Apparently, beginning at around the age of two, children suddenly express very strong opinions about food. They also can be a bit quirky about it, insisting on having the same food at every meal—for weeks—and then suddenly refuse to eat it, only wanting something else as their “new favorite”.
My son, aged two, is going through this right now. He’s normally pretty good at eating almost everything he is served, but now some days he wants oatmeal and bananas at every meal or refuses to eat avocados and tomatoes (two of his favorites). Then there are meals when he says he only wants avocados and tomatoes. Like I said, it’s a bit quirky (and a little endearing). This morning, for example, he wanted to eat miso soup (he ADORES miso soup) instead of oatmeal. Although miso soup is not a bad choice at any meal, it’s not what was already prepared. Needless to say, he didn’t have miso soup for breakfast.
I think I’m a pretty flexible, understanding and open-minded mother, but I am also pretty strict about some things, like meals. I don’t think it’s healthy to cater to a child’s quirk by serving things like macaroni and cheese, a plate of rice, or just bread, three times a day. As a parent, I believe it’s my responsibility to ensure he has healthy and balanced meals that include a variety of nutritious foods. So I’ve been finding ways to manage this quirky stage by providing a selection of foods at the table that includes protein, carbohydrate, vegetables, fruit, and a source of calcium and let him choose. Since I’ve been making a lot of soups lately, I’ve tried topping them with some of his favorites—avocados, roasted pumpkin seeds, or homemade garlicky croutons. Admittedly, some meals I have to be more creative, but I know I don’t want to go down the route of cooking special meals, or replacing foods that he refuses to eat. I’ve had a peek at what that might look like at about five years of age or older and it’s not too pretty.
Having said that, I also don’t believe in forcing a child to eat. I think it’s important to respect a child’s food preferences, making sure there are things at the table they like to eat, and the amount they’re willing to eat. I believe the division of responsibility (where parents control the what and when while the child decides how much, if any, he will eat) should always be honored. Some days/meal my little guy eats more than me (sometimes asking for seconds or thirds) and other days/meals he eats like a little bird. I trust he knows how much to eat.
To let me know when he is done eating, I taught my son to say hara hachi bu (an old Okinawan adage that means to eat until you are 80 percent full). When he says it, I believe him and don’t try to force him to finish his plate if he hasn’t. Like most adults, children often know when they’ve had enough. They also eventually have their own food preferences. My goal is not to force good nutrition and food, but instead to introduce my little one to a large and global variety of new and nutritious foods, while he slowly develops his palate and preferences. Hopefully this will influence his diet and give him a strong and healthy foundation for his food choices later.
Greens, as they are so good for you, are something I try to offer often. Green soups are great because you get a chock full of dark leafy greens in each bowl. This week I made a chopped green soup made of Russian kale and sweet potatoes. After I had taught my son what a sweet potato was and looked like, he was interested in picking them out of the soup to eat separately. To make the rest of the soup equally of interest to him to eat, I served it with barley and homemade garlicky croutons, two of his favorites. Fortunately it worked!
Kale and Sweet Potato Soup
Adapted from Love Soup
1 onion, chopped
3 leeks, white and light green parts, rinsed and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste*
1 bunch Russian or Lacinto kale
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced (1/2-inch)
1 medium potato, peeled and diced (1/2-inch)
5 cups water
3-4 green onions, sliced
2/3 cup cilantro, chopped
black pepper, freshly ground
2-3 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh
cayenne or red pepper flakes (optional)
In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil and sauté onions with a sprinkle of salt until translucent. Add leeks and cook/sauté until they are golden, another 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, trim the thick stems from the kale and chop the leaves coarsely. Combine both potatoes and kale in a soup pot with 5 cups water and a teaspoon of salt, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Add the sautéed leeks and onions to the pot along with the green onions, cilantro and lots of black pepper. Add as much vegetable broth you need to give the soup a nice consistency—although this is a hearty soup, it’s not a stew and should pour easily from a ladle. Cover and simmer the soup gently, for about 10 more minutes.
Lightly toast cumin seeds in a dry pan just until fragrant, grind them in a spice grinder. Stir in the cumin and a spoonful of lemon juice. Taste and adjust salt*, pepper and lemon juice to preference. Finish with a pinch of cayenne or any hot red pepper if you can take the heat.
Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with olive oil or homemade croutons. Like many soups, I also like this one served with farro, barley or brown rice.
*Notes: I try not to make suggestions on the exact amount of salt to be used as it really is a matter of taste preference. Also, the amount of salt needed can vary depending on the broth used. When I can, I prefer to use a light (not too salty or strong in flavor) homemade vegetable broth. This allows me to season the final product as I would like. Other times I buy my vegetable broth. If using store bought broth, be sure to buy the best tasting, low-sodium broth you can afford. Enjoy!