As Lulu, now nearly 22 months old, was composedly chomping on duck rillettes on the patio at the Fuel Café one evening this week, folks around the table started to marvel at the adventurousness of my daughter’s appetite and her well developed palate.
The wow-ing continued and she worked her way through the rillettes and as I, with maternal smugness, explained that among her favorites are Manchengo cheese, summer squash gratin, and lamb stew- the Chez Panisse Cafe recipe.
I don’t think my kid (as much as I love her) is great; I think she is normal. She eats the way a normal kid should- she tries anything and she enjoys meat as much as vegetables as much as dairy. She won’t love everything, but she eats most things and she tries stuff; that pleases me. Her appetite is natural, not a circus-worthy act entitled watch my kid eat foie gras…or duck rillettes for that matter.
I have strong feelings about what to feed kids. There are so many things wrong with how we feed children these days that I am having a hard time even beginning my list of complaints. I am not alone in my disdain, I know, and I am not about to cover the things that are wrong and all of the ways in which they can be corrected. I can, however, share a few things I think can be done to get the kids started on the right foot with eating.
1. Chill it- you are projecting. My theory is that little kids and babies in particular are like animals- they sense fear. If you are nervous and tense when you try to feed them broccoli, they will sniff you out and fling your anxious broccoli to the other side of the room; then they will smile. Relax; be normal; trust your child.
2. Expose the kid to a variety of tastes, textures, flavors early on. Their palate is developing each time they try something new and with each time they discover a new combination of flavors. Your child’s eating habits are a clean slate to build on- take advantage of it.
3. Concede, but persevere. The kid may not take to a certain food the first time or the tenth or the fiftieth. Adjust expectations but keep trying. My mother dutifully sprinkled fresh parsley over my food probably every single day of my childhood and I didn’t actually like it until early in my twenties. I could not live without it now- it just took me a long time to appreciate it.
4. Set a good example- eat healthy. Look in your refrigerator and decide if that is the way you want your kid to eat. Maybe eating healthy is not exactly your thing- let me assure you if it isn’t, it also won’t be your kid’s thing. You set the standard, the kid will follow. A change in your eating habits may do both of you good.
5. Cook from scratch- no cans, no boxes, no frozen concoctions. This will allow you to control the quality, the process, and the ingredients- think low sodium, no preservatives, no additives- nothing you can’t pronounce, much less recognize on the ingredient list.
6. Get the kid involved. Show them what you are cooking, how you chop, stir, roast, season, and, bake. It sets an amazing example- show them that making your food is normal, natural, and enjoyable. No matter how small the baby, they watch you- give them credit for processing what you show them and involve them at least by talking to them early on.
7. Engage those involved in your kid’s life and gather their support. You need the support, trust me. There will be times when you won’t cook and when you will beg grandma to cook a little something for the youngster. And there will be times when you will feel sabotaged by your own family- such a time will come when you will discover that your kid developed a Twinkie habit at an aunt’s house. Build a support system for your goals.
8. Treat your kid like a normal person with respect and consideration. Feed them what you eat. Would you like to eat this?
I didn’t think so- neither should they. Once they are on to solid, chunky foods, be a sweetheart and share your plate.
9. Encourage but don’t exaggerate and certainly don’t push. Positive reinforcement works, but you don’t want to declare a national holiday with fireworks and all when your kid finally broke down and chewed on a spoonful of peas. And you also don’t want them to eat their peas out of fear or for some ridiculous reward…like that Twinkie.
10. Commit and get inspired. I won’t lie- it was not easy to make all of my daughter’s food- chopping, steaming, pureeing, blending, mixing and matching from the time she was 6 months until well into the fifteenth month of her life. There were times when I didn’t feel like cooking—at all. Inspiration was the other issue- what to make??? I had this book, and this one, and this one- they provided some inspiration.
Lulu’s Favorite Lamb Stew- the Chez Panisse Café Recipe
Ingredients: 4 pounds boneless lean lamb shoulder cut into ½ inch cubes; 1 ½ cup dry white wine; 2 onions thinly sliced; 2 leeks thinly sliced; 1 celery rib chopped; 1 carrot peeled and chopped; 3 medium ripe tomatoes, halved, plus 6 more, peeled seeded and chopped; 6 cups chicken stock; 5-6 springs of thyme; 2 bay leaves; 3 small heads garlic, peeled; salt; pepper; olive oil.
To serve: 2 cloves garlic peeled and chopped; ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley; 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest.
And fresh homemade pasta!
Cut the meat up in the desired size cubes, season it with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Cover and refrigerate a few hours or overnight.
Preheat the over to 475ºF.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat up a couple tablespoons of olive oil and brown the meat working in small batches.
Remove the meat and put it in a Dutch oven or similar.
In your saucepan, which is still on the stove, add the white wine, turn up the heat and deglaze the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the juices to the lamb.
Wipe your saucepan clean, heat another 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and slowly cook the onions, leeks, celery rib, and carrot. Stir occasionally until softened.
Add these cooked veggies and the halves tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf and chicken stock to the lamb. Bring everything to a boil.
Cover and place in the oven. Reduce the heat in the oven to 350ºF and cook until the meat is tender- about 2 hours.
Here’s where it gets a little dicey- when the lamb is done, the recipe says to “carefully” remove the meat out of the broth with a slotted spoon. Right! Let’s say that all of the veggies stick to the meat- I “carefully” removed the lamb while also searing the tips of my fingers into numbness. I was not happy! The cheesecloth nest that I cooked the beef bourguignon meat in worked much better. I am definitely doing that next time I make this recipe.
Strain the broth. Bring the lamb and broth back to a boil. Add the small cloves of garlic, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes.
In a small pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and gently stew the rest of the tomatoes for a few minutes. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper an then add them to the cooked lamb. Cook for another few minutes.
Serve over fresh pasta and top with freshly chopped parsley, finely chopped garlic, and a sprinkle lemon zest.