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Operation whole wheat bread *link fixed*

2010 December 6

Over Thanksgiving break I read a funny story in the New York Times Magazine called Dad’s Weird Suppers, about a dad, who when his wife is away, cooks his sons eggplant with sauteed mushrooms, or bacon-slathered fish confettied with kale; everything is made from scratch and dinners don’t contain the easy crowd pleasers that his wife would select–baby carrots, yogurt cups and fish sticks–those foods “that the boys will eat without extensive litigaton.”

The author, Pete Wells says: “I have sometimes accused (my wife) of pandering to the voters. Baby carrots, for example. Aside from being orange and vaguely oblong, do they have anything in common with their namesakes? You can’t tell which end the tops grew from and from which dangled the long whip of a root. Rather than golden at the core, they are the same unnervingly bright color throughout, one that might well have been patented by Sunkist.”

Wells serves his “weird suppers” knowing at least one child will balk. After a meal of lamb and eggplant, in which no one touches the eggplant, he says “No doubt, my numbers would have been higher if I had avoided the eggplant and gone with baked sweet potatoes, so popular with the electorate. But that would not be leadership, and I am a leader.”


When I first started making yogurt Col would beg for the “store yogurt.” “I don’t like your lumpy yogurt,” he’d whine. Rose was simply pleased to get the green light on unlimited yogurt consumption (now that it only cost $1/quart). But enough time has passed without a single carton of “store yogurt” appearing on a fridge shelf, and guess who now requests daily bowls of those white clouds of dairy?

Two summers ago, we watched our friends John and Sue lower tongfuls of salad onto their daughters dinner plates. “They eat salad?” I asked incredulously, as if their daughters were actually cooking and serving the meal while reciting Shakespeare sonnets. And sure the lettuce leaves were buried under a slurry of dressing, but those girls, 2 and 4 at the time, approached the salad like it just belonged with dinner.

We have a lot of weird suppers around here. Last night it was roadkill deer backstraps (which just that morning the kids watched Dan peel from the spine of a crushed deer), carrot-beet salad heaped with sprouts, sauerkraut and whole wheat bread.

and look how happy Col is about it!

It wasn’t a wildly popular dinner with the little people, not as crowd-pleasing as say, cheesy pasta, even with the inevitable bits of cheese-lodged chard to contend with. But these days (now that we’ve long passed the biologically-driven Keep Baby Alive Stage) introducing the kids to a wide variety of food seems ultimately like the mountain we’re trying to climb, rather than lingering at the basecamp of pasta and crackers.

Plus, Dan and I love to cook and because we spent much of the past autumn amassing stores of local food, we’re climbing that mountain sponsored by the belief that if we keep serving say, beets (because there happens to be 30, dirt-covered rubies rolling around our crisper drawer), the kids will begin to love them (or at least accept them).

Borsch (beet and potato soup) was a thumbs up for Rose, thumbs down for Col.

And yet there are the realities of feeding people under age 7. No one cheers at a plate of greenhouse chard seared with sesame oil and tamari. Soups are archeologically probed for weird hiding bits. Broccoli is a bargaining chip, like, “if I eat all my bwoc-coli can I have dessert?”  The green lushness of an avocado, which put ten pounds on Rose’s thighs her first year of life, has never slid fattily down Col’s throat; and the chanterelle mushrooms we hunted for lustily in September, Rose would toss to the chickens.

The staff of life

Every week I bake a couple loaves of dense, chewy whole wheat bread. And sure the kids would trade me on ebay for a mom who serves puffy, white flour bread, but I don’t feel great about the chemical bleaching agents, or about first removing all the nutrients and then fortifying them back in. So we eat whole wheat bread on the side of the mountain, with lots of butter.

Read about how the book The Red Tent compelled me start baking bread on this week’s San Juan Table.

*How do you approach mealtime? Does everyone eat the same thing at your table? Do you think picky eaters are born or made?

30 Responses leave one →
  1. December 6, 2010

    i think your kids and my kids should fight for the last loaf of white bread on the shelf… :) … (can you tell i have boys? sheesh. everything comes down to a battle over here, forget dinner:)

  2. December 6, 2010

    Oh, my God, what a relief to hear you say this (write this?). Your kids seem like they’ll eat anything, anything, and I always feel a tinge of melancholy when I read about Rose and Col’s adventurous palates, especially when I’m off to make cheesy pasta … again. =>

    PS: Is it snowing on your site?

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      December 6, 2010

      It does appear to be snowing on my site.

  3. December 6, 2010

    I think picky eaters are both. We feed our kids weird stuff too. Just this weekend I made a beautiful (milk free) corn chowder with kale and sweet potatoes. Purple sweet potatoes. Those violet tubers turned my cashew butter cream sauce bright purple. Think blueberry smoothie. Really. With bits of dark green kale and bright orange carrots floating in. It was weird. But one bite had them eating a second bowl. And my youngest… who sort of uhm… freaked at the site of it, ended up eating his whole bowl so long as I fed it to him. Apparently soup eating is tedious for the young? I just keep feeding them good {weird} stuff…. hoping they will gradually grow to love it (and most of them have!) But the truth is, if given the chance, they’d choose chard free cheesy noodles over red cabbage sauteed in bragg & sesame oil any day :) A ray of hope however, my oldest, after a week long boyscout camping trip recently said to me “Mom, please make me something with vegetables. Even if I think it’s gross, I know my body likes it.” And yes, I do look at that as one HECK of a compliment from a teenage boy!

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      December 6, 2010

      That’s awesome, what your teenage son said. And I forgot to mention, the palatability of any food increases exponentially if I feed it to Rose.

  4. Barb permalink
    December 6, 2010

    hey Rachel, i think you’ve gotta broken link to the San Juan Table site; just got me an error page twice. xoxo

  5. Ami permalink
    December 6, 2010

    I couldn’t connect to the link either! :(
    But we were just going around about this a day ago! At our household, we break almost all of the parenting rules, and one of them, is that we don’t sit down together to eat dinner. One reason is our revolving schedules, and the fact that we all have different “diets”…. but recently, in an attempt to normalize vegetable consumption, we’ve added a one-day-a-week meal at the table with each other. We’ll see how it pans out. He DID eat his veggies at our first go, but didn’t love it… At least he loves broccoli, raw celery and kale chips… gotta get that green in any way we can! :)

  6. December 6, 2010

    ha ha, oh my goodness that picture of Disapproving Col is the best.

    we are *just* coming out of the “keep baby alive” phase, so we still pander a little bit. we also offer (again and again) everything that we eat, and she does surprise us, loving avo one week and hating it the next, spitting out beets one day, signing for “more” two days later.

    it’s inspiring to hear about that dad, or your friend, or even your own road kill suppers, to know that 1. it is possible to enliven your kids’ palettes, and 2. that they won’t waste away if they don’t have annie’s at every meal.

  7. December 6, 2010

    We eat around the table. My eldest was really picky (truly he lived on air from 9 mos until 2 yrs), until a combination of a. school cafeteria food/peer pressure and b. me having a nervous breakdown the night I realized I had cooked FOUR separate dinners (don’t ask me why four when we have only 3 kids, but I remember it happened) and swearing from here on out everyone would get the same old slop on their plates. He has definitely outgrown it (except for quiche, frittata, mushrooms, eggplant, ok I could go on, but he eats a wide variety now w/ minimal complaint). The other two were never as bad, but have their moments. However, when I spend hours in the kitchen assembling roasted squash, quinoa, and kale, I get “Yuck!” “I hate that” etc. from the masses, but when we had no time to cook one night, between work, parent teacher conferences and soccer practice, and I brought home ham Italians, they were literally dancing in their seats, crying “Thanks, Mom! This is the best dinner we’ve ever had!!”

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      December 6, 2010

      I relate to what you’re saying because my kids often start out dinner by saying, “I don’t like that ____ on my plate” before even taking a bite, which is a little infuriating. We always remind them to try and stay positive, tell us what they do like and just leave what they don’t on their plates (instead of creating a tower of green bits on the table). Also, when we do have cheesy noodles or something that makes them “literally dance in their seats, crying “Thanks mom! This is the best dinner we’ve ever had,” I have to wonder where the balance is between pleasing them now (cheesy noodles) and training their future, more sophisticated selves (borsch soup with sauteed kale).

  8. Melissa permalink
    December 6, 2010

    I am all about balance. I thought about you as Avi had yogurt, latke and applesauce for dinner tonight. But other nights he eats spinach salad and asks for bra-kohl-ee (which thrills me greatly).

    Some nights I eat better than others, too.

    But man, I felt the opposite of Col when I saw that plate with the beet-carrot salad. And I love me some Braggs. Even though I didn’t grow up on that stuff at all.

    Love your menorah. We are using the one Avi made at school, which is blue with purple glitter-glue sparkles.

    And I am seriously going to try your recipe/am thrilled I have all the ingredients. After my (only) bread-making stint right before and after Lilit was born, I have neglected these other tent duties. I loved that book so much. xo

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      December 7, 2010

      So cool that you have a menorah with purple glitter-glue sparkles. I wonder what my orthodox grandpa would have thought of that!

  9. Brigid permalink
    December 6, 2010

    I love the pic of cole btw- you can see a glimpse of him as a full-grown man.

    I am a bi-polar mealtime mother.

    Sometimes, I love to draw out the process and carefully put together meals. I have found that salad with shredded beats, carrots, cabbage and radish goes down well with my bunch- especially with tons of balsamic vinegar. My children love homemade bread, prefer to fluffy stuff actually…I love bringing items in from the garden and creating a meal. I love searching for chantarelles and then making pizza from scratch with James Ranch cheese, or Linnea Goat cheese and freshly roasted peppers..with tiny flecks of herbs from our garden cut on top. I love homemade soups and bread in the winter; The all day process of rising bread, preparing and chopping veggies and the simple joy of frying onions.

    But…our family has become too busy on occasion. To much action each day and obligations. I have become a fan of the quick fix, the easy way out and the Kashi Pizza. I also love the peanut butter and banana sandwich nights, the grilled cheese with Campbell’s tomato soup (gasp) suppers in the living room, hebrew nation hot dogs on the grill, pop-corn with butter and yeast, ice cream cones or the immediate gratification a meal out with no clean-up or preparation.

    At this point, My daughters would choose the quick fix always if given a choice. However, my teenage son would not- He seems to have grown into his tastes and I hope that the girls will as well just because I cooked well most, (well maybe half) of the time.

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      December 7, 2010

      Sounds like you got balance, girl. That is a good thing.

  10. Emily permalink
    December 7, 2010

    Humm, I was raised by parents doing the “just eat it” routine. I remember crying when the food was too spicy, but I was SO hungry. I think children have more sensitive taste buds, or I did anyway. At our house there wasn’t any other option, usually. So, I TRY to be tolerant, but if I think they’re just angling for the cheesy noodles, I fuss at them a bit. On the other hand, when I’ve prepared something good (in a critical Williams-Sonoma kinda of way), they almost always like it. So, I find it hard to argue with them, during those times when I have to agree that the food could be better. Perhaps since they have such discerning taste buds, they could just learn how to cook?! When do they start cooking??

  11. December 7, 2010

    Oh Rachel. These are my thoughts! We have a mountain! Here’s the thing that blows my mind about the salad girls: Margot ate EVERYTHING we made her for the first 18 months of her life. Curry, brussels sprouts, soups lumpy and puréed alike. Everything except meant. Homegirl doesn’t dig meat. And then, like a light switch she only ate white foods: tofu, yogurt, cheese, pasta, rice, bread, apples. Beets and carrots have, thankfully, stayed on her list. So now Ruby eats everything we eat, same as Margot did and I keep wondering how long it will last. And, how do we get away from relenting and making the girls a separate plate of peanut butter toast for every dinner?

  12. December 7, 2010

    Pancake Boy started off eating well and suddenly flipped to only pancakes (which became waffles but now is on to scrambled eggs.) He literally will go days without eating and sits and whines, cries, throws his plate and has to be sent to his room every meal. He’s 4.5 now and this has been going on for 2 years. I stick with it, every meal. Everything is grown fresh in the yard and made from scratch so it’s beyond infuriating. I get why some parents give up and serve cheesy noodles every day but dammit that’s just not me. Love this article! And I also adored the Red Tent. I grind the grain for our whole wheat bread but it’s not dense at all, mine is light and fluffy like white bread. My family prefers it to store bought. I soak the grains overnight so the slack dough and autolyse get me that nice texture.

  13. December 7, 2010

    They seem to go through stages. My kids will eat about anything until they are about 4. Then after that, there’s a few years where they’re really picky. Now that my two oldest are 8 and 12, they’ll eat anything that tastes good. If I’ve done a terrible job, they usually tell me so and I learn from it. Tonight we made lentil soup and everyone gobbled it up but Eli. I did bribe him to take a few bites. I think he secretly liked it but didn’t want to admit it! :)

  14. December 8, 2010

    The best thing I have going for us is that we all sit at the table together. You keep reminding me that I need to be making our yogurt. Bread too.

  15. December 8, 2010

    Have you been peeking in my windows around dinnertime???
    My kids cringe at almost all things green, although the *only* meat they want to eat is venison. I have friends whose children happily consume asian slaw, beet salad, chard galore, and things I balked at until age 20….I try and not compare (WHAT did I do wrong?!?!) but still…The best we can do, I think, is to keep offering a variety of foods. Our big effort right now is to NOT make meal time a war zone. We offer the food– and the kids know when it comes to dinner, you get what you get– but if they start to whine or avoid foods, we’ll ask once or twice, but then drop it. I don’t want them to associate good foods with miserable family time, know what I mean?

    Here’s to the kale-laden battles!
    And ps– thanks for the ww bread recipe. THe kids are mighty sick of mine, so I think we’ll switch it up…And I know what you mean about ebay– my six year old was overhead saying “I LOVE going there (about a friend’s house), his mom has bread that’s super squishy and white and comes out of a bag! And she makes us peanut butter and sugar sandwiches with it too!” um…yeah. not. gonna. happen.

  16. rose permalink
    December 8, 2010

    Love this post, and all the comments too. I will throw in my two cents, which is that I look at mealtimes as more than what goes into their bellies. We sit together, talk, listen, express gratitude as well as complaints. I do my best to make healthy food that tastes good and they eat what they want to eat. (“they” are two girls, 5.5 and 2.5). I don’t make different things for them, but I will try to modify their portion of things to better suit their particular tastes. When they complain about what I’ve made I keep in mind that their ill-will may be about something else entirely and that yelling about yucky green stuff on their plate is a safe way to get those confusing, scary feelings out. I do have moments of nagging worry that they aren’t getting “enough” and that extends far beyond the dinner table. They love green smoothies most of the time and it is a wonderfully satisfying experience to watch them guzzle kale in a glass! I think children can be trusted to do what they need to do in almost every situation. If we take a broad view of their childhoods it makes it easier to let it slide if all they eat for dinner one night (or three) is bread. They are finding their way, just as we are and with enough love and respect I think they will land in a good place, full of broccoli and beets and homemade bread.

  17. December 8, 2010

    I have one child who will eat anything, and one who I swear I feel will eat NOTHING. It is always good to hear that perhaps this is normal, and that kiddos can go through stages. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  18. December 8, 2010

    So my eyes are not playing tricks on me. It IS snowing on this site :)

    I love what you serve your kids. I would devour them myself but yes, feeding them to kids under 7 could be an ordeal. I have the same philosophy as you – serve them what we eat and we’ll help them develop a more adventurous palate. I firmly believe that. When I was over at my friend’s place for dinner, she made the adults shepherd’s pie (which I thought was fantastic kids’ food too) and she made our daughters hot dogs and carrots (the latter upon my request – they would’ve otherwise only had hotdogs with ketchup).

    Her reasoning was that her daughter wouldn’t like the pie anyway so she had to give her something she would eat but to substitute that with an unhealthy alternative in my mind is NOT an alternative. I gave my daughter some of the pie on my plate and she ate them just fine. Of course with kids, with ketchup on the plate, little else stands a chance so she chose to devour the hot dog the rest of the evening. I just wish that my friend had at least given the pie a try first before resorting to an alternative…

    OK, off my soapbox now. Always glad to be here *listening* to your stories. I enjoyed The Red Tent too but I’m still daunted by baking bread.

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      December 9, 2010

      Justine, that is interesting. It’s funny how people assume kid food has to be bland, sweet or cutely-shaped to be palatable. I always think of kids in India getting weaned on curries. my kids love shepards pie, but not much is a match for ketchup.

  19. Steph permalink
    December 9, 2010

    That’s such a good question, about picky eaters. We have been feeding Chloe vegetables, including green ones, since before she had teeth. And now, at 3 and a half, she has decided that she won’t eat anything green. I do not plan my cooking around what the kids will eat. I simply expect them to eat it. One night a couple of weeks ago, I cooked something that I knew Chloe wouldn’t like (can’t remember what it was now), so I offered to make her mac-and-cheese. Ever since then, almost every night, before even trying her dinner, she (a) proclaims that she doesn’t like the “green stuff”, and (b) requests to have either mac-and-cheese or a quesadilla. You’d think I’d been catering to her all along, the way she has now come to expect bread and cheese for dinner. We don’t give in.

    (I make a lot of one-pot type meals, and I think Chloe eats better on nights where everything is separate: meat, vegetable, starch, etc).

    Jordan, at age 1, eats almost everything (except, like Col, avocados). We’ll see what he’s like at age 3!

  20. Steph permalink
    December 9, 2010

    PS- Thanks for the tip on the local wheat flour!!! I had no idea! I had been recently secretly wishing for some local flour, and my wish came true!! xxoo

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