It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Menu Monday

It’s a long weekend here in Canada, so no Monday menu on Menu Monday!

First Course: gazpacho
Main Course: spinach pie
Dessert: muffins

First Course: cauliflower and cheese sauce
Main Course: stuffed peppers
Dessert: fruit

First Course:salad
Main Course: enchilada bake
Dessert: fruit

First Course: couscous salad
Main Course: lentil curry
Dessert: gelato

August 5, 2013 Posted by | food | | Leave a comment

Walking the Talk

I have written on many occasions of the thrill of teaching children to enjoy new foods. Repeated exposures is the key! The adult gets to choose what, where, and when, the child gets to choose how much and even whether to eat! Be cheerful, be upbeat, be casual!

Repeated exposure is the key! I love the way “French Kids Eat Everything” describes the reaction of French parents to a child’s declaration, “I don’t like this!” They don’t, apparently, get worried. They don’t try to force the kid to eat it. They certainly don’t offer alternatives. No, they are quite nonchalant about it. This reaction is normal. It is only to be expected.

“Well, no,” they will say, matter-of-fact. “Of course not. You haven’t tried it enough yet.”

Because, you see, in the French world view, it is a given that it takes a few attempts before you begin to enjoy a new food. That’s just normal. But in time, you will. No biggie. Everyone does.

This is a large part of my approach to feeding the children. I feed them what I feed them. I do not worry about “kid-friendly” food, which is so often so nutritionally void, or even outright unhealthy. (It is ironic to note that so-called “kid-friendly” food is about the un-kid-friendliest edible substance out there.) I feed them interesting, varied food, heavy on the vegetables, moderate on carbs, light on meat. And yes, they eat it, without tantrums (them or me), because I just keep putting it out there. Over and over again. Expecting initial resistance, but also confident that, with repeated exposures, they will first observe, then taste, and eventually learn to enjoy the food.

I do this with the children every single working day. Food education — by example and experience, not by words — is part of my job description. I don’t know why it took me so long to have the thought, but about six weeks ago, I thought to myself, “If it works for the kids, I’m betting it’ll work for adults.”

Further consideration pointed out we adults do it, too, only we call it “developing a taste” for something. And then there’s that whole “acquired taste” idea. What else is that, if not learning to like something through repeated exposures?

That’s when I decided that it was time for me to put my money where my mouth was — or, perhaps, my mouth where my principles were — and learn to like something. Try it on. See if it really works. I mean, I know it does. I can cite things the kids didn’t like initially, but loooove now. But for myself? What would it be like to start with something I genuinely didn’t like, make myself eat it time and again, and see if I could find myself actually enjoying it? (Research suggests that 7 – 15 tastes is sufficient to accomplish this. Really! That’s all! I wouldn’t be forcing food down my revolted throat for months on end.)

The problem is, what don’t I like? Not many things, really. My mother did a great job of teaching me to embrace new foods, but despite her very best efforts, I have a few genuine dislikes. Liver and lima beans I’ve mentioned before, I’m sure. Not a huge fan of shrimp, though that’s absolutely a texture thing, not a taste. Blue cheese.

Hmmm. Now, I love cheese of all descriptions. Mild, strong, hard, soft, flavoured, herbed, garlic-ed, rolled in nuts. Mmmmmm, cheese. Except blue. Have never liked it. At all. At a restaurant, I once inadvertently ordered a poached pear dessert with a Stilton cheese dressing, because pears! walnuts! cheese! I would LOVE it, right? Yes, well. Too bad that Stilton is a blue cheese. Who knew?? I actually gagged when I tasted it.

So. Blue cheese? Bleah.

The perfect project!

Off I go to our local produce-and-cheese specialty shop. They have a hundred different kinds of cheese, I’m sure. All manner of them. I approached the fellow behind the counter, told him of my project, had him suggest a couple of mild blues. “Here. Try this one. It’s not a true blue cheese, more just a brie with veining.” Okay. I love brie! That was my first attempt. Veining. I can manage a little veining, right? (And, please note, I’d decided I wasn’t going to mask it in any way. Smearing it on crackers and eating it is about as unadulterated as it gets, short of licking it off my fingers.)

I let the kids in on The Great Blue Cheese Project, of course. I pointed out how, in recent memory, Jazz had learned to like kiwi, and was currently learning to like carrots. Josh had learned to like beets. Rosie had learned to like beets, too, and is currently tackling zucchini. Poppy has just learned that while she doesn’t like cooked asparagus (yet), she does like it raw.

So. Lots of food-learning happened and happening in this house, every day. And now MARY was going to learn to like something! THIS was the cause of much fascination. And hilarity, as Mary made much of that first bite of blue cheese with her avid audience.

I sniffed it. And pulled a DISGUSTED face.

“I don’t want to eat this! I don’t like this!”

“You can’t learn to like it if you don’t try it!” Grace is a word-perfect imitation of me. (Grace, who, it turns out, actively likes blue cheese, and politely pines for the small piece I had purchased for myself. Oops. I should’ve bought enough to share.)

“Do I have to??” They’re LOVING the role reversal here. Loving it. They gather around to encourage.

“Yes, and then you will get to like it, and it will be one more good thing to eat for you!” Jazz hasn’t got the words quite down pat, but she obviously gets the gist.

“Oh, okaaaaaay,”, and with great reluctance, I take a teeny, tentative bite. The kids wait, mouths open, eyes wide with delight. My revolted face causes them to scream with laughter. I play to my small gallery.

“BLEAH! I don’t like it! Blue cheese is YUKKY!”

“But you tasted it! Good for you!” Grace pats my back, her small hand offering comfort.
“It was hard, but YOU DID IT!” Jazz has heard that one often enough.
“Yay, you are tasting it, and soon it will be yum-yum-YUMMY for you!” Poppy, my eager little cheerleader claps, then throws her hands in the air.

Boy, these kids are good. They have heard and absorbed all my messages. This is GREAT!!

The blue cheese … is not so great. I don’t like that musty scent up the back of my mouth and into my nose. I tamp down visions of mold spores percolating into my brain. My revulsion may be exaggerated, but I am not enjoying it.


But the project continues. Over the next few weeks, I went back to the cheese store several times, each time going for a stronger cheese. I have blue cheese once a day or so. And you know what?

It got easier every time. Really and truly. Even as the cheese got stronger. It went from gross to neutral to pleasant. And then there was the day I’d bought some blue and some asiago (I love asiago, and this was a new, softer version) had both on lovely crisp rice crackers … and liked the blue better!

Good heavens. It actually works! You know, I had done this with kids, I believed it works … but experiencing it myself was another whole world of conviction. I’m an adult. My tastes are more established. I am likely, much as I hate to admit it, to be ‘set in my ways’, at least a bit. And here I am, a whole new realm of taste opening up to me.

How’s about that?! This is so cool!

My next step? I’m going to go back to that restaurant, and order that poached pear dish! And you know what? I’m betting I will love it. 😀

Meantime, the kids have been observing every step of the way. Laughing at my theatrics, and being drawn along the process, this time as observers. It’s been a learning experience for everyone.


August 2, 2013 Posted by | food | , , , | 9 Comments

Another passage

So, when I return to work from my two weeks off in August, Grace and Jazz will have gone on to kindergarten. I am often asked if that bother me, the departure of a child. Surely I get attached. Are there tears and heart-wrenching goodbyes?

Will I be sad when they leave?

It’s true, I get attached. Of course I do. I couldn’t do the job well without that! Still, I enter into this knowing my tenure with them is of a specific duration. Only once in a while do I get so very attached to a child I’d happily adopt them. Even then, so long as I’m confident they have a loving parents, I can relax in the knowledge that the child will be happy and thriving without me, and I can wave goodbye with nary a tear. A small lump in my throat, perhaps, but no more.

I never have been one for riotous displays of emotion. Not that I don’t feel things deeply, but I’m not much of a weep-er and a wail-er.

Yes, there are changes afoot, but over the years I’ve noticed I have a minority attitude to change. I don’t resist change on principle, as so many seem to do, mindlessly. “If it’s new, it’s bad!” is the mantra. I’ve never felt that way. I don’t just endure change because I must, I actively enjoy it. When I have to let go of one thing to make room for a new, the appeal of the new thing is enough of a positive that the letting-go is (virtually always) done without overwhelming anxiety/regret/pain. Change is refreshing, energizing, exciting.

(Do I like change for change’s sake? Do I think all change is good? No. I’m quite content to let things chug along in established and traditional ways, so long as they’re functioning well. But when change is inevitable, or necessary, I can and generally do embrace it. With enthusiasm.)

Add to that, that I’m an optimist. I see the positive in pretty nearly every situation.

So this situation, where two long-term children are off to new things?

Yes, they will be gone. Yes, I’ll have days without Jazz’s effervescence and Grace’s kindliness. I won’t see them learn to read and write; I won’t be there when they master the ‘pedal bikes’ they’re working on these days.

But! I’m happy that they have new experiences awaiting them at their respective new schools, each well-suited to the child in question. I’m happy that they have received some solid social grounding here. I can see their strengths: Jazz will dive into the social, and probably be a leader in three weeks. (And I will hope her teachers can manage her queen bee/diva tendencies.) Grace will please her teachers enormously with her conscientious approach to tasks and her intelligence. (And I will hope they’re not too exasperated by her spacey-ness, her tendency to be a beat or two behind a group.)

In the meantime, I’m quite unapologetically happy to be sending the four-year-olds off to school. Because they’re four. They are Rules People. Will I miss the contentious, pointless, reflexive competition and the tattling? Not for a second! Oh, to be free of it!!! … For a year or so, that is, until Poppy turns four.

I am curious to see how Poppy will develop, now that she’ll be The Biggest Kid at Mary’s. I foresee lots of kindly mothering of Rosie … who will put up with it for maybe another three months before the burgeoning two-year-old in her will resist and rebuff such attempts at Control and Dominance. (Because that’s how she’ll see it, I bet, when she gets to be a full-fledged Two.)

I am eager to take on Daniel’s little sister, and to see Daniel for more than the occasional visit he’s had this summer, the final two months of his mum’s maternity leave.

So, I bid the two big girls a fond good-bye, and look forward to a new dynamic in the fall. A fresh start, it feels like. A fresh start … of the same, happy, comfortable thing.

I’d call that a win-win.

August 1, 2013 Posted by | daycare, Grace, Jazz, socializing | , , , | 1 Comment