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is it catering or considering?

Posted by on Nov 1, 2010 in Blog Posts | 15 comments

Welcome to my new blog. I’d love any feedback… Still working out some major kinks in the process and my new website…

So, I often say to parents, “consider but don’t cater to your child” when cooking or meal planning. That means you have options, at least one of which your child regularly eats on the table (it might be bread and butter for awhile…) but you do not only cook things you know your child will eat (a sure-fire way to end up with a kids who only eats a handful of favored foods over time.)

So, if you’re making chili and you know little Tammy hasn’t eaten it the last few times you served it, your thinking might go like this…

“Well, Tammy likes cornbread, so I’ll make cornbread with the chili. We like it too. Tammy doesn’t like spicey things so much, so I’ll leave the spice out and let everyone spice it at the table. Also, Tammy loves to help grate cheddar cheese to put on top, so she can help out which might make her more likely to want to try the cheese. Tammy sometimes likes peas and her brother loves them, me too, so I’ll serve it with peas and bread and butter…”

Sounds doable? It is a lot of thinking and planning, and it does get easier and less complicated with time as children expand their food choices. But not even the most adventurous eater likes everything. Which brings us to last night.

Here’s the thing. I realize that I cater to the grown-ups. Dad doesn’t like ground beef for some reason, but I like sloppy Joe’s. So, I made sloppy Joes (also an easy meal) and I also served a DiGiorno’s frozen pizza and brussels sprouts for dinner last night. If Dad wasn’t there, I would not have made the pizza. I ate a small slice, M had a little, I ate a Sloppy Joe, M had about 1/3 of a sloppy-Joe (even at five, it was hard for her to eat. The meat kept falling out, so I had to help her  eat it…) We all enjoyed the sprouts. Dad did not even try the Joes. I think because it is a food all of us would eat (pizza), it was OK… But, I would not have done that for M…

I also know as the chef that I cater to my own likes all the time. I think. as the one who plans, shops and cooks, the family cook is special :) If I really don’t like something, I’m not going to cook it. I make things that aren’t my faves all the time, but maintaining the effort of cooking for a family is such a grind for years on end that I think it’s OK to let the cook decide what’s for dinner. If you don’t enjoy cooking or eating something, you can’t sustain that effort. That’s when you end up grumbling and heading to the local restaurant for an over-priced meal that no one enjoyed because you were all starving and moody and the toddler had a tantrum…The cook has to find joy in the process wherever possible.

What do you think? Are you the cook? Do you cater to adults or kids? Are you over your Halloween craziness yet?

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  1. the milliner

    We split cooking in our house about 50/50, and we definitely cater to our tastes in that we set a menu for the week of food we (the adults) like to eat. Luckily we both like to eat a wide variety of food, so it’s not too hard. We try to break down the week to 1-2 fish nights, 1-3 vegetarian nights and 2-3 meat nights, while making sure that the overall menu for the week isn’t stacked solely with new foods for our son or things he doesn’t like (yet :) ).

    For the very few things that the other doesn’t like, we occasionally have a ‘make your own dinner’ night during the week (works well if someone has evening plans), and then we take advantage and make something for dinner that the other person doesn’t like.

    Right now, during the week, I eat with our 2y4m old son when we get home. He eats whatever we’ve had the night before (so no separate meals). I try to always make sure that he has a protein, vegetable, and starch, and dessert if we have any. And then I also try to make sure he has something on his plate that he is very likely to eat, something he sometimes eats and something he is almost sure to refuse. I sit and eat with him. I eat my own portion of the thing he won’t eat (usually a vegetable or a new dish).

    It sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite easy once you get going. It took me a while to figure out this routine. I was getting so discouraged when he kept refusing everything. I hated wasting food! But this system is really working for us (along with the division of responsibility). I feel good because I’m consistently offering him a balanced meal and new foods. And he gets the modeling from me for eating new foods which is paying off. I can see him slowly becoming more open to new foods. Dinner time is relaxed and he does a good job of eating.

    We all eat together on Sundays or special meals. I’m always amazed at how long he can sit at the table. He really loves eating with both of us, and we will try hard to add more of this when our schedule permits. I will also add that we do on occasion have meals our son can’t eat yet (i.e. shellfish etc.). On those nights I usually serve him an omlette (one of his faves) and some sides.

  2. dawn

    I would be honoured if you shared our Hallowe’en experience. I’m honestly still reeling from it a little bit. It’s so different from me when I was a child. Every year I would vow to make my Hallowe’en candy last until my birthday (Dec 1), it never did.

  3. dawn

    It’s funny about catering to the adults, but not the kids. For us when we order pizza we always get two, one with olives, which I love and my husband abhors and one with pineapple, which he loves but I’m allergic too. We would never do that for our daughter (almost 5) though. We just tell her to pick it off if she doesn’t like it. I will adapt things for her tastes a little though. As others have mentioned, particularly with spicy foods. I will either cook her some separately without the spice or not spice it as highly as we prefer and put the hot sauce on the table. When we order Thai or indian, we always make sure that along with spicy dishes there is also at least one dish that isn’t spicy. Interestingly though since we’ve committed to no pressure she has been a lot more adventurous about trying the spicy things.

    I hear what people are saying about the menu rut though. I do really love to cook but it can feel like a chore. I’d love to see more tips and recipes if people have them.

    As for Hallowe’en, I had one of my proudest feeding moments last night. We brought home the loot and I checked through it while my daughter sorted it out. I told her she could have as much as she wants and she chose two chocolate bars, then she said “that’s all I want tonight. It will still be here tomorrow so I don’t need to eat any more right now”. This kind of blew me away. To see such a blantant expression of her self-regulation brought tears to my eyes. I would never have done that as a child. She has always been a good eater but now that we’ve backed off completely and let her take control of her whether and how much, she is so mature about it. Her attitudes about eating are so much better than my own.

    • katja

      I like how you are adapting, but not short order cooking. You’ve figured it out. LOVE this:
      “interestingly though since we’ve committed to no pressure she has been a lot more adventurous about trying the spicy things.”
      Amazing, isn’t it? I am going to reprint your Halloween experience if you don’t mind :)
      sounds like you are exposing her to lots of different tastes. Good for you! The kiddos can be a major inspiration. isn’t it cool to not pass something on from our own childhoods? I think that’s a major cosmic victory!

  4. sarah

    I definitely cater to the adults in our home. My husband is a former VERY picky eater (he’s much better than when I first met him but still has many items he would rather not eat) who comes from a family with picky parents. Food was not an enjoyable thing in their home b/c his mother wasn’t a very good cook and had a long list of things she wouldn’t eat or serve.
    I have the joy of ED in my past so I like to eat healthy but love almost any food you could put in front of me and really enjoy cooking. In my family, food was (is) a BIG deal.

    I worry quite a bit about passing on either/both of our picky or ED habits to my (toddler) daughter and (infant) son so your blog has been a lifeline for us.
    I tend to make meals most often that I know my husband will eat and enjoy b/c I will generally eat almost anything and my daughter, so far, isn’t terribly picky. It can get challenging at times to find meals that are balanced enough for both of us. I’d love to fill our plates with more interesting meals or vegetable-laden fare (rather than ALWAYS have a meat/starch/cheese with a side of veggies that I eat most of). I wouldn’t mind making a yummy ratatouille or veggie soup but it wouldn’t be worth the effort. With only a picky adult, a toddler and me at the table we’d end up with piles of leftovers!

  5. sandrad

    Oh my, there is nothing that gets a cook down more than having people not enjoy what has been cooked. Since I have started the “food in the middle of the table everyone help yourself” this has improved, but gee whiz I feel constrained as the only true omnivore in our home (if it is food I’ll eat it, and probably like it). It’s one thing if one other person will eat, but if they both dislike it I’m very unlikely to cook that dish again!! I find I do fall into a bit of a rut menu-wise.

    • katja

      this is tough, as remember it takes MANY exposures to help kids like new foods. Does it help if you plan sides they generally like? Also, if something is really hard to prepare or labor intensive, I hear you, but maybe see if you can sneak in a couple easier recipes even if you are pretty sure they don’t like it…They might surprise you. Remember, you should feel good about yourself after you do your job which is getting the food on the table. If we base our feelings of success on what the kids eat or how much, we are bound to be disappointed and that leads to pressure.
      Keep me posted!

      • sandrad

        Yes, well the 12 year old is still trying new things,and is quite proud of her expanding palate, but a 60 yr old? The man is fairly set in his ways – on the plus side he is proof that human beings don’t actually NEED fruit to survive!

  6. Anne

    We do something similar. For example tonight we’re having chicken jalfrezi, which is a bit too “exotic” for my son. Since the recipe only calls for 1/2 lb of chicken breast (and I tend to freeze it in full pounds), I toss the rest into the toaster oven for him. I guess technically I’m making two dinners, but it’s not really any extra work.

    On a technical note – will you be adding an RSS feed for the blog?

    • katja

      i get it. I have probably done similar. What I try to do (like what I did last night with the pizza) is put it all on serving plates in the middle of the table, not make a big deal of it. So, he can chose either one.
      Look for RSS feed at top of sidebar (being added as we speak!)

  7. Clio

    I do sometimes cater to adults, but I am trying to be better about that. We plan our meals by the week, and some nights I just don’t feel like cooking and eating what we have planned. While I want to have some flexibility, I am trying to pretty much stay with the plan because it messes us up when we don’t!

    For our family, it is probably harder to keep the adults adhering to the rule about no food outside the kitchen area. It is easy to want to carry a drink around the house, but we don’t let the kids do it so I don’t want the adults to do it either!

    We enjoyed Halloween. After trick-or-treating I let my kids eat as much candy as they want. It is so gratifying to me that all together they probably eat 3 or 4 pieces. It can look like more, because they can try it and throw it away if they don’t like it, but all told it really isn’t that much. It is rewarding to see the continuing evidence that we are doing “works.”

    • katja

      thanks Clio! Meal planning is tricky! Same happens for me. I plan something, but that day for whatever reason don’t want to eat it. I agree that the adults in our house don’t follow kids rules. I for example drink soda on occasion. M doesn’t like it, so it’s not an issue, but I wouldn’t let her drink soda regularly…
      The “gloat over your stash and eat as much on Halloween” worked really well for us too! Except gramma and grampa wanted to Skype and see her costume while she was sorting and sampling. M tried about 4 things she didn’t like. She LOVED her sucker ring, “I’ve always wanted this!” No fights when it was time for bed. She finished her ring with breakfast this am! (And we forgot to brush her teeth on the way to school!) oops!

  8. Kate

    This is a great post about how cooking one meal for your family doesn’t have to be an all or none “adult meal” versus “children’s meal.” My husband and I like really spicy food, but our daughter doesn’t, so I put only minimal spice in dishes and put Tabasco or siracha or another hot sauce on the table. Also my daughter tends to like individual ingredients rather than all of the ingredients together, so I try and separate things for her on her plate. One example is that when we have chicken tortilla soup she likes it when the corn, beans, and chicken are put on her plate without broth and separated a bit, meanwhile she wouldn’t be into eating it all as a soup. We also do this when eating out. Rather than ordering a kids meal which is usually not that healthy or interesting, my husband and I figure out how to order a few dishes that have components that everyone in the family likes. For example if we go out for Vietnamese our daughter will eat the insides of fresh spring rolls, the noodles from our soup, and then maybe an appetizer portion of tofu or another protein.

    • katja

      i’m glad you have figured it out too! We do the same when eating out. it can get a little ridiculous. We end up ordering mutliple sides like mashed potatoes or the veggie side. Sometimes she doesn’t need a half dozen options, according to dad anyway! Probably true, but things are going so well, why mess with it!

      • Kate

        Yes, we can get out of control with sides/appetizers also. Just this weekend we ordered her an appetizer-size portion of pasta but she ended up just eating our side of fruit salad and bites of our sandwiches. It’s just so hard to determine how much a toddler is going to feel like eating on any given day – all the more reason to not order the kids chicken nuggets or mac and cheese, which I wouldn’t want to bring home and eat later anyway.