Vegetarian Kid Friendly Tip: Fast Food isn’t as Fast as Real Food.
These days, most parents are looking for quick meals that they can deliver to their children. Since it is more common for two parents to work, or for the parent at home to be very busy, many fall back on fast food, take out, or prepared meals. We definitely hit that rut around here. Before becoming a parent myself, I regularly babysat for several families. Visiting households three days a weeks gives you insight to eating habits, and I saw many toddlers, children of parents who could afford better and were generally aware of nutrition, were eating the same meal and all of it packaged. It just seemed like the parents had given up trying to devise healthful quick meals. However, using pizza, canned veggies, and mac & cheese are not the best way to help a child develop a diverse palette. As I wrote about in my baby food entries, research shows that babies and children need to be introduced to diverse foods to really avoid picky eating. They also need to be re-introduced to these new foods up to ten times before they start to like them. Additionally, research shows it helps to undercook veggies and add in flavor to the recipes. This seems like such a tall order when parents are squeezed for time.
Vegetarians have their own version of the quick food rut. We eat tofu nuggets, pasta, veggie burgers, or stop by Chipotle. But, even “healthy” fast food is unhealthy. Loaded with sodium, fats, and portions that weigh more then my 16 month old, the new version of fast food just mentally tricks us into thinking we are eating well. Additionally, most vegetarian fast foods are loaded with cheese. Mass marketers and restauranteurs appear to have a hard time developing tasteful food without cheese oozing off the plate. I love cheese, but the portions when eating out is really unhealthy. The best fast food is the stuff in your pantry and fridge.
Tonight, after swinging by the metro to pick up AAM on our way home from school, I realized that I wasn’t sure what I was going to serve Serafina, and dinner needed to happen the minute we walked through the door. Now a full fledge toddler, she has her picky meal moments. I have to carefully design something that is well balanced, she will enjoy, familiar, but still, different or new. I also have to be careful that I don’t just smother everything in cheese.
So, here is tonight’s creation. I steamed green beans for 4 minutes in the microwave and added a little pepper and butter. Meanwhile, I cooked up some pearled couscous (buy in bulk to save yourself money), and added olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. Since the coucous was new for her, I topped it with two chopped olives–one of her favorite things to eat. Finally, I opened a can of no-salt garbanzo beans and rinsed them. The only canned goods we use are whole peeled tomatoes and beans. Be sure if you use canned beans that you get the no salt added, but still generously rinse them. I also like to vary presentation, so she doesn’t end up one of those “I don’t like my food to touch” kids. Man, those kids were fun to babysit, and as I found out with one former college roommate, grow up to be even more (read: less) fun to live with. When assembling, I could have mixed the ingredients together, but the past few nights I gave her a few mixed bowl meals. I wanted her to see the difference between each item and enjoy the individual flavor. The entire meal took 8 minutes to assemble, much faster, cheaper, and simpler then getting take out or delivery. I also could know I was giving her a balanced meal. She enjoyed it. Going back and forth among the ingredients, chewing, then looking reflective, she really took the meal seriously. Finally, she mixed them all together, and eventually some landed on the floor.
This blog entry is meant to encourage you, and even myself, not lecture. We are not perfect, and I sometimes resort to mac & cheese or frozen pizza. However, I strongly believe that as a public, we need to re-write and re-think about how we look at food preparation. Prepared in the right manner, fresh food tastes better, is healthier, more affordable, and faster.
It is possible to feed a well-balanced, tasty, and healthy meal to a picky toddler, I promise.