goat cheese

I made this with my students at school and they loved it too- so it is kid-tested by many picky eaters.

The secret: honey!

I made step-by-step cards for my students and the boys used those so if you have a bit of extra time to make cards that show each step then you will for sure get participation in the making of dinner and with that comes an extra bonus: kids are more likely to eat what they help cook!

I don’t have great pictures of the steps of the recipe and the pictures don’t have to be well-drawn by any means.  Just go for it; you’ll have fun and your kids will love it along with learning early reading and math skills (that’s the preschool teacher inside me).  Get 4 index cards and draw a picture of 1) knife, cheese, a piece of toast 2) grinding or chopping walnuts and piece of toast 3) a couple of leaves of thyme and toast 4) smiley face and yum!

toastIf they are part of the process, kids will be excited about what is served for dinner.  But make sure that you also have something else with dinner that you know they already like.  This takes the pressure off and allows your kids to just try the new food.  If you force it, it won’t happen.

Make sure also that you eat dinner together as a family.  I can’t stress this enough.  If you make yummy things like goat cheese toasts, then you’ll be more likely to share your meal with your kids and you can all enjoy the food together.  Michael Pollan talks a lot about this and says that sharing meals together is what life is all about.

INGREDIENTS

whole-grain bread, 4 slices, each about 2 1/2 by 5 inches, lightly toasted
fresh goat cheese, 3 oz, at room temperature
walnuts, 1/4 cup  coarsely chopped
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
honey, for drizzling and fresh Thyme leaves

PREPARATION

Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 375°F. Arrange the toasts on a small rimmed baking sheet. Spread the toast slices evenly with the goat 1 cheese, and sprinkle with the walnuts, dividing them evenly. Bake until the walnuts are toasted and the cheese is warm, about 5 minutes.
Transfer the toasts to plates and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle each toast with honey, then sprinkle with the thyme leaves and serve.

I just realized that I toasted them before so that the kids could do the rest of the recipe themselves and then eat them.  But next time I’m going to try the recipe the original way.

This recipe is from Kitchen Garden Cookbook by Jeanne Kelley

family dinner

I was talking with my husband about kids last night and how difficult it is to raise children with drugs, media, violence, diseases, addiction and all the other bad things out there in the world.  We were starting to feel a bit depressed when I remembered that there is one thing that you can do to guard your children against all that.

The Family Dinner

Here are the top 5 reasons why you need to have a family dinner with your children this week:

1) Connection

When you sit down at a dinner table, all facing each other, there will be conversation, questions, and connection.  You will build memories, vocabularies, world knowledge and just know more about each other.  This connection will be with your family through the thick and thin.

2) Screen-free

An important part of the family dinner is to turn off all screens.  Not only does this set a precedent for how to eat with others, it will carve out an automatic screen-free time where everyone can be in the present and not connected to something else.  

 

If there is just one change that you make to create a stronger family, more resilient kids and a better world (corny, I know, but it’s true) then have at least one family dinner this week!

 

3) Nutrition and picky eaters

Do you have picky eaters?  Family dinner is one of the many ways that you can help them, but the most important thing to remember, is no pressure.  When food is presented in an attractive way, everyone is eating it and everyone is happy and comfortable, children are more likely to try it.  That doesn’t mean that they will eat it, or like it, but if a child just tries a bite of food, science shows that after 20 tries, they will like the food.  So don’t pressure them, just enjoy the food yourself and over the years, your children will be less picky.

4) Family stories

One of my favorite New York Times article talks about how children who have more of a foundation can weather trauma better.  So if they have heard more stories about their family and know more details about their parents and their lives, then they have more tools in their toolbox when things get rough.

5) Routine

With routine, you build trust and create rituals that will ultimately build a foundation on which your child can grow.  One of my favorite routines is to have everyone take a deep breath before everyone starts eating (or once everyone is sitting at the table).  “In through your nose” *breathe* “Out through your mouth” *breathe* “Smell the flowers” *breathe* “blow out the candle”.  This daily exercise will not only help you as a parent to relax and ground yourself, but it also teaches your child essential calming skills.

tart 3

OK, so I’ll be honest here; my kids didn’t like this the first time (or two) that we made it.  But now they love it and request it all the time.  It has all the fixin’s that kids love: crispy pastry crust, honey topping and something fried.  It isn’t a weeknight dinner since it takes a couple of steps to prepare, but that being said, it isn’t complicated, just takes a bit more time. 

It is the perfect weekend dish, served with a salad or a steak (or both!!) and I’ve served it at a brunch as well with tons of compliments.  I got the original recipe from Gourmet October 2005.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed (from a 17.3-ounce package)
  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
  • 12 1/8″-thick rounds peeled butternut squash
  • kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 thinly sliced Fresno, jalapeño, or red Thai chile
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 fresh sage leaves
  • 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan
  • black pepper

tart1

Preparation:

    1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (which I didn’t have). Gently roll out 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed (from a 17.3-ounce package) on a lightly floured surface to a 10″ square (just enough to even out). Transfer to prepared sheet.
    2. Brush pastry with 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water. Arrange twelve 1/8″-thick rounds peeled butternut squash (cut from squash’s neck) over pastry, overlapping as needed and leaving a 1/2″ border. Place another sheet of parchment paper over squash.  (oops!  I don’t have parchment paper so I used aluminum foil!!)  Set another large rimmed baking sheet over the tart. (This will weigh down the pastry dough and steam the squash slices.)tart2
    3. Bake until bottom of pastry begins to brown and top begins to puff, about 10 minutes.
    4. Remove top baking sheet and discard top sheet of parchment paper. Brush squash slices with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with kosher salt. Return tart, uncovered, to oven and bake until pastry is deep golden brown and cooked through, 25-30 minutes longer.
    5. Meanwhile, combine 1/4 cup honey, 1 thinly sliced Fresno, jalapeño, or red Thai chile, and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat (add another thinly sliced chile if more heat is desired). Boil until thickened slightly and syrupy, about 6 minutes.
    6. Line a plate with paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small skillet until just beginning to smoke. Add 12 fresh sage leaves; fry until crisp, about 30 seconds. Transfer to paper towels to drain
    7. Slice tart. Arrange 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan on top; drizzle with chile-infused honey. Garnish with fried sage leaves and a few grinds of black pepper.

tart 4

 So don’t despair if they only have one bite the first time or two, keep at it and soon this will be one of your recipes on rotation!

calm

Most parents are wondering what to do when their child is having a tantrum, or what to do when they are hitting.   But a lot of parenting challenges can be resolved when everyone is calm.

Sometimes we don’t take advantage of this time because we might forget. But even more often, we don’t want to “rock the boat” when things are good.  We don’t want to lose the good part by bringing up the bad part.

But don’t be afraid!

There are a lot of things you can do when things are calm to help the times that aren’t calm.

Each situation is a little bit different on how to handle the behavior, but here are ten things you can do when everyone is in a good mood:

1) Teach calming down strategies

The best strategy for calming down is to take a deep breath.  It works for kids, it works for adults.  Young children love imagery so you can say, “Smell the flowers. Blow out the candle.”  You may not think that you have to practice, but when everyone is in the heat of the moment, breathing deeper is a lot harder than you’d think.  If you are eating dinner together, you can start the meal with two deep breaths.  That helps your daily practice, as well as setting the stage for a nice meal.  Another strategy for calming down is taking space.  You can talk to your kids about taking space and how it helps calm you down and then actually act it out.  Pretend that you are upset and then go into your room.  Come out a minute later much calmer and talk about how taking space helped.

2) Read a book together

There are many great anger and tantrum books out there that you can read with your children, but the best book that you can use to help your child is one that you wrote about your situation.  Does your child always get upset about their little brother? Write a book about it with real pictures!  Does your child throw things all the time?  Write a book about it!  Then you can discuss the book and the behavior with your child when everyone is calm.

3) Make a plan about a certain behavior

This one is so important.  Don’t wait until the behavior happens to make a plan.  Make a plan in the morning or evening when everyone is calm.  Start by mentioning the unwanted behavior.  “Do you remember what a tough time we had going to bed last night?  You were fussing about not getting enough water (stories/hugs/potty trips/etc). Let’s make a plan so that it doesn’t happen again tonight.”  Then after you mention the problem, you can start coming up with ideas on how to do things differently this time.  Also come up with a plan if things don’t go well again.

4) Talk about how much we take care of each other

Make this part of your daily routine.  Whenever you see someone helping out, mention it.  “I’m taking care of you guys by making breakfast.  You are taking good care of your kitty by being gentle.  Papa takes good care of us by working so hard.  Thank you for taking good care of your toys.  Your hug just made me feel so good- you take good care of me.”  Being part of a family means taking care of each other and it is good to point out each time it happens.

5) Solve a problem

Solving problems can be fun and when you practice the steps of problem solving, you make it easier to problem solve when times are rough.  First, name the problem “What is the problem?  Our spice drawer is really messy.  What are some solutions?  We could organize all the spices; we could build a spice rack; we could move them to a bigger drawer.  What do you guys think?”

top-ten-things-to-do-when-everyone-is-calm (1)

 

6) Let them overhear about what a good listener/ good problem solver/ good helper they are

My favorite quote is “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice“.  So if a child hears that they are “crazy monsters”, then they will become a crazy monster.  If a child hears that they are a “good helper”  then they become a good helper.

7) Let them see you handle a conflict/ calm down

Modeling behavior is the best way to teach behavior and if you are a parent, chances are, you have gotten angry, upset or overwhelmed recently.  This gives you the perfect situation for modeling how to get out of that mood and it is by calming our bodies.  Once you are upset, talk about it. “I’m really upset right now. I’m going to take some deep breaths to help me calm down.  *breathe in*  *breathe out*  (pause) OK, I’m feeling a little bit more calm now.”

8) Eat a meal together without devices

The best way to deal with conflicts present and future is to eat a meal together without devices.  Eating a family dinner is one of the best things you can do to help your child’s behavior.  It is the perfect time to bring up situations in a non-threatening way and you can find solutions to help solve future problems.

9) Look at how much sleep your kids are getting

A tired kid is a cranky kid.  Compare your child’s sleep with how much sleep they should be getting.

10) Have a tickle fest!

Have fun together as a family.  Kids are a riot.  Enjoy them as much as you can and you will release a lot of stress and find yourself enjoying each other a lot more!

noodles

One thing I’ve noticed about little kids is that they like to dip their food into something.  For most kids, it is ketchup.  They will eat almost any food dipped into ketchup.  My kids also like salsa, garlic mayonnaise and soy sauce.

(When my boys were almost two, they enjoyed dipping foods into salsa SO much that they dipped their banana bread in salsa.  Yum!)

This meal is a delicious, healthy, vegan (could be gluten-free with the right noodles and tamari instead of soy sauce) and is a crowd winner with my boys and my meat-eating husband!

This was originally published in the New York Times and my husband’s mom had the paper copy of it, but I couldn’t find it anywhere electronically.

 

Cold Noodles With Spicy Peanut Sauce

8 ounces thin Chinese egg noodles or Japanese buckwheat noodles (soba)

1/4 cup smooth peanut butter or sesame butter

5 tablespoons brewed black tea

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons chili oil

2 teaspoons Oriental sesame oil

2 teaspoons wine vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 scallion, chopped.

 

  1. Boil noodles until tender, drain, rinse in cold water and set aside, covered. 2. Mix peanut butter with tea until peanut butter has dissolved. Add soy sauce, chili oil (more or less depending on how spicy you want the dish), sesame oil, vinegar, sugar and garlic. Pour sauce over noodles and toss.

 

  1. Sprinkle with scallions, toss again and serve.

 

Roasted Tofu

Drain one container of tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and marinate for several hours (or however much time you have) in:

4 tablespoons soy sauce

4 tablespoons Sherry wine (I substitute 1 teaspoon honey and 2 teaspoons water if I don’t have sherry)

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic chopped

I cook the tofu two ways.  The healthier option takes a bit longer but I like the texture a bit more.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray a bit of olive oil onto a cookie sheet.  Spread the tofu out on the cookie sheet and spray once more with olive oil.  Cook for about 30-40 minutes or until brown, turning once.

The other way to cook it is to fry the tofu pieces in a good amount of oil on the stove top.  This takes about 10-15 minutes to get them all cooked so if you are short on time, you can just brown them in a pan.

 

I like to serve these noodle with a bunch of broccoli and a bowl of soy sauce for dipping the broccoli and the tofu pieces.   

10 tips

Here’s a list of 10 tried and true tips to being a good parent:

  1. Routine

It may not fit your lifestyle if you are used to being more spontaneous and flying by the seat of your pants before you had kids, however it is the number one way to having happier kids.  Doing more or less the same things at more or less the same time of day every day will make your children better sleepers, better eaters and better behaved.

2. Eat dinner together as a family

There is study after study about how eating dinner together as a family insulates your children from many societal ills.  Be sure to use the “no devices at the table” rule or you won’t benefit from the time together.  But this one simple thing will set your child up for life!

3.  Breathe

The best thing I ever heard as a parent is, “breathe in for a count of 5, breathe out for a count of 5”.  Not only does it calm you down, but it is a great model to help your children calm down.

4. Rotate your children’s toys

When your children have fewer toys to play with, they are more engaged and more focused.  Clean up is much, much easier and when they are bored with their toys, the ones in storage will feel like new!  Get some good storage bins (or even plastic bags) and put about half of your kid’s toys away in the garage or a closet.

5. Don’t force your kids to eat

Take all the stress away from food and eating and your children will be better and healthier eaters.  Provide them with three healthy meals a day with fruit for snack in-between meals and as long as there is at least one thing on the plate that they will eat, let them decide how much food they want.  It’s OK if they decide not to eat, or just eat the one thing that they are familiar with.  Have them take one bite of the new food even if it is a tiny bite.  It takes 20 times of trying most foods before children will eat it.

6. Carve out a little time for yourself

If you are burnt out, you won’t be much support for your children.  Taking some time for yourself doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you a good parent.  Whether it is a 5 minute walk around the block, a little meditation in the morning, or watching your favorite show while they are sleeping- just do it!

7. Teach your children problem solving skills

If your children can solve their own problems, then your life will be much easier and your children will have more success in life.  Start by identifying the problem (you both want the same toy) and then help them come up with solutions.  The more creative, the better!

8. Get outside every single day (even and especially on the worst of days)

One of my favorite quotes is “Nature is cheaper than therapy.”  Getting outside is something you can do with or without your children.  When you go outside for even a short time, your whole look on life will improve.  If you have even more time to get a walk around the block or a get out into nature, your outlook on life will increase ten-fold.  And if the weather is super rainy, cold, hot or just uncomfortable, then coming back home will be that much more enjoyable.

9. Get down on the floor (when times are good and when times are bad)

Getting down on the floor does many things:

  • It changes your perspective so that you see things from your kids point of view
  • It moves your body in ways that you aren’t used to and puts you into a mood to have fun
  • If tempers are flaring, it lowers the anxiety level of your children (Seriously. Try this- they immediately calm down)
  • It puts you on the same level as your child which increases connection and decreases power imbalance

10. Give your kiddos a hug every single day

This one is a no-brainer, but somehow I still seem to forget!

 

 

social media

Right now I’m reading an interesting book (with a boring title), Parenting Well in a Media Age by Gloria DeGaetano.  It is stirring up so many thoughts and ideas about raising children in our day and age.

First of all, things are very different now than they were just 30 years ago.  We are part of a very media centered culture and it is often how we connect ourselves to the world.

BUT.. our children are what connects us to the world.

Put down your phone, set aside a specific time to be on your computer and unplug so that you can plug into your children.  There are days when I am jealous of my childless friends, but that only lasts for a minute (and usually happens when I am on Facebook) because as soon as I plug into my children, I become more connected to the world.  I connect to the clouds outside; I connect to the truck drivers driving by; I connect to the neighbors who are also out on a walk.

There are many benefits to having children, but I am realizing as the world gets more are more media centered, that the biggest benefit is that kids pull us away from that corporate-created fake online world into the amazing and crazy real life world.

So what does this have to do with my biggest fear of raising children?  I have absolutely no idea how to raise a child in a world dictated by media.  Even the problems that teenagers are experiencing today will be obsolete.  New problems haven’t even been invented yet.

It is the scariest feeling, but I think I know one solution.  Plug into your kids.  The more you are connected to them today, the better you will be connected tomorrow.

The New York Times recently published an article that I can’t get out of my mind.  It spoke about how children who had heard more stories about their family, had an easier time dealing with conflict, trauma and other difficulties.  The idea was that they had deeper roots and a stronger connection to their past and who they were.

I think the same idea transfers over to how controlled your children are by media.  If they have a strong connection to their world, they will be less inclined to live in a media world.

So start today, have a “no devices at the table rule” where you put down all screens and devices while people are eating at the table.  This rule applies to meals at home and meals out at a restaurant.  This rule will be easy to enforce with teenagers if it is what they had when they were growing up.

Then, once you have that rule in place and it feels pretty stable, add in “Screen-Free-Saturday” or “Screen-Free-Sunday” and put down all screens for an entire day.  We have tried it twice and are working towards it being a regular part of our routine (not there yet!).  But it amazes me how much more plugged in to my kids and my husband I am after spending an entire day away from a screen.

So if you have the same fears about how you will deal with a teenager and social media, then start building a connection with your young child today to help weather the social media storms of tomorrow.

dinner

My boys are three.   It can be a tough age and it can be a wonderful age.

Tonight for dinner, I made zucchini pancakes which is essentially zucchini latkes (zucchini, onions, eggs, and carrots fried in oil).  YUM!  My boys didn’t want any. 

I said, “Okey, dokey.  You don’t have to eat.”

At one point during dinner, they tried to get my attention and my husband’s attention and we said, “We are eating now, we can look at it when we are all done eating.”

They were so stumped, that they played quietly the whole rest of the meal.

There was no yelling from us.  There was no cajoling or negotiating from anyone.

There was no fussing from the boys.

It was really pleasant!

We took a bath after dinner (or our dinner since they didn’t eat).

We brushed teeth and read stories.  At one point, one of the boys realized that he really wasn’t going to get dinner and he cried for a minute.  But I kept repeating, “Of course you can have dinner tomorrow night at dinner time!  I would love for you to eat with us!” (You may hear sarcasm in my voice as you read it, but when I was telling it to my son, I had true empathy in my voice).

Then they went to sleep and they will eat well tomorrow.  It was a really pleasant evening.

One of parent’s biggest fears is if their kids are getting enough food and it starts when they are infants when it is a legitimate fear.   Little itty-bitties do need to get enough sustenance, but as children get older, it isn’t as important that they eat every single meal.

It’s ok if they don’t eat dinner.

Check with your pediatrician to make sure that you are on the same page, and if she gives you the go ahead, tell your child, “you don’t have to eat.”


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picky-eater

The thing I love most about working with parents, families and children is discipline, but nutrition comes in a very close second.

I was a super picky eater.  Super picky.  I ate potatoes, pizza, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cereal growing up. 

I have two boys.  They shared the same food in my uterus (at least that is how I imagine it) and they shared the same flavors and substances while breast feeding.  So I was surprised when at 6 months, one of them ate everything in sight and then other one bunched his face up in disgust and spit most food out.  

But here’s the thing- they are both three now and neither one is picky.  I have to add that they aren’t very open to much when we are out and about because they really don’t know what they are getting in to, but at home, they will take at least one bite of everything and they both love a huge variety of foods including kale, elk steak, salmon, red peppers, spinach, quinoa, spicy foods, etc etc.

So if your child is picky right now, that does not mean that they are a picky eater.  ALL children are picky eaters at some point in their life!

There are two things that you can do today to help your child stop being picky.  

1) Don’t refer to them as picky eaters.  

They are not.  

They are either going through a phase where either they aren’t that hungry (It happens. Kids can go days without eating much.  Just check with your pediatrician if you are worried.  I do.  All the time.)  

Or they are going through a phase of being distrustful of food.  This comes from our ancestors since things that we put in our mouths can kill us.  Children are wired to be distrustful of food once they are more mobile and independent.  This is to keep our species alive so that little one doesn’t put a poisonous plant (á la Into the Wild) in their mouths while mama is starting a fire to cook the meat that papa brought home from the hunt.  So don’t think that you are a bad parent when your child refuses food.  That is actually their job.  So just keep offering and eventually they will eat it!



2) Be relaxed about food and eating.  

They don’t have to eat if they don’t want to.  We try and force our kids to eat because we remember the days when they were infants and they needed a certain amount of food in order to sleep.  

Toddlers are not like that.  If your pediatrician says that there isn’t any reason to force food, then don’t.   Offer three meals per day and one or two healthy snacks in between meals and then forget about it.   Don’t offer food while they are distracted.  Don’t have them carry around food hoping that they will eat.  Don’t keep offering different things hoping that one of them will stick.  Don’t give them something right before they go to bed if they don’t eat dinner. Don’t worry about how much they eat.  Children will regulate their nutrition without any adult interaction, if we just offer three healthy meals and one or two snacks per day and that is it.  


My family loves the following recipe.  We serve it with elk steak.  My boys have loved and eaten sweet potatoes from day one which allows them to try other parts of the salad.  Make sure if you serve something new (which you should do at least once per week!) that something else on the plate is well-liked.

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon tamari
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Juice of 1/2 orange

1 cup diced sweet potato
1 cup cooked quinoa
1/4 cup chopped chives
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
1 bunch braised kale

1) Whisk first 6 ingredients, set aside
2)Place sweet potatoes in a steamer with water and steam until soft
3) Mix everything together and serve


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delicious

At book club a couple of months ago, the hostess made the most delicious sweet potato cakes and I have to share them:

Crispy Sweet Potato Cakes:

Courtesy of Bal Anreson

2 cups cooked sweet potatoes
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 table spoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons yogurt
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

Mango Chutney for serving. (I’ll be honest, I didn’t make the mango chutney, I just served them with some salad dressing to dip, but the Mango Chutney is delicious too!)


Directions:

Mash the cooked sweet potatoes in a bowl and add chickpea flour, garam masala, ginger, salt, cilantro and yogurt.  Mix well and form into small patties.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and cook patties in batches so they have plenty of room to fry.  Cook for about 2 minutes on each side or until they are golden and cooked through.  

Mango Chutney

1/4 cup pineapple juice
3 tablespoons chopped red onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chat masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 ounces mango chunks

Place juice, onion  cilantro, chat masala and salt in a food processor and process to a paste. ad the mango chunks and pulse until chunks are coarsely chopped.

Yum!

My husband and children loved these!

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