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When a challenging, “She won’t like it” dish is for dinner (plus Thai Basil Noodle Salad recipe)

Posted by on May 1, 2013 in Blog Posts | 5 comments


So the other night as I was menu planning, I was leafing through my 3-ring binder and came across a recipe I made last when I was pregnant!  M has never had this meal (though she promised me she has had it before). It’s a Thai beef and basil salad, and I just didn’t think she’d like it. I have a fairly adventurous eater who happens to  heartily enjoy the 10-12 dishes (and others) I make on a regularish rotation. I realized to my chagrin, that I don’t often make things I “know” she doesn’t like, like grilled cheese for example, which I had made when she was visiting the grandparents. Hadn’t made that for about 3 years. It’s been a while since having something totally new as the main entree.

So, I decided to walk my talk, and cook the foods I want to eat and want her to learn to enjoy. I made the salad (enjoy hot or cold) but I also made a cucumber salad she likes, and served a dessert that was filling and that she likes. (Whole foods single cup custard, cream, berries and cake that we split, and added cut up strawberries and banana.)

Thai Basil Noodle Salad
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Delicious, mild salad great hot or cold.
Cuisine: Thai (adapted from Cooking Light recipe)
Serves: 4-6
  • 3 Tbspns fresh lime juice
  • ¼-1/2 teaspoon Thai Red Curry paste
  • 1 Tbspn fish sauce
  • 1 Tbspn sugar
  • 1 bunch asparagus (tough parts cut or broken off bottom, cut into 1 inch pieces)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • ¾ lb flank steak
  • 8 oz rice noodles (More or less depending on size of family. This serves 4 with generous portions. Make more sauce if making more noodles. The original recipe called for 4 ounces, but I wanted more noodle to goodies ratio.)
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  1. Put large pot of water to boil with a pinch of salt. Heat medium skillet over medium-high heat with 2 Tbspns olive oil. Mix the sauce ingredients, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, curry paste in medium sized bowl. (If you are new to cooking, do this in stages and assemble, if you are a seasoned cook, you can assemble and cook at the same time.)
  2. Sear the flank steak, cook 4-6 minutes per side depending on thickness and desired doneness. Sprinkle with salt. Slice thinly across the grain.
  3. Add the cut asparagus to the boiling water, cook about 4-6 minutes, until desired doneness. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon or sieve * keep the water boiling for noodles. Toss asparagus in the pan that the steak was seared in to get some of the flavor of the steak and oil.
  4. Cook noodles in the boiling asparagus water, once asparagus removed. Drain noodles when done (use any rice or other noodle, cook based on directions on box).
  5. Put noodles in large bowl, toss with ½ of sauce mixture. Add steak, asparagus, cherry tomatoes and basil to the medium bowl with the remaining sauce mixture, toss to coat, then add all ingredients to large bowl. Add basil and toss, or serve steak mixture on top of the noodles.


I figured she’d get enough to eat, but I totally empathize with that worry that your child won’t eat and will be hungry, and the lime and curry paste was a flavor she wasn’t really used to. I had too much steak and asparagus, so I left a piece of steak out, plain and sliced on a plate, as well as a small pile of asparagus (which I just ate as left-overs with pita bread and hummus. YUMMY!)

So, the table looked like above. The mixed salad, as well as a plate in the center of the table with plain steak, some A-1 sauce, plain asparagus, cucumber salad and dessert that we assembled at the table.  I told her a little about the salad for context, “It’s not too spicy, there is steak and asparagus, and I last ate it when you were in my tummy! It tastes a little like our turkey curry.”  She tried the salad (no suggesting or praise from mom or dad), said she liked it, but didn’t ask for seconds, and ate a very small portion for her (maybe 1/3 cup). NOTE, I did not announce that I put out the extra choices for her, “In case she didn’t like the new dish,” I just laid the table with all of it out there. I think it would have been fine, had I not had extra, to let her just get by with dessert and cucumber salad. She enjoyed the cucumber salad, and the fruit. To my surprise, she ate a lot of sliced banana, which is a fruit she has been refusing for awhile (bananas, like eggs and tuna are foods she eats for months on end, then rejects for months on end. All without drama mind you, just says, “no thank you” and moves on.)


1) Cut foods differently. This morning again she asked for banana “circles” and ate a whole banana, when she hadn’t touched them for months. In the past I’ve written about how this happened with carrots as well when she was about 4. Sticks? No way! Carrot coins? Yes please!
2) Serve familiar and safe foods with any new foods so your child can enjoy something. Avoid pressure or suggesting or praising for trying new foods
3) Cook foods you want to eat. So many clients share how grateful they feel when they can cook their favorites, and not just the child’s favorites again. Foodies, rejoice!

Have your kids surprised you by liking something you never thought they would? I remember M devouring pickled onions as a toddler!

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  1. Twistie

    This is a good reminder to me. This week’s CSA basket is going to include summer squashes and rhubarb. Mr. Twistie hasn’t had much enthusiasm for either in the past, and sometimes I sort of let it slide, don’t bother making these things for myself, and feel back when they go off and I didn’t use them. Not this time. If Mr. Twistie makes faces at the sight of rhubarb, I’m going to make myself some rhubarb ice cream. If he looks intrigued, rhubarb/strawberry pie.

    Besides, he did surprise me a couple months ago by really loving it when I put bok choy in a stir fry. He’s always sworn up and down he hates bok choy. That was when I realized he most often had it in bad Chinese restaurants where they leave it in whole leaves and drown it in sauce. In this case, I cut it in small pieces and added it to the stir fry at the last minute, so there would still be some crunch in the juicier end and the leaves wouldn’t end up slimy. Suddenly he loves bok choy. Lesson learned.

    One day I hope to convince him that Brussels sprouts – when properly prepared – are neither mushy nor flavorless. If he still doesn’t like them, well, that’s okay, but I have come to the realization that if I never, ever cook them when he’s around, he’ll never learn that lesson. It’s an easy trap to fall into, the assumption that kids (and picky adults) won’t eat something, so there’s no point in cooking it at all.

    And we do get bombarded with messages that kids don’t like certain foods. In fact, we’re often taught that kids only like chicken tenders, mac and cheese, hot dogs, French fries, pizza, yogurt, and apple juice. Then we’re shocked when we feed them that menu, and they never learn to like much of anything else.

  2. Heather

    My son ate about a teaspoon of potatoes last night with dinner! My husband and I both love potatoes, and we eat them at least once a week, sometimes more frequently. Most commonly we have them as hashbrowns with breakfast, but we also serve them roasted, boiled, mashed, and as fries, and my son never eats them. He has probably had over 200 exposures to potatoes during his 7 years and never started liking them. Last night we made riced potatoes. He took a small amount, took one taste and was pretty neutral about it, but took a couple more tastes over the course of dinner. I’m definitely not going to say he “likes” potatatoes now, nor do I really care if he ever does, but I was glad to see him trying them!

    • katja

      Wonderful! This gets to a post I did last night about the phrase that it takes 10 times before kids like a new food. Great example of how it can take far longer! M didn’t really try potatoes for a long time, now that you mention it, until she was 4 or 5, but since then, mashed potatoes (with ketchup…) are one of her favorites.

  3. KellyK

    That sounds very tasty! Glad that M enjoyed it. I’ve been in a little bit of a food rut too (except for this weekend, where we made homemade fish & chips).

    Also, I *love* the fact that your recipe acknowledges that a beginner cook isn’t going to have time to assemble everything while the skillet is going. It seems like a lot of recipes give you three or four things to do at once and don’t necessarily consider how realistic that might be. (I’m a pretty experienced cook, but not the world’s best multitasker by any means.)

    • katja

      Thanks Kelly. It was yummy. very lightly dressed, the flavors of all the ingredients really came through. They had this as some 15 minute recipe, which would have required seamless coordination. I did some things first, and some together, def more than 15 minutes! 🙂