marie Antoinette ‘Let them eat cake”. Since there are so many ways to hide pureed fruits and vegetables, why not hide them in healthy muffins, breads, pancakes or cupcakes? Yes, usually we are focusing on breakfast foods for breakfast (waffles, cereal, etc) but the next time you ask your child what they want for breakfast and they say cake, say “Ok” and see what they do. Banana bread hides tons of great foods (pureed apple, carrot, sweet potato) and if you top it off with some tasty crumbs of cinnamon and sugar, yum! Instant cake! If you really wanted to be a cool mom, you could keep chocolate syrup or vanilla frosting on hand and add just a smidge of that as well. I know, not the best thing in the world but if you do it just once in awhile, it will make your child’s morning. For some fun cook books to consider, check out Jennifer’s recommendations HERE.
6) Play Vacation: Ready for something utterly simple and free? One summer, we were on a tight budget so I had to improvise our vacation week. I thought about what my kids liked about hotels and just not being at home for vacation. I came up with what we call “hotel it up”. All you need is a computer, a printer, paper and a little imagination. Simply Google a template for a door hanger and decorate it for your child. Then add different selections for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can be as detailed as you like. I have found that it is preferred to make a very detailed door hanger, which includes little check boxes for the items they would like for that meal. Don’t forget to include condiments (don’t ask me why but apparently salt, pepper and ketchup are important). Print them out and hand them on your kid’s door knobs when they are sleeping the night before. When it’s breakfast time, bring them breakfast on a tray complete with a cloth napkin and maybe even a small container with a flower in it. Come on now, you can’t tell me that you don’t enjoy being pampered sometimes too! FYI- small, single-serve boxes of cereal are a big hit.
7) Recreate Your Pick Foods: Stock up on surprises-me’s. These are used for days when you are in a not so creative mood but you need your child to eat. My daughter sometimes says “Just surprise me”, so I do. I make her a mini smorgasbord of healthy things. Sometimes it’s not necessarily a meal but again, if it’s healthy and she eats it, why argue? If you have 20 minutes until you have to leave but it’s lunchtime and the kids have not eaten, give them a mini buffet of foods. Grab a container with a few different sections (like this stainless steel bento box) or a plate with those handy toothpicks and fill it up with anything that can be eaten without utensils. Chop up some leftover chicken or ham, make mini stacks of cheese, add a few kabobs or fruit or add a small container of dehydrated fruits and let them enjoy their food. We get excited when we get to have a fancy lunch and to them, anything that is different from your typical “Here’s a sandwich with cut up carrots” is fancy. Fast, easy, healthy and done. Did you run out of bread? Use lettuce to roll up some meat for a sandwich or cut up some apples and let them dip them into a nut or seed butter. Keep it from getting boring.
I will sum it all up in a few simple sentences- be patient, be creative and be just a little bit silly with your children. Always keep in mind that there are times that you, as an adult may want to eat the same meal for one week straight. If it’s ok for you to do it, why isn’t it alright for your child to do that also? Start with what your child will eat and then add on from there. They want pasta but they don’t want green beans. So, ask for their help to make the “spices” for their pasta and add it into their sauce. They want oatmeal but they don’t want any fruit. Pureed fruit can be made into a magical oatmeal decorator if you just put it into a small plastic baggie and snip off a tiny bit of the end. They can draw their own fruit onto their oatmeal. They are only children for a small amount of time. Life goes by at such a busy pace that we forget the simple things all of the time. Feeding your child is necessary but nourishing your child and having them be healthy and happy while you are doing it is a feeling that will leave your heart fulfilled.
How to you feed your picky eaters? Do yo have some favorite recipes to share?
Bio: Tracy Bush is the founder and President of Nutrimom, Inc., a consulting business that specializes in food allergies and helps to provide guidance and support for anyone that has been diagnosed with food allergies. She consults with a variety of people of all ages and has previous work experience with a Medical Doctor in New Jersey. Her experience began prior to starting her business when her own son was diagnosed with multiple food allergies that were life-threatening.
Tracy now resides in North Carolina with her husband and two children. Most recently, her blog was nominated on The Babble List for Top 100 Food Blogs of 2011, of which has maintained her nomination within the top three ranking. She was also recognized in the October 2011 issue of Bon Appetite magazine as well as People magazine for her personal quote that was used as part of Alexia Foods marketing. Both her blog and her Facebook page continue to gain recognition each month as her fan base continues to grow. Tracy has informational flyers available at several Doctors offices throughout the Winston-Salem area and plans to do more work for the community. Next year, Tracy will be seeking a publisher for her book titled “The Stepping Stones to Food Allergies”, a resource guide for the initial phase of food allergies.