How to win the food battle with your kids — with recipes!

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Karen Le Billon

Parents of young children often talk about their struggles with sleep, discipline, and eating; they want their children to sleep through the night, do what they are asked without throwing temper tantrums, and eat a wide variety of healthy foods. While there are myriad systems out there for sleep training and discipline, many parents assume that they just have to put up with picky or unhealthy eating until their kids grow out of it. Karen Le Billon, author of the new book Getting to Yum: The 7 Secrets of Raising Eager Eaters (HarperCollins, May 2014), says otherwise. With 18 percent of children ages 6–11 classified as obese as of 2012, her message is more important now than ever. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm

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Le Billon’s 2012 book French Kids Eat Everything first introduced parents to the concept that kids actually need to be taught to become good eaters—which is to say eaters of healthy food, who sit quietly at mealtimes without whining or demanding chicken nuggets. Getting to Yum provides the necessary follow up, giving parents step-by-step strategies, recipes, and age-appropriate games to address some of the most common mealtime struggles.

Many of the games are designed to show children how our tastes for certain foods develop and how these tastes can be manipulated or tricked. For example, Le Billon presents The Yogurt Game as one of four that parents can play with children who prefer junk food to healthy food. In this game, kids are given the opportunity to taste two bowls of vanilla yogurt, one of which has been colored (without their knowledge) with orange food coloring. While kids can generally identify the flavor of the un-colored yogurt as vanilla, they will often guess something like apricot, orange, or honey for the colored yogurt. This experience can then lead to a discussion about the role of artificial colors in foods. Games like this, which are fun for kids, also teach them to be smarter consumers and healthier eaters.

Strategies and games make up the first two parts of Getting to Yum, with helpful explanations and topics to discuss with kids. The remainder of the book is devoted to kid-friendly recipes, organized using Le Billon’s “Flavor Ladder Approach.” Le Billon identifies 10 important vegetables for children, and then provides four recipes for each: one for babies over 9 months old, one for children over a year, one for toddlers ages 2.5–3 years, and finally one for school-aged kids. For example, starting with broccoli, Le Billon includes a recipe for Broccoli Purée, Mollie’s Enchanted Broccoli Rainforest, Party Pasta (included below), and French Minestrone Soup. According to Le Billon, this ladder approach combined with the strategies and games in the book will help parents win over even the pickiest eaters. Try the recipe below and see what your own picky eaters think.

Reprinted from Getting to Yum

Party Pasta

20 minutes to prepare; serves two adults and two children

8 ounces dried penne or farfalle pasta (about 4 cups)

½ head broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces (about 2 cups)

Juice of ½ a lemon (about 1 TBS)

3 TBS olive oil

3–5 anchovies

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup dried breadcrumbs, optional

Pinch crushed red peppers, optional

Bring a large pot of water to boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions, until al dente. Strain the pasta, reserving the cooking liquid for the sauce.

  1. Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan half-filled with water to boil over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli and cook until just tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain the broccoli, transfer it to a bowl, and toss it with the lemon juice.
  2. While the broccoli is cooking, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the anchovies and ¼ cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Sauté for 3 minutes, or until the anchovies soften and start to dissolve. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the liquid has reduced to a sauce, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet with the anchovy sauce and toss to coat. Add the prepared broccoli and toss to coat well. Serve topped with the Parmesan, and breadcrumbs and crushed red pepper, if using.

Notes: Anchovies are preserved in brine and then canned in oil (recommended) or salt (could be too salty). If you do use anchovies packed in salt, rinse them well first. If you are really unsure about anchovies, try using anchovy paste in this dish. Substitute 1 scant tablespoon of anchovy paste per anchovy in the recipe.

If making this dish in advance, do not toss the lemon juice with the broccoli (it will turn brown over time). Instead, keep the broccoli and lemon juice separate, then just before serving toss them together and add to the pasta.

 

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