Friday, October 13, 2017

Eat This, Don't Say That

By Scott and Andreza E.

Have you ever thought that maybe you're saying the wrong thing to get your kids to try different foods? I remember back in the day when we went to feeding therapy with my son and I was invited into the session to help things along.  At the first try the therapist already corrected me, saying if you give him a choice, the response will very likely be "no".

When trying to get your little ones to eat something new or something they aren’t very excited about, be direct. Rather than give them a choice and ask “do you want broccoli,” say “eat your broccoli” instead. Giving them an opportunity to say “no” and wiggle out certainly dims your chances of success.

Young kids will almost always take the easy way out. If they sense they have a say in the matter and think “ok, maybe I don’t have to eat this after all,” especially when confronted with new, unfamiliar tastes, they will typically take the path of least resistance. We can’t really blame them. Trying strange foods is a whole new experience for them. It’s easy for us to forget that they are getting used to novel sensations all the time and eating is certainly a big part of that.

So dictate the terms. Don’t give them the chance to turn up their noses. Don’t force them to eat anything they flat-out don’t want (a tactic that is guaranteed to fail), especially if you are having a hard time getting over the hump, but don’t be too flexible and make them less likely to try something new. It took many times to get this down, but now it comes out naturally for us. Give it a try, it might not feel natural at first, but a more directive approach might be the change your little one needs to start impressing you at the dinner table.

To reinforce, a more direct approach doesn't mean being mean and yelling at your kids.  It is just how you phrase it more than anything. Still give your kids a nice experience at the dinner table!

Refer back to many of the games we play at the table once everything else fails: The Bites Game, Flip the Coin, Kiss, Lick, Bite, Foods Chart, and if you haven't yes, check out how it all started here.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Benefits of a Reward System - Taco Party Edition

By Scott E.
My son loves tacos. Just say “tacos” and his eyes light up. However, he only likes stripped down tacos. That is, he uses his index finger to scoop out all the cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. He prefers tacos with only the necessary ingredients, in his view: yummy taco meat and crispy shell. What’s funny is that he loves mac n cheese (he also doesn’t mind eating tomatoes). Give him a giant helping of mac n cheese and he will quickly go to town. Why does he drool over gooey mac n cheese but cringe at the thought of having cheese, among other things, on his precious tacos?
I wasn’t convinced he didn’t like the cheese – and lettuce, tomatoes – on his tacos. He clearly had no problems consuming cheese in other forms. I figured he simply needed help clearing a mental hurdle, so I plotted to get him over the hump. Rather than get mad at him for tossing aside a sizable portion of his food every time we sat down to eat our favorite Mexican dish or give in to frustration and flat out order him to eat his entire taco, I offered a reward. Sugary treats always make for great motivation, but instead of plying him with unhealthy, hyperactivity-inducing desserts, I decided to go in a different direction. He had recently started a coin collection (he likes going to the coin store almost as much as he likes his ground-beef-and-shell-only tacos). In particular, he had been on the hunt for old wheat pennies. So, I told him that if he ate at least one taco in its entirety, that I would give him a wheat penny to add to his collection. He agreed and promptly proceeded to devour his first taco as it had been prepared. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem to mind ingesting a taco replete with all the fixings. Fast forward to our next taco party and, much to my amazement, he volunteered to eat a taco – cheese, lettuce, tomato and all – in exchange for a wheat penny, just like last time. Long story short, he ended up eating all of the tacos on his plate, including the cheese, lettuce and tomato chunks. Despite his prior misgivings, this time around he did not remove any of the tasty non-meat filling and did a great job of cleaning his plate. He had turned a corner.

The moral of the story is that it may be better to offer a little enticement rather than relying on your children to “trust their taste buds” and automatically assume that they flat-out don’t like certain foods. Kids’ palates are still developing. As you know, a lot of what they eat is new and unfamiliar, particularly for our younger eaters. It takes time to grow accustomed to new foods and new combinations of tastes (like shredded cheese on a taco vs old reliable melted cheese on pasta!). The next time you encounter a little resistance at the dinner table or restaurant, use your coaxing skills and give your children a chance to broaden their mealtime horizons. You might be surprised, a little healthy motivation can sometimes work wonders.


In Southern Brazil we have a huge European influence, so this recipe might not be too odd in European circles, but here in the US I'm yet to see somebody else make this dish! At least in my circle!



For the polenta:
8 cups water
2 cups polenta (coarse yellow cornmeal)
1 Tbs. salt
For the sauce:
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 lb. ground beef 
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1/2 tsp oregano seasoning 
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup of water

1/2 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese (or any other cheese blend)

The meat sauce is fairly easy to make.  Sauté the onions first and then garlic with the olive oil until transparent.  Add the beef and brown it.  Then add the seasonings and tomato paste and add water (you could use stock if you prefer) to make the sauce (more or less 1/2 cup). You don't want the sauce too watery nor too thick, so add it little by little. Let it rest until polenta is done ( I like to make the sauce first because if the polenta cools down too much it will thicken and not work as well).

To make the polenta, in a saucepan over high heat, bring the water to a boil. Dribble the cornmeal into the water in a very thin, steady stream, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent lumps. Add the salt. When the polenta begins to boil, reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring frequently, until the polenta is thick and pulls away from the sides of the pot, 30 to 40 minutes (I personally like mine a bit softer than this, so I usually add a bit more water).

Add some of the sauce into an 8x8 casserole dish (this first layer is very minimal, just so the polenta doesn't stick to the bottom of the cassarole), then add one layer of hot polenta on top.  Then again one more of sauce, then cheese, then polenta.  The last layer is just meat sauce and cheese. Sprinkle a bit of additional oregano and enjoy! If you want to, you can always place it in the oven to melt the cheese, but usually for me the polenta is still so hot that it melts right away. 

Such an easy recipe and very delicious.  If you're a fan of casseroles, you will love this one! Let me know when you try it! I wanna know how it turned out!

Any polenta that is left can be put in a square container, just wet the bottom of the dish for the polenta not to stick, cover and store it in the fridge.  The next day you can cut it in slices and fry it shallow olive oil - or in the oven. Top it with cheese and oregano! Yum! 

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Surprisingly Easy Tool To Help You Get Your Kids To Try New Foods

If you've been following my blog you know that I am always working on getting my son to try new foods.  As a picky eater, he tends to stick with what he likes, with foods that are in his comfort zone, for most of his meals.  Before going thru 1 year of very expensive therapy, there was zero chance I could get him to eat anything new.  At least it never happened when I tried, the times he did try something new was because he decided he wanted it, so very much a control thing happening here... I'm very much aware of that.

One of the last things we did in therapy was making sure we were able to translate what my son was learning with the therapist and apply it in the real world and at home. So talking to the psychologist, she suggested we used a very simple tool to help us get more foods added to the list of foods he tried. The idea is very simple!


The next thing I know my son is trying new foods or at least giving a second thought to trying something new.  Mind you that before it was "no way Jose!" I'm not trying this food I've never seen in my life! So the fact that we went from running from the table to at least considering touching  a new food, I was feeling pretty accomplished.

Today we have mastered trying new foods and even adding new ones to the foods he will eat on a more consistent basis. And all of this was accomplished with a piece of paper. We just kept working on it and we were consistent with it. Today if there's a situation where a new food is available we use our magic tool and there's a good chance we get at least one bite to try.


What is this magic tool anyways? We call it at my house "The New Foods Chart" very creative, don't you think? It is literally a piece of paper with 10 squares and we for the longest time made one with crayons and a blank piece of paper. Now that I created one for the blog, we have started using these, they are neat and I've printed a few and they are handy at my kitchen desk. We don't go thru them as fast as the Bites Game that you can learn how to make here, but I like having a couple printed out.



You might need to explain the new game and get your kid on board.  After all there's no way to play it if you don't have a buy in! For each 10 new foods that he/she tries, he/she will get a prize. Agree on a prize together to be given at the completion of the chart and write it down in the spiky ballon. For each new food that your little tries, mark one of the 10 squares. Writing the food in the square (and maybe the date) can help remember what the new food was. It might take a few weeks to complete the chart, be patient! Praise your kid for trying the food. Make it fun!! And remember, for this game to work next time, you must follow thru on the prize!! 

It is that simple! Some of the prizes my son has chosen were experiences.  The first ever prize he chose was to get cotton candy at the zoo.  I had planned a trip to the zoo on a Saturday early morning when the crowds were very thin, and I had to follow thru with getting him the cotton candy.  So he basically had cotton candy by 9 a.m.  But that is ok, he worked hard on completing that first New Foods Chart and I reminded him that he was getting that cotton candy because he did a good job.  

Adding a new food

Obviously after a few years of doing this the number of charts we complete have been fewer and fewer.  The last time he finished one was back in December 2016.  We were also having a busy couple of months, so it took us until March to actually get him his prize. At the time he chose to go to Legoland in TX, which is not right next door and took some planning.  So whatever the prize you agreed on is, just make sure it happens! A few times we had material things, like Lego sets or Hot Wheels cars, which are so much easier to get than taking the whole family to an expensive outing.   

Enjoying the outing he earned

The sky is the limit! Have fun trying new foods!!

Download the FREE New Foods Chart here!

Here's a good article from Parents Magazine with an expert's strategies for dealing with your picky kid.  

Monday, November 28, 2016

Leftover Turkey Soup - With White Beans and Spinach

There are only so many ways you can make a turkey sandwich with leftover meat from Thanksgiving.  And I bet you can't even see a turkey sandwich in front of you right now.  I put together a white bean and spinach turkey soup that surprised me in how easy it was and how delicious it turned out. Even my resident picky eater literally licked his bowl at the end.  This one is simple to make, you can make it really easy by adding canned beans, but I didn't have that, so I went with dry beans instead.

Leftover Turkey Soup

What you'll need
1/4 cup diced onions
1 cup dry great northern beans (or any white bean) soaked*
1 1/2 cup leftover turkey meat
1 cup frozen spinach (you can use fresh too if you prefer, and have that)
3/4 cup pasta - I used mini gluten-free "O's"
salt and pepper to taste

How to make it
Because we are using white beans, it will take a little longer to cook. Did you know beans (of the dry variety) do not cook properly if you add salt to it before it cooks? Yeah, I knew that but I still added the dry beans to the soup and it did not cook properly, so to avoid making my mistake you need to start cooking the beans first. If your turkey does not have any salt in it, you can add it in the beginning.  But since it is leftover turkey it is already cooked and you can just add it later.
In an medium/large sauce pan (I made mine in my cast iron pan) saute the onions until it softens 2-3 mins.  Then add the dry beans and water (I'd say about 3-4 cups, you can add more as needed) and let it cook for 45 mins to 1 hour (keep testing to see if the beans are cooked). Once that is cooked, you can add the turkey and cook for additional 30-45 mins. Then add the frozen spinach and pasta Os and cook for 10 more mins. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If you are using canned beans, just start with making a broth out of the turkey and onions.  You could add carrots to the soup too, I just didn't have any. Then at the end add the beans, spinach and pasta.

*Soaking - soak beans for a few hours in cold water, or if you don't have the time just soak it in boiling water for one hour. Drain before adding it to the soup.  Or if you really don't have time to soak the beans or don't want to deal with that, just used canned.  It works just as well!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Brazilian Style Carrot Cake

Growing up in Brazil I used to eat this cake a lot.  I loved making it when I became a teenager (because it is extremely easy to make) and now I love making it for my kids.  In Brazil the cake looks a lot more orange inside than making it here in the US.  I don't know what changes, but I still love the taste.  And the chocolate icing makes it all the better.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE American Carrot Cake, but for me, it is a totally different cake.

I am not one to disguise my veggies, I believe kids should know how they look and learn how to eat them that way.  But that doesn't mean I disapprove other people doing it.  Moms have to do whatever it takes to get their kids to eat veggies, and if it is hiding them in baked goods so be it.  If you are looking for recipes with hidden veggies, this one is perfect for you.  You will be happy to know there's a full pound of carrots in here.  That's right! And there's no way kids can tell that's what is in it.

This recipe is part of a challenge I participated in a group of mom bloggers on Instagram.  The challenge was to make a healthy Halloween treat that did not contain refined sugars.  I used coconut sugar for the first time for this recipe and was pleasantly surprised by the results.  

Brazilian Style Carrot Cake


1 lb of carrots (clean, peeled and cut in cubes)
4 eggs
1/2 cup of walnut oil**
1 1/2 cups of coconut sugar*
2 1/2 cups of wheat flour
2 tablespoons of baking powder

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place all ingredients in the blender starting with the wet ingredients. Blend it until smooth and place it in a greased baking pan. This cake looks beautiful in bundt form.  But you can use a 9x13 or cupcakes as well.  Bake it for 30 mins.  Time and/or temperature has to be adjusted for cupcakes.  When I made these they were ready in 15-20 minutes. 


6 tablespoons of coconut sugar
3 tablespoons of Dutch process chocolate
2 tablespoons of butter (or ghee if you want to make it dairy free)

Place all ingredients in a pan and stir it until it to boils for a couple of minutes.  The icing will be ready when you tilt the pan and the icing separates from the bottom of the pan. Place on top of cooled cake and add sprinkles if desired.

*coconut sugar or other sugar of your preference
** walnut oil works well, but vegetable oil or almond oil also works

Friday, September 9, 2016

Helping Others - How Having a Picky Eater Came In Handy

Today I went to help out with my kindergartener's school lunch time. At that early age they always need moms there to help open juice boxes and snack packs, it was so great seeing him eat his food in a different environment and not fuss about it. We will to try cafeteria food at some point, but for now this is good. But my victory today didn't come from my son's eating; it came from a totally unexpected source. As all kinder moms left, the first graders were coming in. I was still there grabbing my purse and on my way out I noticed this little girl crying quietly by a table. I asked if everything was OK but didn't get much of a response so I moved on. However, something didn't seem right so I went back. It turns out her grown up didn't pack her lunch and she was afraid she would not have anything to eat. Of course that would never happen, DISD offers free lunch, so we went thru the line and I started noticing she was very picky, she didn't want anything they offered. Oh boy! Here we go I thought. They have a few options each day, so I made sure she picked the food and not me. Since I was done with the Kinder shift and another group of moms had just came in to help out, my intention was to just help her get her food and go run the list of errands I had planned for that morning and then go get lunch with a dear friend. Yeah.... that didn't happen. When we got back to the table Abby (girl's name has been changed) started crying again because she didn't like anything that was on her plate. My first thought was: this is a failure! Can somebody else help her? But then I had an idea, what if I played one of the games I teach here on this blog? I first thought the Bites Game could work, but I didn't have pen and paper (ironic since we were at a school - I just mean they weren't right there handy to me, after all they only have 30 mins to eat). The Food Gamble would work too, but my purse is really small, and since my kids are bigger now I only carry my phone, lip balm and wallet, so I didn't have a die. I had a penny so the Heads and Tails Game could work, but it works better if you only have 2 choices, but I was able to adapt.  I told Abby that if the penny landed on heads she would have to choose between the celery and the smoothie cup (I thought all kids liked that little smoothie cup, but not this one!). If it landed on tails, she had to try the mac n cheese or the fish strips (the fish actually looked very delicious!).  Abby was not open to any of this! She was just looking down and pouting. I asked her, how about Mrs. Andreza tosses the coin the first time? When she heard the sound of the coin hit the table she immediately looked up interested. So I said, look! You got tails, that means you have to choose between taking a bite of the fish stick or the mac? Which one do you choose? She very cautiously picked up the fish and was not eating. So I suggested she didn't have to eat either one, this time she could drink a sip of the chocolate milk.  She chose the milk option. She still had to take a bite of the fish, and since she was still not trying it I thought I should offer her a reward, but what!? I could think of a hug, a kiss, a high five, but with her it would not work.  Luckily inside my small purse I had a bag of fruit snacks that my kids got from somewhere and I never gave to them.  So I offered that, it worked, she took a bite of the fish. Yay! This is getting better! We continued with the game and each time it got better, the first few tosses were all tails, so she ate almost an entire fish stick before I tossed heads. With heads, the options were celery and the smoothie, and she did not want to try the smoothie at all. I tried the Kiss, Lick, Bite (Drink in this case) Game with that and she made a funny face and immediately grabbed a piece of celery and stared at it for a moment. She took the smallest of bites, so I kept praising her and trying to make it more fun for her. She took better bites and by the end of the lunch she had eaten almost all 3 fish sticks, some celery and almost all of the milk. They keep a tight schedule there and by this point they were starting to put lunch boxes away and clean up the cafeteria. Two of Abby's classmates who were nearby became interested in helping me play the game with her. Teachers gave a 2 minute warning and I couldn't believe what I was seeing! Abby was eating more of the fish without us tossing the coin and the best part of all; she had a smile on her face. To me, that made it all worth it. Seeing Abby so happy with a genuine smile on her face made my day.  I didn't care that errands were moved to another day, lunch with my friend was few minutes late and that I probably looked like a crazy casino lady cheering and calling out each coin toss, what was important here was the fact that I was able to help a little girl who would likely have gone to recess and class hungry. Things got rushed at the end and I ended up not giving her the fruit snacks from my purse. Next time I'll know to get it out as soon as I offer it so I don't make the same mistake again. I will never forget Abby, and I hope she knows now that she can get her free lunch from the cafeteria next time her grown up does not pack her lunch.  I can't promise I will be there every time, but if I am I will sure sit with her again and give her the reward she so deservedly earned.

My son was so happy to see me at school today. I'll go again for sure!