5 WAYS YOU CAN TURN PICKY EATERS INTO FOODIES



 Feeding our kids seems to be such a controversial topic lately. Diet fads and lifestyle choices seem to creep up even in our kids' cuisine. Parents get offended,if you share experience or give them advice. Moms are ashamed of what they pack in their kids' lunch boxes and mumble excuses , or  leave their kids' food education to someone else completely. But it doesn't have to be hard, and it doesn't have to turn you, and your kids, into kitchen enemies.
 My boy, who is now six years old, was a picky eater, and a slow eater, and refusing to eat at all. I've been through it all - cooking separate meals for him, and separating food, so it doesn't touch, begging and threatening. Nothing seemed to be working. But now, I look back, and I find that the little things we did , which didn't seem to be connected with dinner time, had greater impact. 
 I want to share my top 5 ways we turned our 6 year old into a "foodie", but before I do this I want to make something clear. Kids are different. They learn in different ways and they follow in different ways. Family dynamics are different and food culture and choices vary.

Here is what MY 6 year old thought ME:

IT IS JUST A PHASE 

Most of the time it's as simple as that. Kids go through phases and will focus on one food at a time or will, all of a sudden, hate something that was a favorite for months. This is all normal. Some kids do have food texture issues or allergies, but this goes beyond the everyday refusal of foods. Most of the time,growing toddlers and pre-schoolers, are trying to assert their independence and to show us that they can make their own choices. Keep offering healthy choices at home and be a little more relaxed outside the house. Do not get tricked into becoming a short-order cook. Even in his picky eating stage, Max could only choose from the food I had already prepared. For example, if I made a salad and stir fry for dinner, I would simply chop the same veggies for him (raw) and give him a few pieces of meat or plain rice. He wasn't big on sauces and spices and that was ok. And remember, not all of us like all foods ,even as adults. We have our favotites and our no-no list. It is the same for our kids. Offer, but do not force them to eat what you think is delicious.


SHOP AND COOK WITH YOUR KIDS 

 Max loves helping me in the kitchen and checking off the shopping list when we are in the store. Bring your kids with you and shop the outside parameter of the store. Show them the different fruits and veggies and let them pick something for dinner. Sometimes they will go by shape,color and size when choosing, and that is part of the fun. This is how we fell in love with romanesco, purple cabbage, fingerling potatoes, and heirloom tomatoes ( so many colors,so much fun). Always tell your children what they are eating. Hiding veggies is something I don't do. This creates the mindset that veggies are not delicious and have to be masked by other flavors.
A lot of moms tell me that they don't have the time to let their kids cook with them when they have just minutes to throw something together after work. I know it's hard. I also juggle a full time job with being a mom and a wife. But I always make time to have fun in the kitchen. Food culture is created at home. Comfort food is created at home. I still remember ,when I was little , back in Bulgaria,  we used to have scheduled  power blackouts and my dad will cut up a huge plate of apples, and tell us stories of his childhood in the candlelight, while we munched on the delicious fruit. So, apples are a comfort food. So is watermelon with feta ,and peppers, roasted on the fire. It's all about the memories you create in your kids. The comfort is in the nostalgia. So,even if you cook one meal with them a week - making pancakes on the weekend,  stirring muffins for a bake sale at school, sprinkling salt over the salad, peeling carrots for the soup - it will be the best teaching experience you can give your children.


LEAD BY EXAMPLE 

This seems to be common sense to me. You can't have pizza and chocolate cake for dinner and expect your kids to love grass fed beef and quinoa salad. We don't separate food in our house,or designate it to adults and kids. Max tries everything we buy and then he has the choice to eat it or not. As I said before, don't expect your kids to like everything you like. Teach your kids about food,what goes into it and how you can make it healthier at home. You can make  pretty much everything you can buy in a jar. Dressings, hummus and various sauces are the things I make at home. I don't appreciate the added ingredients in most of those store bought products, so I prefer to spend my time and not my money on them. Children are much more fascinated by food and ingredients than we think. What is a chore to us ,to them is like a whole new world of discovery.


REWARD GOOD CHOICES 

 Even though good food should be a reward on its own,kids can often see meal time as a chore,something that takes them away from the fun they were having a minute ago. This is still a struggle for us sometimes. "Just five more minutes" can turn into half an hour and the whole evening routine you've been working on so hard is gone out the window. We decided to establish the rule that eating only happens at the dining table. No couch snacking, no mommy running after a toddler with a spoon, no snacking anytime of day or night. We have established a meal schedule, which does not consist of times, but routines. We try to always have dinner together, it is our family time. Breakfast and lunch are more flexible, since one of us , the adults, is at work during the week.
          After we established a healthy eating routine and got Max more involved in the preparation of food it was time to figure out how to reward good behavior. Kids thrive on motivation. Little things can be a big motivation for a six year old, just don't make promises you can't keep. Max gets to choose his rewards for making good food and behavior choices. He often chooses activities like technology time, or board games, verses eating treats and unhealthy foods. But there are times that he sees a kid at school eating something we don't normally buy, and requests it as his treat. If it is an item that contains a lot of artificial colors and sweeteners, we discuss it before we buy and try to find a healthier version if we can. Our neighborhood store carries a brand called "Yummy Earth Organics" and they have a variety of items like lollipops,  gummy bears, and jelly beans, made with organic ingredients. It is not healthy foods but a great substitute for a treat. 


KITCHEN CONVERSATIONS 

 This is the one thing that ties it all together. Talk to your children about food. Teach them to respect food and see it not only as calories and sustenance , but to cherish and appreciate it. Food is community. Food is culture. Food is health. Food is medicine. Food heals the body and the soul. It connects us to other living beings, It connects us to the planet and can take us places we can never go. Food is peace. Food is kindness. Food is fun. It is so basic and yet so much of what we are revolves around food. We are what we eat in a more literal way that we ever imagined.


Bon Appetite!

Backyard Medicine : NETTLES






Botanical Name : Urtica Dioica

Family: Urticaceae

Parts used: young leaves, seeds, root

Energetics : cooling, drying

The nettle plant has been an ally of mine since I was a little girl. My mom and my grandmother did not use it much in tea, or in any herbal preparation, but they made sure we got enough of it in the form of delicious food. Spring was a time for foraging in our family and I still get exited by the patches of green that grow by the road or between the trees in the woods. Young nettles and docks, fragrant young thyme , young sorrel and dandelion leaves - the Earth is generous , if we only look around.
 Nettles have been used for food and medicine for thousand of years. The Ancient Greeks and Romans used to cultivate it and grow it for food and for its fiber. The nettle plant has many fine hairs on its stem and leaves, which can release some irritating chemicals in the body when it touches bear skin. This brings blood to the affected area and can relieve pain and inflammation. The Romans new about this property of nettles and used to carry seeds with them when they conquered new lands, in order to be able to cultivate it. Mrs. Grieve cites the antiquary Camden in her book " A modern Herbal: Vol II" : " The soldiers (Roman) brought some of the Nettle seed with them, and sowed it there for their use to rub, and chafe , their limbs, when through extreme cold they should be stiff or benumbed, having been told that the climate of Britain was so cold that it was not to be endured."
This practice is known as urtication, and is very useful for pain due to arthritis. I have personal experience with this practice thanks to my grandmother. When I was a girl , I went through a very painful growth spurt. My feet and legs were affected the worst, to the point where it was very painful to walk. My grandmother used urtication to help me ,and the relieve was very welcome. Fortunately, my body does not react strongly to the sting of nettles and I did not endure severe blistering or pain. To this day. I still pick nettles bear handed. I welcome the sting, hoping to avoid arthritic pain later in life.
 The nettle plant can be a delicious food, but it is also a potent medicine. I think its power hides in the fact that it is highly nutritious. If you look into any herbal book , you will find multiple uses for nettles. It is good for almost any part of the body. People often mistrust this, but we have to remember that our body is an uniquely connected system , and not one organ functions alone, independently from the rest. When you nourish your body, the whole is affected, hence the whole is improved. We just have to look beyond what western medicine has thought us, look beyond symptoms and single constituents.
 The nettle plant is rich in many minerals and is one of the perfect way to get much needed iron and calcium during pregnancy. I like to combine it with red raspberry leaf and peppermint for a delicious and refreshing beverage. Due to its high content of minerals, nettles can also be useful in addressing osteoporosis, menstrual cramps and leg cramps. It can also be useful for "growing pains" in children, or for aching joints in older people.
 One of the easiest ways to get more nettles in your body year round is to prepare a nourishing infusion. A nourishing infusion is a strong tea made by taking an ounce of dried herb and pouring a quart of hot water over it. Steep for at least four hours and drink throughout the day as a refreshing beverage.
 Nettle is a mild diuretic and can be used to relieve edema and other congested fluids in the body. Some people can be affected more by this property of nettles and should use the plant in moderation.

 Other popular uses for nettles include:

  • Nettle Seed Tincture - very nourishing to the kidneys. It has a very specific action on this organ and can be used in small doses to strengthen and improve function.
  • Nettle Root Tincture or Decoction - used for prostate issues. 
  • Freeze Dried Nettle Leaves - used for the treatment of seasonal allergies.
The nettle plant is a powerful antioxidant and studies have shown that, taken internally, it can lower inflammatory markers in the blood. Herbalist Johnathan Treasure often uses it in a protective protocol for patients undergoing chemotherapy, in order to reduce organ damage done by the drugs.

Now you can see why nettle is a great plant ally to have . Still, my favorite way to enjoy this plant is in a delicious recipe in spring time, when my body is craving the green vitality and renewed energy of the earth. After all, Food Is Medicine, and a powerful one at that.

THE PLANT BASED PANTRY




The plant-based pantry. It doesn't matter if you are vegan, vegetarian, paleo or eat traditional foods. I think every pantry should be plant-based. It is better for our health. It is better for the environment. It is better for the budget.
 A lot of us already maintain a plant based pantry. We keep items for baking, canned foods, pasta , snacks. So most of us just need a little tweaking of our shopping list in order to achieve the healthy, whole foods diet that we wish for our family.
 I realize that every family has different dietary needs, different palates and often a different ethnic background, which brings a diverse mix of flavors and aromas. So, embrace your uniqueness and create what is right for you. Food is part of our culture and of connecting with other cultures.
 A plant based pantry is diversity and here is what is hiding in mine:


  • Beans and Legumes
 Beans and legumes are actually seeds of the plants in the Fabaceae family. this category includes different varieties of beans, lentils and peas. This plant family also includes soybeans, alfalfa and clover.
 I keep a variety of dried beans and lentils in my pantry. I invested in an Instant Pot ( pressure cooker) and I ditched most of the canned beans that I used to keep in my pantry. This saves me space and money, and is also healthier for my family. The variety of beans I use most often are white navy beans for soups, garbanzo beans for hummus, stews , and "no-tuna" salad, black beans for enchiladas, as addition to salads or chili. I also like to have some pinto beans and red kidney beans, for a bigger variety in our meals.
 I keep two different kind of lentils on hand - brown and green. Brown lentils are great for soups, veggie burgers, and vegan versions of comfort foods such as meatloaf ,and spaghetti and meatballs. Green lentils I use mostly in salads, since they tend to keep their shape better after cooking.

 Beans and lentils are a great source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. They can contain up to 20% of protein by weight. They are also a great source of folic acid, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, complex carbohydrates and soluble fiber.
 Make sure you prepare all beans and legumes properly by soaking them overnight. Like all seeds they contain phytic acid, which can prevent your bodies from absorbing important nutrients.


  • Grains and Starches
Grains and starches seem to be a controversial topic. A lot of people are trying to avoid them and a lot of people have a reason to. Our family does not have any dietary restrictions pertaining to gluten, so we enjoy our share of grains and pasta.
 Rice is probably the most prominent grain in my pantry. I like to cook big batches of brown rice and use it during the week to serve with veggies or stews. It is a great side dish and a main dish. I buy white rice exclusively for the purpose of making cilantro lime rice. Sorry, but in this case brown won't do.
 I  also like to keep quinoa and millet, which I use instead of rice, for variety. These two seeds, as well as rice, are gluten free, which keeps the starch portion of our plate lighter and easily digestible.
 I keep a variety of flours in my pantry - einkorn flour, whole wheat pastry flour, spelt flour and all purpose gluten free flour. I use those to make muffins, cookies,bread, and breakfast items like pancakes,crepes and waffles.
 I also keep brown rice pasta in various shapes and sizes. I like the texture better than regular pasta and I think it holds better than regular noodles in salads and Asian dishes, like pad thai.
 As with legumes, make sure you prepare grains properly,especially when using the whole grain. Fortunately, it is becoming easier to find sprouted grain pastas and flours, which we can use in our cooking without taking the extra step to soak and sprout at home.


TIP: Find a place where you can buy legumes and grains in bulk. It is a lot cheaper and sometimes it is a better quality product. I like to purchase grains and flour from Azure Standard. Also, bulk doesn't mean you have to purchase everything in 25lb bags or larger. It just means that no prepackaging is involved, which is the expensive part of a product, and which saves you money. You can still purchase only what you will consume.


  • Nuts,Seeds and Dried Fruit
  Nuts and seeds are an amazing snack, and a great addition to oatmeal, smoothies and salads. I usually purchase raw walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts, as well as raw sunflower seeds. Raw nuts and seeds can be used for making nut milks at home, which comes with the wonderful byproduct of nut flours. Those can be used in a variety of gluten free cookie and pastry recipes.
 I keep all raw nuts in the freezer and I take small portions out to use within a few days. This prevents the oils in them from going rancid and spoiling. We want a healthy snack and not something that will bring damage to our bodies. We like to roast our own nuts for snacks or put them raw in oatmeal, banana bread and muffins.

Dried fruit can be a wonderful healthy substitute for candy, when you can't get rid of the nagging afternoon sugar craving. Make sure you purchase unsweetened dried fruit, which is not treated with sulfur dioside. This means that you will have to give up the bright orange of dried apricots and the clear golden of raisins, but believe me , you will not lose any of the flavor. I tend to choose dates as a sweet craving tamer. I consider good quality dates to be the purest of dried fruit since dates do not have to be prosessed in any way. Their natural ripe state is the dried fruit you see in the store, no additional dehydration needed.



  • Frozen fruits and vegetables
 Frozen fruits and vegetables can be a lifesaver when you are in a hurry, or when the budget does not allow you to purchase all the fresh produce you want. A lot of people consider frozen items to be in the junk food category, or at least a less healthy option . A lot of times this isn't true. Frozen fruits and veggies are flash frozen very shortly after being picked. They are usually picked in their prime , their ripest state. Avoid any pre- seasoned vegetables , or any sauces included in the bag. They often contain dairy and preservatives, which you don't want to eat. Even seasoned fries are not a good option.
 I keep a variety of frozen fruit - mixed berries, mango, and pineapple. I also like to have veggies like corn and peas frozen, instead of buying them in cans. I love putting frozen berries in my oatmeal in the morning , or whipping up a quick stir fry at night. Dessert is just a blender away as well, just throw some over-ripe bananas in the freezer and then blend them with a frozen fruit of your choice. Yum.



  • Condiments and snacks
When it comes to condiments, I keep a pretty basic selection. I buy organic ketchup and mustard, but I like to make my own dressings. I like versatile items like tahini, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice , which I can easily use as a dressing or a sauce, but also as a component in a dish. I use organic olive oil in salads, and coconut oil for sauteeing and baking. I keep a good quality tamari sauce and sriracha sauce for stir fries. I rely mostly on spices and fresh herbs as flavor enhancers, plus they come with great health benefits.

 I try to keep mostly fruits and veggies for snacking, but when we are on the go, things like Larabars and Cliff bars are a good option. Nut and seed butters are a great way to get a protein rich snack. Hummus is another option, if you preffer something savory. I like to bring hummus and veggies with me at work, or apples and almond butter. 



What do you think? Do you have most of these items in your pantry? Now, all we have to do is add some fresh friuits and veggies, and we'll always have a healthy meal ready. I usually choose one day a week to batch cook some rice and beans, which can save me time in the kitchen later.

What else do you like to keep in your pantry? Any tricks that you use to keep your family happy and healthy? I'm always looking for a few new tricks. ;)