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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Darn you, W. K. Kellogg!

My son loves fruit. Usually, this is one of those things that I feel incredibly fortunate about; I mean, there are a lot less healthy things out there that my boy could go crazy over, right? Every now and then, however, his fruit obsession causes me problems.

Marketing gurus have apparently decided that plain old cereal in a bowl just doesn’t look appetizing. Thus, there are snazzy photographs of cereal garnished with luscious-looking fruit on the outside of the box. Thanks, Madison Avenue; it has taken me MONTHS to convince my toddler that there really aren’t any raspberries inside that box of Oatios. Even now, he points hopefully to those glistening red jewels at breakfast time, hoping for a miracle. Try explaining what “serving suggestion” means to a toddler.

Enter Special K with Red Berries…I just knew that I could never let my son learn that this box of cereal was different. Any time he requested that cereal, a curious atmospheric phenomenon occurred whereby the aforementioned Red Berries mysteriously stayed behind, while the flakes were transferred to his bowl. (More berries for Mommy, that way). Did I feel guilty for withholding berries from my baby? Well, I might have, except that this child can put away a pint of dried strawberries in nothing flat and then frantically sign for more. Cooking extra meals I might be, but I will NOT pick out berries from a whole box of cereal. We all have our standards. (And it would be very expensive way to buy dried strawberries).

I was content in my duplicity until this morning, when…Daddy let the big red berry out of the bag. It’s my own fault for not including him in my deceit. At least I wasn’t in the room at the time, so I didn’t have to endure seeing the light of wonder in my son’s eyes turn to cruel understanding that Mommy has been lying. Maybe I can airbrush those raspberries off of the Oatios box.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Mouths of Babes, Part II

I always swore that I wouldn’t be one of those moms who make separate meals for their kids. My master plan was to introduce a variety of flavors early on, so Junior wouldn’t experience culinary culture shock when he made the leap from baby food to table food. So, I started adding small amounts of curry powder, soy sauce, and other flavorings that I cook with regularly so that he’d get used to the flavors in the food served at our house.

For over a year I’ve been strategizing, cooking, and serving him a healthy, balanced diet that includes a dizzying array of fresh fruit and a decent number of vegetables. Some examples: I use an overnight method to cook organic, steel-cut oats for his breakfast porridge (enhanced with unsweetened applesauce, almond butter, and sometimes ground flaxseeds). While he naps, I cook organic green veggies (broccoli or kale; frozen green beans or Brussels sprouts in a pinch), roast a Butternut squash, or microwave sweet potatoes to use at lunch or dinner, or even as snacks. The freezer is always stocked with kiddie-sized portions of homemade soups, stews, lasagna, muffins, and waffles for meals and snacks when I didn’t have time to cook during the day.

In other words, an embarrassingly large portion of my time is spent to ensure that an overabundance of healthy food is available to serve to my child on a moment’s notice.

In the middle of a cooking frenzy one day, it dawned on me that I was doing the very thing I’d vowed to avoid. I AM making separate meals for my child, but not because he’s a picky eater. The sad truth is that Mommy is a picky eater and she eats, well, poorly. As long as my son will accept it, I’ll keep giving him plain yogurt with tahini and wheat germ. But I’ll also keep sneaking bites of donut when I go into the pantry to get his organic, high-fiber crackers.

Discovering a dirty little secret about oneself is one thing; actually doing something about it is, well - is it necessary to do anything? If I’m making extra meals in the name of health, rather than catering to a picky toddler, it’s okay, right? With the way our schedules run, we don’t really have a family meal at our house, so we have some time before Junior discovers that Mommy and Daddy eat according to different rules. The day of reckoning will come, though, and I suspect that in the end, my boy will join his father (and me) on the Dark Side. Hopefully the positive effects of his current, ├╝ber-healthy diet will carry on long after he begins to think of Cheetos an orange vegetable.

The Mouths of Babes

I’d heard that having children changed your life, but I didn’t realize that included my perspective on food. For example: serving sizes. I vaguely recall hearing my friends grumble about the tiny amounts of food that they could coax their children to eat. So, I wasn’t completely surprised to discover that 3/8th of a mini-muffin are more than sufficient to fuel my toddler for an entire morning. What did come as a shock, though, was the reason why: a mini-muffin is much larger than it innocently appears to be.

Don’t believe me? Try this: place half of a mini-muffin on a plate. Cut the half into quarters, then - and this is the key step - use your fingers to carefully squish each piece into crumbs. (It’s a delicate operation. You want to break up the muffin without compressing it. If you can’t master the technique, borrow someone’s toddler and have them do it for you). Magically, the muffin half will grow into an enormous pile of fluffy muffin bits. It’s a huge portion! No wonder our little ones full up so quickly.

Still not convinced? Take the plate into your living room and shake the crumbs all over your couch. Now measure the surface area of the muffin-coated regions and back-calculate to get the total volume of muffin. Or, just trust me when I tell you that those muffin bits will have mysteriously multiplied into a full-sized muffin.

It turns out that the food professionals who write baby food cookbooks are wise to this bit of infant wizardry and have built correction factors into their recipes. I remember thinking that Ruth Yaron (author of “Super Baby Food”) must be nuts for suggesting that my baby would consume ½ to 1 cup of yogurt in a meal (even if he didn’t eat anything else). The actual amount of yogurt that goes down the hatch, however, is on the order of 2 tablespoons, leaving plenty for him to spread around. (And did you all know that it’s possible to cover every surface in your kitchen with less than half a cup of yogurt? More food magic, brought to you by your friendly neighborhood toddler).

For my part, I’m thinking that eating like a toddler just might be the key to a successful diet plan. It takes a lot longer to eat a muffin when you have to hunt down each crumb. If you have a dog you’ll eat even less because you’ll be competing for muffin bits as you search all over the couch. Ah, but the symbiotic feeding habits of dogs and babies is a topic for another post.