15 October
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Adventures in Veggie Hiding (Update)

Things are rough at our house right now. I struck out three times in one week, people. Three. Times.  At this point, the next smug mom who tells me to try hiding veggies is going to get beaned by a copy of Deceptively Delicious.

Failure #1: I thought I had a sure winner with the butternut squash macaroni and cheese. My son loves cheese. Sure, he’s not the biggest fan of anything that might be called macaroni, but I thought I’d circumvent the problem by serving the cheese sauce over spaghetti, which he loves. (No, I’m not sure why he won’t touch elbow pasta but will devour bowl after bowl of spaghetti. Must be a toddler thing.)

I suppose I went wrong in a number of places, though. The butternut squash didn’t quite “disappear” into the cheese the way I’d hoped. Probably should have pureed it first, but I was short on time that day. Also, the sauce was so thick and heavy that the eventual dish just didn’t resemble spaghetti or a delicious, creamy macaroni and cheese. Probably this was due partly to the recipe itself not being so great, and partly due to the fact that I rushed through making dinner because I chose to cook this meal on a night when my husband wasn’t home and my son and I were working on potty training (another subject on which I could write a few unpleasant blog posts but one series of failures, at a time, I guess).

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Yeah. I wasn’t that excited about eating a dish that looked like this, either.

I’m sure there’s a hidden-veggie-cheese sauce out there somewhere that my son and I will both like, but after that experience I’m going to need a break from hidden-veggie-cheese sauces for a while.

Failure #2: In an attempt to bolster my spirits, I decided to tackle a recipe from a mom on Facebook for a sort of homemade goldfish cracker.  I’ll go ahead and post the recipe here because it’s the only one of the three you won’t be able to google:

1 sweet potato. Cooked.

A handful of organic shredded cheese (I skipped the organic part)

2 eggs

Directions: Mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Put in a plastic food storage bag, and cut a small hole in the corner.  Squeeze little dots onto a greased baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, or until browned.

Simple as this recipe is, it took a long time. I baked the sweet potatoes (I only had small ones so I used three). I grated the cheese by hand, adding more and more to the mixture until it masked the sweet potato (which I knew would be a turn off). I also added a pinch of salt. Finally, I painstakingly squeezed out those stupid little dots onto two cookie sheets:

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And when all was said and done, I had a pleasing little plate of cracker-like things. Note for anyone who might try making these: they are a little soft, but otherwise pretty darn tasty:

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My son ate a handful of them. I patted myself on the back, prepared to write a post entitled “Victory!” But then, the next day, I sent these as a snack to preschool and they all came back uneaten.  I realized that “Victory!” would be bending the truth a bit.

Failure #3: This morning I made pumpkin pancakes. My son has happily eaten pancakes before and is usually enthusiastic about anything labeled “cake.” Well, except for spinach muffins, of course, but I thought we’d be in the clear because these pumpkin pancakes wouldn’t be green. Anyway, I measured the dry ingredients the night before, then got up extra early to put it all together. And I have to say, I was feeling pretty proud of myself:

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I mean, look at the beautiful golden-brown pancake on the right. Once again, I started mentally crafting a “Victory!” post.

But then my son came to the table. He poked the pancakes carefully, took a tiny bite, and requested cereal.

Why even write about these three dismal failures, you may be asking. I’m asking that, too. Maybe there’s a parent out there going through something similar (can’t just be me, can it?) who might take some comfort in solidarity. Or maybe I just need to make something out of all the time and energy I wasted preparing all this food. You know, because if I can squeeze a blog post out of it, at least there’s some good to be had.

But even now I’m struggling to come up with some kind of overall theme or message from all this. Something other than, “Feeding kids is hard.” You know that already.

I really wanted those pumpkin pancakes to work. The narrative would have been perfect. It even incorporated the Rule of Three. Failure number one, failure number two, and then one bright, invigorating, veggie-hiding win. That was the post I really wanted to write. Instead, I’m here trying to scrape something together. Like, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” But I didn’t come up with that myself…

Okay, here’s one good reason to write about all this. Someday, when my kid is a more adventurous eater–and I still believe he will be–I’ll want to have some written evidence of our long, hard journey in my back pocket. A lot of folks I’ve talked to seem to be under the impression that parents have absolutely no control over how well kids eat. Some kids, they say, are born willing to try anything; others are picky and difficult and that’s just the way things go.  While I do agree that there’s some truth to all that, I still believe that parents can have a big impact over their children’s eating habits.

I still believe that I will have an impact.

Now, thanks to this blog, when people eventually tell me, “You’re just lucky that your kid eats so well,” I can point to this post and say, “No. I worked for this, you jerk.”

Meanwhile, in a lame attempt to end on a positive note, let me just say that I found out this week that my son likes oranges.

So: Victory! I guess…

 

01 October
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Playing Hide-the-Veggie, and Why I Won’t Do it Again (Today)

So. Let me tell you what happened today.

First, a little backstory. I’m not a huge fan of hiding vegetables in my son’s meals, a strategy I first learned via Jessica Seinfeld, years before I ever had children. Sure, I could see the upside (after all, if I’m going to eat a brownie, why not eat one with spinach?) but overall I wondered if this is really a road I wanted to go down with my own family. It seems like more of a short term solution; rather than teach my children positive eating habits, I’ll just slip some butternut squash puree into their mac n’ cheese and they’ll be none the wiser. Now that I’m a mom, I envision dinner as a time for us all to sit together, talking about our day and bonding over lovingly-made casseroles, and playing bait-and-switch with my kids’ meals doesn’t seem to fit that scenario. Seriously, if you’ve never taken a close look at Seinfeld’s aptly-named cookbook, please do that now:

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This mom loves that she’s about to fool her children. “Little idiots,” she whispers, pausing with a plate of spinach-and-carrot brownies just long enough to flash us a wink. “You won’t tell, will you, darlings?” Suddenly we’re all accomplices to her underhanded deed and I don’t know about you, but I feel dirty.

This is the kind of mom that probably serves her children in the dining room while she hides in the kitchen and eats a bowl of cereal because all this trickery has left her too emotionally drained to actually engage her family in conversation. Besides, if she eats with the kids she might accidentally give the game away. Her kids would probably never let a leaf of spinach pass through their lips again.

And somehow, even though I know I could never trust this woman, I sort of still want to be her. I understand–better than ever now that I’m a mother–why parents would want to trick their kids into healthier eating. Some days, I feel downright panicked when I calculate in my head the depressingly small number of fruits and vegetables my son has eaten.

So when the moms on one of my Facebook groups started parading around a sacred recipe for spinach muffins, with picture after picture of grinning, spinach-fed tots popping up in my newsfeed, it was all too easy to get swept away in the madness. The muffins were made with a full bag of fresh spinach and several cups of mashed banana; supposedly, they tasted just like banana bread. Yes, they would come out green, but otherwise one would never know that they contained spinach. Pure genius.

“I’d like to try making these,” I posted tot he group’s page. “What is the best way to store them, and about how long do they last?”

“They don’t last long,” replied one mom, flashing me a winking emoticon. Perhaps the wink should have been my sign not to travel down this deceptive road, but it was too late. I was buying the all the ingredients in a flurry, moral implications be damned.

I made the muffins late this morning, intending for my child to have one with lunch. If you’ve ever met my son, you probably know that he’s a big fan of breads and cakes, so there seemed no way that this wouldn’t be a slam dunk. I also planned to pack the muffins as his preschool snack for the rest of the week, a prospect that filled me with joy as I pictured him unwrapping the obviously homemade, healthy treat before the oohing and ahhing teacher and classroom aids. “What a great mom you have!” they would tell my little guy.  And he would look up at them with a face full of green crumbs and grin just like all the kids in the FB group and well, if any of this sounds over the top to you, I promise I’m not making it up for the purposes of this post. I really did have these thoughts; in fact, I’m sparing you some of the details (like how I planned to wow the neighborhood by making the green muffins for Halloween, for example).

Anyway, despite my generally sub-par baking skills, the spinach muffins looked almost exactly like the pictures I’ve seen. They were also fluffy, sweet, and particularly delicious when topped with a melting pad of butter. The only kink in my plan? My son took one look and must have been put off by how green they were. He refused to even try one.

“But it’s cake!” I said, practically chasing him around the room. “You love cake.”

“No cake!” He shouted, a combination of words I never thought I’d hear. “Nooooo caaaaaaaake!”

As far as three years of motherhood goes, this was probably among my lowest points. My husband tried to console me by saying that he liked the muffins, but it was too late. I had offered my heart up on the plate and had it thrown back in my face (I would say “chewed up and spit out,” but it hadn’t even been tasted). Was there something really wrong with me as a parent? Was there something really wrong with my kid? Why couldn’t he be like all the smiling Facebook toddlers? Why couldn’t I be like winking Jessica Seinfeld?

The day dragged on. Still despondent, I worked with my husband to make dinner: barbecued chicken, corn on the cob, and tomato and cucumber salad. About ten minutes before the chicken was ready, my son sat down at the table and announced he was ready to eat.

I’m not typically a fan of over-snacking, particularly over-snacking ten minutes before dinner time, but I knew an opportunity when I saw it. I took out a spinach muffin and presented it to him.

“No cake!” he shouted again. Then, in a move that might have been accompanied by a choir of singing angels, he pointed to the bowl of tomatoes and cucumber on the counter. “I want that!”

I thought he must be confused. I have been making that tomato and cucumber salad all summer and I’ve only ever half-heartedly offered it to my son because it didn’t seem like the kind of thing he would like. Still, I had nowhere to go but up at that point so I took the bowl of salad and spooned some onto his plate. And he ate it.

Granted, he only ate it for about a minute before declaring that he was “all done.” But still. He tried it. He actually tried to eat something that he’d previously shown no interest in. Afterwards, he went to town on his corn on the cob and ate a decent amount of chicken, too. I counted it as a victory.

Feeding kids is no easy task, but sometimes you get your win when you least expect it. And you can try to hide all the veggies you want in muffins and brownies, but there’s nothing quite so satisfying as when your kid helps himself to a light summer salad.

Which isn’t to say that I’ve given up deceptive veggie-hiding once and for all. I actually do like the idea of macaroni and cheese with butternut squash.

Trying that next week. I’ll let you know how it goes…

 

24 September
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Family Dinner or Bust: A Practical Philosophy for Serving Just One Meal, Dammit

Long before I became a parent, I promised myself that I would never cook more than one meal a night for my family. After all, I didn’t grow up in a house where I was served special “kid” food as an alternative to real dinner. My dad was always adamant about that. One dinner, one chance to eat, and you could have what was served or go hungry. Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I even thought about making a sandwich, demanding chicken nuggets, or doing anything other than eating what was in front of me.

Now with a texture-sensitive three-year-old at home and another baby on the way, I’m proud to say that I’ve (mostly) stuck to my pledge. But man…it’s harder than I expected. If I hadn’t made such an iron-clad promise to myself from the get-go, I probably would have folded by now.

Last night, we had tilapia with a salsa of avocado, black beans, corn, and tomato. I used to serve this meal as a fish taco, but now I usually just put it out with tortilla chips on the side as my husband prefers it that way. My son loves beans so I figured he’d at least eat those, and I was confident that I could get him to eat some of the rest of the dinner by putting it on a tortilla chip.

Well, this kid saw right through it. He refused to dip the chips himself, and when we tried to top them with bits of avocado or fish he meticulously picked them off. Worst of all, my sensitive little guy had apparently sworn off black beans for the evening. He picked at them while devouring the mostly dry tortilla chips; then he pointed at the kitchen cabinet and demanded, “Mommy’s cereal” (that’s what we call Special K Fruit and Yogurt, which for some reason he loves).

My heart breaks at the thought that my precious baby boy might still be hungry after a meal, especially when the food he really wants is just a few feet away and wouldn’t require any extra cooking on my part.

Still. I closed my eyes and remembered that I’d sworn a solemn oath.

I didn’t give him the cereal.

Time and time again, I meet moms who have given up the battle–or haven’t attempted to fight it at all. One such parent told me that she’d had to get extra creative in the kitchen because her two-year-old daughter hadn’t eaten any meat in months. A pediatrician had advised the family not to cater; the little girl wouldn’t starve, he said, if she ended up going to bed hungry once in a while.

This mom admitted that she had never even tried this strategy. “I just can’t send my kid to bed without dinner,” she said. “I’m not that kind of parent.”

“Then your daughter has no reason to ever start eating meat again,” I thought. But I didn’t say that. Staying quiet and then writing about things later is much more my style.

Some moms I’ve come across are actively against this take-it-or-leave it approach to eating. “How will your kids learn to make choices?” they say. Or, “My parents made me eat everything when I was kid and now I’m super picky. I refuse to do the same to my kids.”

I will attempt to answer these concerns while exploring the topic of childhood pickiness more deeply in future blog posts. But for now, let me tell you a little about why this is so important to me.

I didn’t give in last night because I want him to learn, even from this early age, that life doesn’t work that way. The things you really want don’t always appear magically in front of you. Sometimes you have to learn to make due with, and appreciate, what you have.

I didn’t give in because if he becomes the kind of kid who only eats cereal and bread, in the end that will be much worse for his health than going hungry every once in a while. Seriously, when I feel myself begin to weaken, I remember that we are building a lifetime of eating habits here, and the choices we make can impact so much more than just one evening. I want my kid to grow into an adult who eats a decent variety of foods. No time like the present to start; we’ll only have fewer bad habits to break later.

And finally, I didn’t give in because I had already completed my motherly kitchen duties for the evening. I had made dinner. I had planned it, shopped for it, and made sure it was on the table by six. I had fulfilled my part of the deal. It was my son who had was making the choice not to eat, and I would have to let him make that choice. I may be a mom, but that doesn’t mean I need to be at everyone’s beck and call every second of the day. Once dinner is made, I should be allowed to sit and eat it. I should not have to get up and pour cereal for those who are not holding up their end of the bargain. (And yes, I know the cereal would have taken seconds to prepare, but it’s the principle of the thing, I tell you.)

But again, none of this makes the battle any easier. To all of you parents facing the same dinner table demons every night: Stay strong, my brothers and sisters. Stay strong.

In the meantime, tomorrow morning for breakfast we’ll be having cereal.

12 September
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Mom Guilt and the First Day Jitters

For the the painfully-shy and socially-awkward little girl that I used to be, the start of a new school year was always trying. On my first day of first grade I came back to the classroom after lunch, looked around to see that school was still going on, and promptly began bawling because it felt like we’d been there forever and why weren’t we done already?

“I want to go home!” I wailed to the teacher who looked slightly put out (Mrs. Conard wasn’t known for being overly-kind). As the years went on I eventually learned that crying in front of the other students didn’t make me cool, but that soreness in the back of my throat still persisted through most of September. Summer was always like one long, relaxing nap on the beach, but that first day of school was a plunge into ice water. I never quite got used to it.

Now, as a mom to a painfully-shy, socially-awkward little boy just starting preschool, I get to experience the start of the school year in a whole new, even-more-stomach-churning light.  Our preschool is down the street from our house and only runs two hours a day, but walking my son there on the first day still felt an awful lot like sending him off to war. “You’re going to cry,” everyone told me, and I always said, “Oh yeah, of course. I’m going to spend that whole first day crying.” I actually had it all planned out: drop the kid off, come home to an empty house, sit down on the couch, cry, wonder what he’s doing in school, start crying again. Hell, I was actually kind of looking forward to it; there’s nothing like a good cry every now and then, and this one was going to be epic.

So. Imagine my surprise when I returned home to feel, well, good. And not I-let-it-all-out-and-now-I’m-strangely-at-peace good. I was happy. Positively giddy, in fact.

I swear, I never expected to be that parent. You know, the one that rejoices on the first day of school. Of course I knew I was going to get a good two hours of down time each morning, but I expected to spend most of it sobbing, at least until about mid-October.  I certainly never imagined that I’d have to stop myself from doing a happy dance right there in the parking lot after that very first drop off but, well, there I was.

Do all moms feel this sense of joy and relief when their kids go to school? I’m afraid I wouldn’t know. We tend not to talk about it, possibly because those of us who are open about our joy may be subject to intense criticism. Take a look at this image I found floating around social media this week:

first day of school happy

Responses ranged from “Meh, it’s not that funny,” to “What a terrible mother! Why did this woman even have kids?”

Truthfully, I like the picture. It’s kind of a breath of fresh air amid all the cutesy, smiling, professional-chalk board holding first-day-of-school shots blanketing Facebook right now. Most importantly, I like that this parent is willing to broadcast what shouldn’t have to be a dirty secret: my kid is starting school, and I’m glad.

As for my son and me, we’re enjoying a fun-filled three day weekend (thank you, Rosh Hashanah).

But come Tuesday, we’ll be in the school yard early. I guarantee it.

02 September
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Kim Davis and the Influence of Religion

American Physicist Steven Weinberg once said, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

Don’t believe him? Just take a look at what’s going on in Kentucky right now.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has shot to fifteen minutes of fame for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even despite the Supreme Court telling her that she must, indeed, issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. As of this writing, Davis continues to defy the law and has been summoned to federal court.

And here, we should all pause and gape in awe at the unbelievable influence religion has over its followers. A few months ago Kim Davis was nothing more than another overworked and underpaid government official; now, she risks her livelihood and freedom to stand up for…well, for a cause her pastor probably told her was ultra important to Jesus.

Why is Kim Davis behaving this way? Is she usually mean and hateful? Well, maybe–but she has no history of particularly mean, hateful behavior. At least, none that I can find—and with all the dirt being slung around about her three failed marriages, and children conceived out of wedlock, if she had anything more controversial in her past you’d think we’d have heard about it by now. Failed marriages and children out of wedlock don’t prove Davis is a terrible person, after all. They only prove that she’s made errors in judgment and/or wasn’t living by biblical, traditional family principals at the time.

Actually, I did find one telling personal tidbit on Davis. According to protestor Rachelle Bombe, who’s spent a considerable amount of time sitting outside the county clerk’s office demanding equality, Davis went outside one hot day and offered her a cold drink.

‘She’s a very nice lady,” Bombe has said.

Davis probably is a nice lady. A nice lady who just happens to be prolonging the suffering to a lot of same-sex couples who’ve waited years for equality and acceptance because, to her, handing out marriage licenses is suddenly a “Heaven or Hell decision.”

Yes, this is the America we live in now, an America where otherwise decent people see themselves as doing the lord’s work by refusing marriage licenses and wedding cakes to couples who just want to live their lives. Take religion—or specifically, this version of religion–out of the equation, and would the Kim Davises of the world be fighting so hard for the right not to do their jobs? Or would they be more likely to shrug and say, “Well, different strokes for different stroke. Not like this life or death, am I right?”

People want to hate Kim Davis. They call her a bigot, question her motives, even insult her appearance. Is it really fair or helpful, however, to heap so much hate on a person who’s had the bad luck to be sucked into a particularly loud, particularly judgmental form of Christianity? Isn’t Davis behaving exactly the way any person with those beliefs should behave? If, to her, gay marriage is truly a “Heaven or Hell” decision, then she really has no choice but to fight this battle, to allow her previously low-profile life to be dragged before the public spotlight.

Religion is a powerful, powerful force, my friends, and we are seeing its effects on full display in Rowan County. Those of us not under the influence of Kim Davis’s particular religion should be very interested to see how this all plays out.