Category Archives: Kids and Food

A Vegetable Even Kids Can Love

Though Uncool Mom is often called a “parenting blog” or “mom blog”, one topic it doesn’t focus on much is cooking.  But I do a lot of cooking, so I’ve been thinking that once in awhile I should share a recipe worth sharing, which in my opinion equals something that’s a.) EXTREMELY easy and b.) really good.  Easier than even Cooking for Dummies or one of those “3-ingredient cookbooks”, easy enough for a kid to make, easy for an adult to make by memory…and so good, the most finicky kid should like it, yet it can still impress company.  Because something like that doesn’t come along too often, you can be assured I’m not going to turn this blog into Recipe Central.  Just know that when I do take the time to post a recipe, it’s a keeper.

Like the following for roasted cauliflower, a gem I found in a November ’09 food section of the Dallas Morning News, almost hidden in a sidebar accompanying a larger recipe spread. Hold on, all you cauliflower haters, stay with me.  I’m not a huge fan of broccoli’s white cousin, and neither is my husband, and my kids dislike almost all vegetables, but this is truly amazing. Roasting changes its flavor.  I don’t even know why I tried it, I guess I was getting bored with the usual side dishes…it’s so good, you don’t even need sauce for dipping. Whenever I make it, lots of grabbing hands make their way to the cookie sheet to grab handfuls as soon as it’s out of the oven, before I ever serve it on plates, and people always want seconds once it’s served. And there are only two ingredients, four if you count salt and pepper.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER

Heat oven to 450 F degrees.  Take a head of cauliflower and break it into florets, each about an inch wide (but bigger or smaller ones are okay, too!).  Toss them in a bowl with olive oil (try 3 tablespoons per 6 cups of florets) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread them out on a cookie sheet in a single layer and bake about 25 minutes, turning the cauliflower at the 12 minute mark (yes, every piece if possible).  It needs to be browned to taste the best!!  And if it gets crispy and brown in places– even better! If desired, serve with grated Parmesan or a squeeze of lemon juice (but we never do).

Bon Appetit!!

Friday Freebie: Yummy Eats From Taco Cabana

Just in time for the busy holiday season: free food from Taco Cabana! The folks at Taco Cabana have given me three “be our guest” passes to give away (worth $5.99 off any purchase, alcohol excluded) so I’ll send them to the first three people who write to me (patricia@uncoolmom.com) before Thursday, 12/22/11.

If you win one, I highly encourage you to use it toward the purchase of one of TC’s “Group Meals”, especially if you’ve got a busy family (and are being pulled in 2000 different directions this season!).   For around $20 (the meals start at $17.99), you can feed 3-4 people with entree selections like a tray of eight beef, chicken or cheese enchiladas; a dozen chicken flautas; a pound of brisket; or a pound of beef, chicken or mixed fajitas.  All come with rice, beans and tortillas. Our family just ate the mixed fajita Group Meal and it was GREAT, not only because it was convenient and we were all super busy today, but also we were pleasantly surprised at the ample amount of food (you know how lots of packaged meals will say “serves 4” and you’re wondering, once you see it, if they meant “four toddlers“!?).  This group meal came with one pound of grilled beef and chicken, as promised, but larger-than-expected containers of rice and beans, a big stack of steaming hot tortillas, and a bunch of sides not mentioned on the drive-thru board: chopped tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream, and lots of shredded lettuce and cheese.  We ate ’til we were full and still had leftovers.  I am definitely going to add this to my arsenal of last-minute dinner ideas and think other fast food establishments ought to follow suit.  It’s just taking what you already have and marketing/packaging it in a different way.

Genius idea, Taco Cabana!! Thanks for letting me know about it!

Dieting With My Daughter: So Far, So Good

Looking back, I must say it really was genius.  To casually mention, in front of my teenage daughter, how interesting it is that my fitness instructor is doing the Atkins Diet to help lower her cholesterol and is losing weight as a side benefit– and my teen “grabbed it and ran”.  “Let’s try it!” she said.  She and I have now been following Atkins for about 7 weeks, and doing pretty good.  While I had a feeling that Allison would want to try it since she’s always wanting to do something different from the pack (last year she was a vegetarian and this year she bought clip-in hair extensions), and I knew she’d been wanting badly to shed a few pounds to get to a healthier weight, and I always thought it might be fun to diet together (my mother and I had tried a few diets together in the 70’s), and I definitely knew that if Allison was ever going to diet with me, her motivation would have to come from her and not uncool mom–  did I really realize, on that day back in June, all the possible positive outcomes of “lighting the diet fire” so that she could fan the flames? I’m not sure. But what a great decision it’s been, for several reasons:

1. A loud, persistent teen is a pretty good diet motivator.  For many years, I’ve been wanting to eat healthier, exercise more, and lose weight, but have always been “too busy”.  The energy of a demanding teenager is great energy to put behind starting a diet.  Once we decided to try this, I might still be waiting to buy an Atkins how-to book if not for her daily nagging: “Mom, have you bought an Atkins book yet?” “Mom, when are you going to buy the book?” “MOM– GO BUY THE BOOK!!” I bought it, and she read it first, on our road trip to Iowa in June.  Talk about having a personal trainer LIVING IN YOUR OWN HO– USE!!! Once she read the book, the next nagging I heard was, “Mom, when are you going grocery shopping?” “Mom, we need to stock up on certain things.” “MOM, WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO THE STORE??”

2. When your teen really believes in the idea of a good diet, the junk food goes away and the whole family eats healthier foods.  I remember Mom and I trying jicama and brussel sprouts when I was a teen, and fixing some for Dad…this summer, there has been no junk food in the freezer or refined white flour and corn-laden, salty snack foods in our pantry– no chicken nuggets or onion rings, no potato chips, pretzels, or cheese puffs, and I haven’t heard any complaints from Allison…or Emmie and Andy! I make (or buy) a different dip, hummus, or cheese ball every week and keep it in a divided tray in the fridge with plenty of baby carrots and other cut-up veggies, and that seems to be working as a “replacement”. 

3. Your teen’s well-being, and your own, improve when progress is made.  She’s been getting a lot of compliments from friends and I’ve been getting them from my husband– and I went clothes shopping the other day and discovered I’d gone down a size, for the first time since…I can’t remember when!  (The only drawback is that soon I might hear her say, “Mom, I need a whole new wardrobe!!”)

4. Dieting together can be a good bonding experience. I remember my mom and I kvetching together over The Scarsdale Diet, trying to get our mind off the fact that we felt hungry all the time and couldn’t stop thinking about food, and could hardly wait until the next meal.  That is definitely not the case with Atkins, but Allison and I do get excited whenever I discover a new lo-carb meal idea or snack food at the grocery store, and one day we spent a long time at Central Market together looking at all the vegetables, marveling at the names we never see in other stores, buying a few to try.  Also, I’ve started going to exercise classes three times a week (remember that “destination walking” I was trying to do? The summer heat sapped my enthusiasm for that even before the thermometer reached the 100s) and so far Allison has joined me a couple times for a Zumba class (what a hoot).  Our teamwork and bonding can also be felt when we eat with others who aren’t doing Atkins– it would be much harder to watch Andy and Emmie get pasta, rice or potatoes with their meal if we were the only one not getting it. It would have been harder to be at the wedding reception last week or the BBQ on the 4th of July and be the only one not piling their plate with tortilla chips or potato salad.  “Mom, what can we eat?” she’ll ask me in those kinds of situations, and I’ll let her know.  And, I think it’s good to have a diet buddy as we go through the phases and transition into “maintenance”– for me, it’s not so much of a “diet” any more as much as it’s a way of eating healthier (basically, no refined starches or sugars, high fructose corn syrup is BAD and don’t be afraid of good fats), and I hope as school starts and life gets back to old routines that I can help her remember this new one.

So much media air time and print space is often devoted to being uber-cautious about “teens and diets”, telling us again and again on how moms better not push their girls to diet or harp on their weight or they’re going to send their daughters straight into the throes of poor self image and anorexia. While I whole-heartedly agree (I have never once pushed or harped on this issue and do not believe that magazine model sizes are the epitome of beauty), I do think a lot of teens’ eating habits, lifestyles, and waistlines could use some help, and I think all the anorexia press has made some parents scared to even talk about nutrition with their teens or pre-teens.  More voices need to be heard about how to do this in a non-threatening way– like letting kids help with the cooking or grocery shopping, putting interesting nutrition articles on the fridge for everyone to see, or even, heaven forbid, talking about the latest healthy diet plan, and then agreeing to try it with them.  Or, maybe just making healthy changes on our own, in the hopes that other family members will follow.  Enthusiasm (and good results) can be contagious.

Ode to the Crock Pot

One of the best wedding gifts my husband and I received 19 years ago this month was our Crock Pot. Still going strong (even though it’s stained a bit on the outside and the plastic knob broke off of the switch several years ago), I wanted to give a shout out for this amazing appliance in the hopes that busy, stressed-out people might start using a slow cooker (if they don’t already) and realize how great it is, too.  Finding good recipes to prepare in it has been a challenge over the years (with one cookbook I tried, every recipe seemed to turn out like mush) but I’ve had a ton of success with Homemade Gourmet recipes and products (there are currently 206 slow cooker recipes at http://recipes.homemadegourmet.com/ ) and once in awhile I’ll also find a winner in a magazine or newspaper. In my opinion, a good slow cooker recipe is one in which not only the outcome is yummy, but also, the preparation should be very easy.  Forget all those recipes where you have to broil meat first or chop 10 different vegetables—that much prep defeats the purpose of this appliance! If I can’t throw a few things in the pot, stir and then turn the switch on, fuh-getta-bout it. Yep, a truly good slow cooker recipe is like gold—hard to find, but worth hunting down.

Why is a slow cooker so great? Let me count the ways:

1. Your main course is ready and waiting for you at the end of a long day. And if you’ll be away from home a little longer than it takes to cook, or need to leave the house a little bit before it needs to start, you can buy a timer, plug the slow cooker into that, and let the timer turn it on and off.

2. Your breakfast is ready for you when you wake up (Did you know that you can slow-cook oatmeal all night while you sleep, and wake up to a hot breakfast in the morning? I will share the recipe in the comments section if anyone wants it).

3. Having a slow cooker on all day (or night) makes your house smell good.

4. Even if you’re a non-cook, if you stick to the definition of “easy recipe” I mention above, you can be a cook. And even if you forget to prepare it or are too busy to prepare it when you’ve planned, there’s always the “High” setting for just about everything. (In my house, the high setting has saved the day many times…) On High, your meal is done in 3-4 hours.

5. It warms your kitchen. Yeah, and so does an oven, but it’s still another bonus in the winter. And I know, now that summer’s coming, who needs that…but I like mine so much, maybe I’ll just plug it in on the patio this year. For summer, the slow cooker is good for side dishes to go with grilled meat, and grilling is another very quick and EASY cooking method you should perfect if you haven’t already (see my post on indirect gas grilling from June 2010 by clicking here or copying and pasting  uncoolmom.com/2010/06/09/where-theres-a-will-theres-a-grill.aspx ).

6. It’s good for your well-being, your family’s and your marriage’s.   I don’t know about you, but I feel my best during the day and my worst around 5 p.m.  Aren’t we all that way? I mean, I’ve heard statistics before that say early evening is the most stressful time for marriages and families.  I think it’s true! Kids are hungry and cranky, adults are, too, and stressed out from a long day—who wants to add “cooking dinner” on top of all that? I think I even move slower then, and sometimes it seems to take forever to get dinner on the table. No wonder so many people grab fast food.  But with a slow cooker, you fix the main part of the meal at a better time of day, taking one factor out of the daily stress equation (or you can throw the ingredients into a freezer bag over the weekend—there are even bags that can go from freezer right into the Crock Pot, so the clean-up is minimal—you just have to add a little more cook time if you don’t thaw it first).

7. It’s the next best thing to having a live-in cook.  Well, not exactly, but…take today for example (author’s note: this post was written a couple weeks ago). I spent most of my day driving to schools, hauling kids to doctor’s appointments and music lessons, walking dogs, and going to the grocery store.  It’s 5 p.m., and I haven’t had time to do any writing at all or take any “me” time, and if I was having to cook dinner, that “me” time would be vanishing. But, thanks to about 10 minutes I was able to find in mid-afternoon, I used that time to throw some meat, spices and water in the Crock Pot. And now, I am almost giddy with happiness that I can sit here and write this while the lovely smell of Beef Stroganoff wafts through the air.  It’s like Alice from the Brady Bunch is in my kitchen right now…

Bon Anniversaire, my Crock Pot!

The Great Food Challenge (or Why I Wish Spongebob Ate Spinach Like Popeye)

Do you think American pioneer teenagers in the 1800’s ever sat down at the dinner table, folded their arms across their chests and announced, “I REF– USE to eat this disgusting salt pork!!”?  Did their younger siblings push the freshly picked-and-prepared peas to the far edges of their plates? I’ve been wondering that lately as I ponder my kids’ food aversions, and remember my own childhood dislikes.  Something tells me kids have always had strong opinions on food.  I’ve looked for clues in the Little House on the Prairie series, which Emmie and I have been reading together this summer, but haven’t found anything.  So far, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s account of early America is pretty upbeat– heck, for one memorable meal, they happily pour maple syrup over just about everything, including snow, and eat it– no food complainers in that family!  But in doing a bunch of Internet research today on the subject, it looks like my hunch is correct– that being a picky eater is not just a malady of modern, comfortable children, or a byproduct of listening to parents who fret about their own food– it’s the result of genes (ah, don’t things always boil down to that?) and a naturally built-in defense mechanism that goes back to cave days. 

All those foods your kid refuses to try? That could be his inner cave kid kicking in– I read that if kids weren’t picky and had eaten everything they could get their hands on back in the B.C. days, they would have died. Doesn’t quite explain how today’s toddlers desire to put pennies, Legos, and Barbie doll shoes into their mouths, but it was an interesting theory…even more interesting was this:  according to a study done by researchers at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, a gene called TAS2R38 may be responsible for children’s aversion to bitter tastes, which includes vegetables and certain meats.  Each of us carries two of these genes, and there are two versions of it, one being more sensitive to bitter than the other.  If one or both of a person’s TAS2R38’s are the “bitter” kind, he/she may be a picky eater.  (People often “grow out” of their aversion to bitter foods as adults, in part because taste buds die as we age.) And if the study holds true, almost 80% of kids have at least one of the “bitter” genes. But, just when I thought that meant I could now happily give my picky eater nothing but buttered noodles and fruit every day without feeling guilty– I also read that in order to combat so many of the health problems that beseige us later in life, like cancer and heart disease, we’re supposed to help all of our kids eat a lot more fruits and vegetables every day.  Yes, even the “genetically challenged” kids.

And what a challenge it is.  The things I’ve done over the years to get my youngest child to eat vegetables… I was hiding pureed carrots and squash (bought from the baby food aisle) in her mac ‘n cheese long before Jessica Seinfeld made money off of that trick (by the way, I just bought her 2007 cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, at Half Price Books). My “secret cheese sauce” actually worked.  Not much else has. Wanna V8? No. Sweet potatoes with brown sugar and marshmallows on top? Gross. Sweet potato fries? No way. Veggie chips? Yuck. Green beans? Canned, yes, steamed fresh, no. How about some Thanksgiving green bean casserole? Not on your life.  How about the latest thing– fried green beans? Get real.  Broccoli? Only the teensiest of “trees”, and then only a couple.  Creamed spinach from Boston Market? No, are you kidding? Carrots? Maybe raw, but only with the right kind of ranch dressing. Peas? Fuh-getta-boud-it.  Beets? Never. Ummmm…pickles? Nope.  Thank goodness she adores spaghetti sauce.  At least I feel good when I serve that, giving her all those tomatoes.  But my teenager insists that tomatoes are fruits, so maybe I don’t score one for veggies with that, either.  Really, the only veggies Emmie currently eats with gusto are corn on the cob and canned baby corn (is that even a real vegetable?).  At least she tries every food once.

Allison, my teenager, actually likes a lot of vegetables, although the giant bottle of tomato juice she bought and put in our fridge recently has been for rinsing her hair, not for consuming.  But lately she has had the annoying habit of announcing she doesn’t like something without even trying it.  Or suddenly not liking something she always used to like.  In addition to the “cave kid defense mechanism” mentioned earlier, my Internet research attributed refusing to try new things or eat usual favorites to:  a.) having parents who refuse to try new things (not me) or b.) a kid’s way to be in control (that’s her!).  “What are you fixing for dinner?” is a question she has usually asked before noon each day this summer (if she’s awake by then).  I used to hold my breath after I’d tell her the menu, waiting for the royal pronouncement…er, I mean, her answer, but I’ve given up–it’s usually always the same these days.  “I DON’T LIKE THAT!” she proclaims, to which I answer, “You used to– what happened?”  And then she says, “Well, I don’t anymore!!” to which I say, “Well, that’s your problem.  Have fun fixing your own dinner.”  And she does… sans veggies.   I guess I’m lucky if she eats the same items as the rest of us on one night each week.  This summer she’s decided she hates all things beef (ever since a May bout with stomach trouble after eating a steak quesadilla at a restaurant); turkey tacos and Mexican chicken casserole, two long-time family favorites (she says that the steak quesadillas have turned her off  ALL Mexican food); spaghetti (she doesn’t like the kind of noodles I buy); Chinese stir fry (doesn’t like the sauce or the brown rice I fix);  tortilla-encrusted tilapia (remember, no more Mexican) and on and on.  I really think it’s as much forging a “unique identity” at this age as much as it is pure control (amazing similarities to the change-filled toddler years, don’t you think?!).  I think she likes being able to say, “I hate beef” or “I hate the ocean” (along with the accompanying stories of why) as much as she likes to say “I love scary movies and giant roller coasters”.  Those hates and loves are based on unique experiences and are different from the rest of the family– well, for sure, different than me, and it’s probably pretty healthy that she’s defining who she is in this way.

Oh, there’s that word again…healthy.  It reminds me that in spite of my kids’ likes and dislikes, the quest for ways to get them to eat more vegetables continues.  Does anyone have any good ideas?  I have a friend whose boys have to eat their veggies first or they can’t have the rest of their dinner… might have been good for us to try a long time ago, but I can’t see that being successful now…I know several people who would say compressed fruit and vegetable supplement tablets are the answer, but I’m too much of a skeptic to go that route.  I think I’m going to try something from my new cookbook.  I see a recipe for brownies that looks pretty good, with hidden spinach and carrot puree, and another for “Pink Pancakes” featuring pureed beets.  Bet those might be good with maple syrup…  or rather,  lots and lots of syrup, just like in the Little House days.