Toddler Tips: Literally Lateral

While Maxwell is not what I would call a picky eater, his aversion to certain textures has limited some of the foods we can immediately introduce that he will eat.

If he doesn’t enjoy the food that he is eating, we get the immediate finger scrape of the tongue. Foods that have joined that phenomenon are mashed potatoes, meatloaf, homemade meatballs, fish sticks, and most recently: slushed ices & teriyaki chicken.

In the initial stages of teaching Max how to eat, we would mainly rely on the reports from his daycare. If he was eyeing another kid’s pancakes, then we made sure to get him pancakes at home and test them out there. (The Kellogg’s® Eggo® Minis Buttermilk Pancakes have now remained a staple for breakfast all week long….with butter and syrup added on weekends for an extra treat.)

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Maxwell and his pancakes!

When he didn’t want to eat his puffs for snack time anymore, we introduced Gerber Lil’ Crunchies® – Mild Cheddar with yogurt. (I also highly recommend Stonyfield® Organic YoBaby® Yogurt as it provides that daily dose of probiotics for your little one.)

And when lunchtime got especially boring in texture with Gerber® Plastic Tubs mixed with Earth’s Best Organic® Infant Oatmeal Cereal, we introduced more table food to satisfy the palette.

Eventually Max started to come around on food in general, but this took a little finagling and some observation on how Max preferred to try new things. He would try something, not like it, then we would have to take a side-step in our process and get him to like another item related to that initial food to get him to take that next step. Once he got accustomed to the taste of that other item, we then gave him the initial food again with slight modification. Funnily enough: it worked!

The conclusion became clear: in order to introduce new foods that may not be the biggest hit, Matt & I would have to make lateral moves.

For example, Max initially HATED scrambled eggs. I am not exaggerating that we attempted at least a dozen times before changing our tactics to convince Max that scrambled eggs were delicious. When scrambled didn’t initially work we decided to try a different style of egg: fried with a little cheese on top.

The fried egg with cheese became such a hit! At our local deli there was a fall special for football season: $1.99 breakfast sandwiches on Saturdays & Sundays. We would buy three bacon, egg & cheese sandwiches and offer Max the egg on one while we each ate one sandwich and picked the bacon off the third one. Once Max showed he was comfortable with eggs, the next move would be to then try making scrambled eggs with cheese. Those dozen failed attempts are now a thing of the past as Max can now devour about 2 scrambled eggs on his own.

When it came time to start trying to convince Max that vegetables were delicious, we applied the same concept. First, we took notice that Max would gravitate toward eating fruit & vegetable pouches that contained spinach in them. That made trying spinach our task. Next, we decided that to introduce the real thing, we would need a vehicle like a favorite sauce or flavor to get Max to try it. With Chicken Francaise as one of Max’s favorite foods, Matt & I agreed that incorporating spinach into the francaise sauce was the best move. The end result: Max inhaled his entire serving of spinach with gusto.

And when ground beef was a tough sell, the move became to try another sandwich, like grilled cheese. When the grilled cheese was well accepted, we then made Max a burger patty and his first cheeseburger was quickly scarfed down. Well, he only ate about half of it in the first go, with the other half broken up for him to bring to daycare for lunch the following day. (He ate that too.)

The method worked for Max as he didn’t feel pressured to like a new food right away. We instead found clever ways to come back to once detested foods and make them some of his favorites!

So for those picky eaters, I suggest trying the lateral move:

  1. Have a goal for what you want your child to ultimately eat
  2. Take a side-step by observing what they do like, or formulate a different approach
  3. Once comfortable in that step, incorporate that goal

When children don’t like food that you have worked so hard on for just them, the feeling one gets from watching them spit out that food can be slightly soul-crushing. You just want what’s best, I know. But once you figure out what tactic entices your child to eat and experiment, go with it.

Not every child will be comfortable with the continual offering approach and some will try anything once and like it. I don’t claim to be an expert, just a parent who wants their son to open up to the possibility of expanding their culinary palette. If this tactic works for you, then kudos. If not, don’t get discouraged. You will find out what inspires your child to enjoy food.

Or you may just have a picky eater.

Kids can be funny like that.

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V

 

 

 

It’s All About Adjustment….

2017 was certainly a whirlwind of events for me, but I am back and ready to share new recipes!

Of course, those recipes may need to be slightly adjusted now. You see once our son Maxwell was born and I had taken to nursing our son rather than formula feeding, Matt & I ran into some potential dietary issues. As I could eat anything I wanted, Max’s digestive system had not yet developed and he started to exhibit signs of discomfort. One night of screaming baby and a pediatrician’s office visit later the culprit was simple: Mommy’s eating habits were taking its toll on the little guy. The only solution available was to start eliminating foods from my diet and see how it would affect Max in the long run. First to be eliminated were dairy and soy.

Now for those of you who aren’t aware, trying to go dairy and soy free felt damn near impossible at first. Why? Because if you read the labels on several of your favorite foods, you will find either one or both of those ingredients in it. Bread, bagels, frozen waffles, Onion Soup Mix, Gravy Master, Chicken & Beef Broth, most Asian cooking, Coffeemate flavored creamer, etc.–I had felt as though I was being put in food prison yet again. The first time for gestational diabetes in my third trimester, which is another story.

But I was determined to breastfeed and so I took to the task of restructuring my diet. Matt & I discussed more fresh food options for our meals. I incorporated more protein into my diet and cut out dairy in cooking. I read the labels on the current items in our pantry to understand what I could still incorporate into my diet. (Happy to report that pasta is still a possibility for me!) When I went food shopping I ventured into the specialty food aisles for myself. And while Stop & Shop has a limited selection of specialty foods, I was still able to pull together enough items to create my own menu.

Yet I missed baking….and unfortunately a lot of my recipes called for items such as milk or butter in the ingredients. I didn’t even bake my annual New York Cheesecake for Christmas Eve because I wouldn’t have been able to eat it. Fortunately though, Max’s condition began to improve and he didn’t look as pained as he used to. If me giving up dairy and soy meant that he would be happy, then I would do that for him.

As an alternative, I started to really take a look at my baking recipes and find ways to substitute ingredients for the troublemakers. Now for those who remember one of my specialties is Banana Chocolate Chip muffins. You can find my recipe for that here: A muffin a day makes a happy husband! Of course that has milk and chocolate chips (with milk in them) so I substituted the regular milk for rice milk (you can also use almond milk if you’d prefer) and instead of Nestle Chocolate Chips, I found the Enjoy Life products have created an Allergy-Friendly chocolate. With those two substitutions I made my muffin batter, poured it equally into the 12 baking tins, and prayed that they would come out just as good as my original recipe….and they did!

So my advice is this: when you can substitute to make it more allergy-friendly, DO IT! I promise it was difficult to tell the difference in these muffins versus a regular batch.

And as always….enjoy!

– Jenny V

Spicy Tips: The Perfect Chicken Noodle Soup

Spoiler Alert: Be prepared for the onslaught of chicken dishes!

When the fall season hits, I can’t think of anything better than busting out the Crock Pot and making dishes that assault your sense of smell when you return from work that day. Also, the house just feels warmer and more inviting that way. Trust me, there’s nothing better than after a long day of being on the phone with an insurance company to argue a client’s claim, to walk in and smell the love that your dish has been making while you were away. It’s a calming force.

So before I wax poetic on slow cooking, let’s get back to the topic. Namely, Chicken Noodle Soup. I know we all have a recipe that we follow. We all have our own tricks and tips that personalize how we create this cold-weather classic. And so I want to share a few of my own, as there are a few helpful suggestions to guarantee positive results.

 
1) Make sure to flavor your broth!

When you’re sick, Chicken Noodle is simply the best soup (in my opinion) that can bring you out of that non-hunger phase and nourish your soul. It has the protein from the chicken, the vitamins from the vegetables, the noodles to help fill you up, and most importantly: that nice salty broth to break through your temporarily altered taste buds. So while I love adding a healthy dose of poultry seasoning, don’t forget salt and pepper! There’s nothing worse than all those delicious elements in a bland broth. And taste as you go….I cannot stress that enough.

 

2) If you can, make your own stock.

You can always buy chicken broth if you’re in a pinch, but I love making my own stock. When Matt & I purchase a whole chicken, we first roast it and eat the breast for dinner that night. Then, strip the meat off the chicken down to the bones, as the meat will be perfect for soup when you process and chop it. And in the Crock Pot, put that carcass in with enough water to cover the top of the bones, then lid on low and slow for 8-9 hours (and sometimes longer).

Once the carcass starts to fall apart in the stock, that’s a good sign. When done, remove the bones and my final move is to place a paper towel in the strainer and ladle in broth through that into a container. The stock will retain some fat, but this helps keep bone fragments out of your broth. Use a wooden spoon to push around the liquid to get it to strain. You may replace the paper towels a few times as eventually the fat will pool enough to where nothing gets through, but that’s okay. This is a messy (but rewarding) process. You get a clearer broth this way.

 

3) Saute your veggies before you put them in and make sure they’re fresh!

I keep my veggies standard: celery, onion, carrot. You can add fun ingredients like leeks or fennel, but I love the classics when it comes to chicken soup. Now, you can always just throw the veggies in raw and allow the slow cooking to do its magic, but I love getting a little bit of color on those veggies. You won’t necessarily get a bite of onion as it melts into the broth, but you will taste a hint of it. The carrots will practically melt in your mouth, as will the celery. You want to let them cook the longest in your broth.

So for the best result, a little bit of oil in a pan, saute for less than 5 minutes, and add the veggies first to the broth.

 

4) For best results, make the noodles separately (and keep them that way).

This is more a rule because Matt does not like soggy noodles. And it’s a good one! The noodles are always the final ingredient to add to the soup, because once they’re done the soup is done. And then once in the fridge, the noodles keep expanding the longer they sit. And instead of soup, you get this noodle dish with soup elements and minimal broth. So instead, I tried a new trick: I cooked the noodles alone, strained them, then placed them first in the bowl and ladled the soup over the top.

When I had to clean up and put the rest in the fridge, I made a decision to keep the noodles in a separate container. You get more control over the amount of noodles you want in your bowl, and the broth remains intact when you heat it up.

 

5) Low and slow is the best way to go!

I have forgotten the most important tip of all: the slow cooker is the best way to make Chicken Soup. Flavors are best when they have a chance to meet and meld for a while. You don’t want to rush this step and if you have the time, take it. The depth of flavor you can achieve from that low and slow technique is second to none.

 

And as always….enjoy!

– Jenny V

Zuppa di Pesce: the gift that keeps on being delicious

As a rule in our house, Matt and I decided that instead of spending money on each other’s birthdays on fancy presents, that our cooking skills be put to the test and we cook for one another. While both of us will end up in the kitchen, I love the idea that the other has to help bring this meal to fruition. It has made celebrating our birthday a much more delicious venture and a great gift idea!

In fact, we try to adhere to this rule for most holidays/special occasions. (Although I am fairly certain Matt will not always adhere to that rule and has gotten me something a little extra to go with my nice meal. He’s sweet like that.)

Last year for my 31st, I requested a steak (any cut as long as it was nicely marbled upon purchase), homemade macaroni and cheese, and oven-roasted brussel sprouts. I don’t think I need to say that my loving husband delivered a fantastic meal! For his 34th, he asked me for a seafood dish, to which I came up with Zuppa di Pesce. (And to those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s seafood in a nice tomato broth….any seafood you choose to put in there. Or, you know, that fish soup.) Add in homemade pasta and a nice loaf of crusty French bread, Matt was in seafood heaven.

(And after this past weekend, where Matt’s mom also got to experience the awesomeness of our Zuppa di Pesce, I’d say it’s time this recipe was shared!)

Since then, the need to continue perfecting our Zuppa di Pesce became a bit of a game. We tried different combinations of seafood. Sometimes there would be clams, other times bay scallops, maybe even a couple nice pieces of cod would make it in there, complete with the staple of shrimp at the ready. To be honest, I don’t think we have made this dish the same way twice, but that’s the beauty of a giant mixed seafood dish–you can always play with the combination depending on what’s on sale!

Also, remembering how I have talked about stock…why not a seafood stock? Trust me, it’s super easy to make and you can do it with the one thing that most of us dislike when we have to peel shrimp….the shells! Since Matt and I always buy raw frozen shrimp, when it comes time to defrost and peel for the meal we’re using it in, I save the shells in a Ziploc bag and once I accumulate a HUGE bag of them, in they go to a pot of boiling water for 20-30 minutes, allow it to cool, then strain into a Tupperware container and voila–stock!

If you don’t have stock, use clam juice or even fresh clams and mussels in the recipe; adding something with those briny, salty juices of the sea will make the dish, I promise!

Also, cooking with wine is key! If you don’t have a lot of stock or clam juice available, add a little extra white wine instead.

For this version of the recipe, I figured adding the whole gambit of seafood would help. You can always add or take away with the seafood. Just be sure to have some fun with it. (i.e., calamari, sea scallops, prawns, flounder, etc.–get creative!)

When cooking is your gift, it’s always nice to share it with those dear to you. Because instead of trinkets throughout the years, you get these wonderful memories of delicious dishes and the moments that accompany the meal.

Enjoy (with love).

~ Jenny V


Matt and Jenn’s Zuppa di Pesce

1 lb. uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 lb. mussels, cleaned and de-bearded

1 dozen clams, cleaned

1 lb. bay scallops, rinsed

1 28 oz. can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes

 2 cups white wine

2-3 cups seafood stock (or clam juice)

1 medium onion, diced

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1-2 teaspoons Salt

1-2 teaspoons Pepper

1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning

1/2 teaspoon of Crushed Red Pepper

Directions:

1) In large cast-iron pot or large stock pot on medium-high heat, add olive oil to lightly coat bottom, then add diced onion. Once onion starts to soften, add in minced garlic. Cook both until softened and aromatics are released, probably about 5 minutes at most.

2) Add in cooking wine and bring pot up to medium-high heat to allow alcohol to cook out, roughly 10 minutes. Next, add in almost all of the seafood stock, can of tomato sauce, and seasonings. (To get the residual tomato sauce out of the can, use the reserved stock by pouring it in and swishing it around in the can, then pour into the pot.) Allow mixture time to meld and cook, about 15-20 minutes. (Note: if you’re making pasta, start the water around this step, probably about mid-way.)

3) Put in clams and mussels first as they will need the most time to cook and open up. When clams and mussels look like they’re starting to open up, add in shrimp and scallops to cook the last few minutes. Once shrimp is cooked through, serve with pasta, really good crusty bread, or both.