How I Got My Picky Eaters To Fall In Love With Brussels Sprouts

How I Got My Picky Eaters To Fall In Love With Brussels Sprouts - 5 tips for getting even the pickiest kids to try (and like!) new foods

Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, red cabbage, bell peppers, edamame… these are just a few of the things that my kids not only like, but LOVE these days.  And trust me, it wasn’t always that way.

One day, when my kids were about 5 and 3 years old, it occurred to me that their diet of preference had become rather monochromatic.  Mac and cheese, cheese pizza, chicken nuggets, french fries, plain pasta – are you sensing a theme?  Each time I set a plate down in front of them, it always seemed to feature the same bland, beige color palette.

After enough rejection, I’d slowly just given up on serving the healthy kinds of foods I knew I wanted my kids to be eating.  As a tired mama of three, I justified that it wasn’t worth the energy to fix something that I knew was probably going to end up in the trash.  As a result, I had created some seriously picky eaters.

We needed to make a change.  While the journey wasn’t perfect or easy, implementing these five tactics had an immediate impact on our families eating habits and preferences.  So if you’re struggling with a picky eater, read on!  There is hope!  Without further ado…

How I Got My Picky Eaters To Fall In Love With Brussels Sprouts - 5 tips for getting even the pickiest kids to try (and like!) new foods We implemented this rule with a lot of supportive strategy.  At the very beginning, I made meals that I knew everyone would like but added one new (or previously rejected) side dish.  I added very small servings to everyone’s plate and explained happily “You don’t have to like it, but you do have to taste it.”  Then dropped the issue until later in the meal.  If they asked for second helpings of anything, they were only granted them after having tasted everything on the plate at least once.  Also, when they tried something new and decided they didn’t like it, I would thank them for trying it and I’d casually talk about how it’s good to keep trying things because as you grow up, your tastes can change… “so even if you don’t like it now, you might like it someday!”  The most helpful thing here is trying to approach everything casually and happily and then to drop it once you’ve said your piece.

How I Got My Picky Eaters To Fall In Love With Brussels Sprouts - 5 tips for getting even the pickiest kids to try (and like!) new foods As you can imagine, when all of these (initially) unwelcome foods began to make a regular appearance, they were accompanied by a chorus of complaints.  I would emerge from the kitchen with a lovingly prepared dinner and before I was even able to sit in my seat I would hear “I don’t like (insert undesired vegetable here)!”  At first, I was totally exasperated and to be perfectly honest – I was angry!  Dinner comes at the end of a long day for a homeschooling mother of three and to have my efforts met with disgust instead of gratefulness… well, it stung a little… or a lot.  After a few misguided attempts at curbing this behavior, I realized we simply needed to implement a new habit that would be helpful, not just in our own home, but when we are guests as well.  As soon as the food is served, you should thank the person who made it for you.  Next, you should look for something that looks really delicious and compliment it!  Last, if you see something you think you don’t like, you don’t need to say anything about it at all.  It only took a few gentle reminders for our kids to catch on and after a few nights, they loved taking turns “complimenting the chef”!

How I Got My Picky Eaters To Fall In Love With Brussels Sprouts - 5 tips for getting even the pickiest kids to try (and like!) new foods Persistence is key here, folks.  There are all kinds of statistics out there about how many times a food must be introduced to a kid before they’ll accept it.  I’m not saying you have to serve the same foods over and over again until your child submits to liking it, but I am urging you to keep presenting new foods, even if they’re all just getting shut down.  Make smaller portions so you don’t get frustrated with wasted food.  And when life gets crazy and you go into whatever your “survival mode” looks like for you for a few days (ordering pizza, making plain pasta, pb&j, whatever easy food that gets you through), cut yourself some slack and then get back to it!  You haven’t ruined your efforts if you’ve skipped a couple of days, but you will ruin them if you don’t keep at it on a “more often than not” basis. I have to say that #3, combined with #2 and #1 produced a dramatic change in the way my kids approached new foods.  Once they’d learn to taste foods at least once, stop verbally complaining about them, and grew accustomed to seeing new things on a regular basis – our dinner table became a much more pleasant place to be together.  And instead of cooking meals that were 90% things I knew everyone like with a 10% addition of something questionable, I started to be able to cook meals that were almost entirely new, without feeling like I had to add a “filler” (like rice or pasta) just in case they wouldn’t eat it.  On the night that I served chicken with roasted cauliflower and asparagus and everyone happily ate and complimented and asked for seconds and thirds of the vegetables – I knew we were doing something right!

How I Got My Picky Eaters To Fall In Love With Brussels Sprouts - 5 tips for getting even the pickiest kids to try (and like!) new foods We’d been working on #1, #2, and #3 (but weren’t quite to the glorious night of cauliflower/asparagus success) when I heard about this book called French Kids Eat Everything
.  It chronicles a Canadian family and the year they spent in France.  The mother realized that the French approach food (especially as regards their children) completely differently than Americans.  Namely, that they didn’t approach food for children differently than they did for adults!  I found this book to be a fascinating read and highly recommend it.  This point and the next one are tips I picked up in the course of reading it.  “Hunger is the best seasoning.” Simple.  The more hungry my kids are, the more willing they are to try something new.  So I planned our days accordingly.  Afternoon snacks became more limited and light.  And if I knew a particularly “adventurous” food was on the evening’s menu, then I’d actually watch the clock and not allow any snacks for at least two hours or so before dinner.  This was profoundly successful. Profoundly.  In the book, she even met her children’s grumpy “I’m hungry!” complaints with a cheerful “Oh good!  Food always tastes best when you’re hungry, I bet you’ll really enjoy dinner tonight.” (Or something along those lines.) Granted, this line wasn’t as helpful for my children as it was for me.  It kept me from caving and giving snacks just to get a moment’s peace.

How I Got My Picky Eaters To Fall In Love With Brussels Sprouts - 5 tips for getting even the pickiest kids to try (and like!) new foods I feel like there’s a better way to word that, but I can’t think of one, so there.  When you feed kids, you have an opportunity to teach them about nutrition, how our bodies work, how food affects us, where our food comes from, and on and on!  It’s totally commonplace now for the topic of conversation at our table to be about how our food is traveling down our esophagus and into our stomachs then our intestines and how it will be turned into energy and the rest will become poop.  (I know – lovely, right?)  Or whether what we’re eating is a healthy food or it’s something to just have as a treat every once in a while.  Or whether the fruits and vegetables we’re eating grew on a vine or underground or in a tree.  As homeschoolers, I honestly feel like this has become part of our “curriculum” even though there are no formal lesson plans.  And though we’ll formally study all of those things at some point along the way, thinking of it this way holds me accountable to teaching nutrition as a life skill and not just an academic idea.  If we hadn’t started making changes, teaching nutrition would have been pretty hilarious.  “Mom, if fruits and vegetables are so important to be healthy, we do we eat plain pasta or cheese pizza for dinner so often?” Yikes!  Plus, kids are just plain curious!  Letting them learn crazy stuff about what they’re eating or what happens to it inside them just might get them excited enough to forget why they didn’t want to try it.

Now, this is a pretty short summary and it doesn’t include the many total failures along the way.  It wasn’t a totally smooth journey and we’ve still got a little way to go, but we’ve certainly made progress!  So press on, keep trying, don’t give up!  (And order a pizza now and then when you really need to.)

***Sidenote*** I felt like it was worth mentioning that we never tried any “gimmicks” to get our kids to eat new things.  I didn’t hide pureed veggies in brownies or mac and cheese.  I didn’t dye anything or carve intricate woodland creatures.  I just made food.  Pan seared asparagus, steamed broccoli, roasted cauliflower – just food.  The only thing I really have against the gimmicky stuff is that it just seemed like so much extra work!  So, if the gimmicks work for you or if you just have a passion for creating “mashed potato” snowmen with pureed cauliflower – then by all means, go right ahead.  But if you’re prone to being tired/cranky/overwhelmed and need to get dinner on the table in 15 minutes or less (like me) – don’t worry, there’s hope for you too. 🙂

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Cold Brewed Coffee

Allow me to introduce you to your new favorite summer pick me up…

How to Make Cold Brewed Coffee (aka - your new summer favorite!)Cold brewed coffee is insanely delicious.  Every year, I forget how much I love it until I make the switch.  I mean, I’ll take coffee in just about any form it’s offered to me.  My kitchen is home to an array of coffee brewing apparati (isn’t apparati a fun word?  I’ve got to work it in more often).  Aeropress, pour over, stovetop espresso, french press… I don’t discriminate!  But cold brew just blows them all away.

I tend to switch to all hot brew methods during the winter and spring, but as soon as the temps start to rise and I wake up craving something iced, then I make my first batch of cold brew and fall in love all over again.

An added bonus is having coffee ready at any moment with zero prep required. (You can cold brew in any size batch – my french press holds at least 4 servings.)  I’m one of those people who struggles to make the coffee before I’ve had the coffee, if you know what I mean.

How to Make Cold Brewed Coffee (aka - your new summer favorite!)

So break out your french press and let’s get started.

First – a note on this method.  You’ll find various recommendations for the right ratio of coffee grounds to water.  I honestly think that you’ve got to play around a little to find the right one for you.  Just know that the intention is to make a concentrated brew, meant for dilution with water or milk or unicorn tears – whatever you prefer.  The stronger you make it, the longer the batch will last you.

How to Make Cold Brewed Coffee (aka - your new summer favorite!)

For my 3 cup (12 oz) french press, I add a generous 3/4 cup of grounds.  This produces a nice strong brew that I very lightly dilute with milk.  You may find that you prefer more or less than that.  Don’t worry, I promise this will be your first of many batches.  You’ll have plenty of opportunity to find your perfect ratio.

Add room temperature water and coffee grounds to your french press.  Stir until the grounds are thoroughly saturated.  Now put the top on but don’t plunge!  Just set it on your counter for 12-18 hours (I strongly prefer an 18 hour brew).  THEN plunge the grounds to the bottom and store in the fridge.

Pour over ice with milk or cream or water and add some simple syrup or flavored coffee syrup for the easiest, most delicious cup of coffee you’ve had all year.

Happy caffeinating!

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Fool-proof Sourdough Starter

NO FAIL Sourdough Starter in five days - How I finally went from a jar of goo to an honest to goodness loaf of bread in 5 days!

It’s alive!  It’s alive!!!  I finally made a successful sourdough starter fully of happy, healthy yeasts.  I feel I’ve gained a new pet – feeding it, watching it grow, putting it in the fridge when I need a break from it… wait.  Scratch that last one.  Don’t put your pets in the fridge.

This was my third attempt at making a sourdough starter from scratch and judging by the comments on the photo I posted to facebook – many are we who have woefully tossed a failed starter after watching many odd happenings in our countertop jars, but never achieving that sweet, yeasty goodness that rises and falls predictably.

But fear not, my friends, I think I’ve cracked the code.  I’ve discovered the holy grail of culturing wild yeasts.  The secret to success is…

NO FAIL Sourdough Starter in five days - How I finally went from a jar of goo to an honest to goodness loaf of bread in 5 days!

Rye Flour.  I promise.  Go buy a 2 lb bag of rye flour and your sourdough woes will be over.  You can be baking honest to goodness sourdough bread made purely with wild yeast in 6 days.  (Sure, sure, the starter might not be ideally matured at that stage, but for those of us who need a baking confidence boost and absolutely can.not.wait another second to dive into this alchemy that is sourdough, a day 6 loaf will be full of the big, bubbly holes that you need to see to know that this time it really is going to work for you.)

I heard somewhere recently “Magic is just science that hasn’t been explained yet.”  The process of creating a sourdough starter definitely feels a bit magical at times, but the science behind it can be equally enthralling.  There are a few myths about sourdough that need to be dispelled if you want to overcome a past filled with jars of funky paste.

Myth #1 – A starter catches yeasts from the air.

Even though there are wild yeasts floating around everywhere, the yeasts you grow in your starter culture mostly come from the flour itself.  Before the grain is ground into flour, it’s covered with all sorts of little yeasty beasties and other beneficial bugs.  When you mix the flour with water, enzymes are activated that help break the starch in the flour down into sugars that the yeasts can consume. (I’m oversimplifying, but you just need the general idea here.)  And I’ll be honest, there’s another factor that makes the rye flour an optimal choice that I’ve forgotten but just trust me and pick up a bag.  The yeast in your flour counts way more than the yeast in your air.

Myth #2 – My awesome starter doubled on day 2 but then it just died.

If your started doubled in size on day 2, it wasn’t because of yeasts.  I’m sorry, I know this is disappointing.  When you mix flour and water, the result is a neutral environment that is a perfect home for a particular bacteria in the flour.  Don’t worry, it’s not harmful and as it dies, it actually creates the acidic environment that your yeasts need in order to thrive.  This is why some methods call for pineapple juice in the beginning – starting with higher acidity cuts this step out of the process.

Myth #3 – My starter doesn’t smell like yeast or double in size regularly, but it’s making “hooch” so I must have hungry little yeasts in there!

Again, I’m sorry – you don’t have a ravenous colony of yeasts.  You have an overly hydrated starter.  If it doesn’t smell and act like a colony of yeasts, it’s probably not a colony of yeasts.  “Hooch” is a dark liquid that can collect on the top of healthy starter as a sign that the yeasts have consumed all of the available food in the jar for them and are hungry for another feeding.  Liquid on top of your days old starter probably isn’t hooch, especially if you’re using a 100% hydration method (equal weights water and flour).

So – all of that to say.  Get some rye flour.  Mix it with an equal weight of water. (100 grams of each is a good start.)  Discard half and feed it every 24 hours.  Watch it grow and be amazed!!!

Once your starter is established, you can switch over to all purpose flour for regular feedings.  Happy baking!

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Salted Dark Chocolate Sorbet

Dark Chocolate Sorbet - This sorbet can be ready in less than 30 minutes and has the most velvety smooth texture! No cream, milk, or eggs required!Texas summers are relentless. Every one is the same.  You start out optimistically thinking of swimming and running through sprinklers and cooling off with popsicles.  Then the consecutive triple digit days roll in and all of those shiny, summery thoughts crumble in the baking, hot sun.

The kids are cooped up inside for far too many hours of the day.  Even just hopping in the car for a spontaneous outing becomes a chore, making sure the children don’t burn themselves on seat belts and trying to keep them from following you to the car while you insist that you’re just starting it to cool it off and really, really, really it’s too hot to get inside right now.  No really, I know you say you don’t care, but trust me, YOU DO!  Ok, fine, just get in.

“Mom, it’s too hot!  I can’t buckle!  Is the A/C on full blast???”

Ugh.  Texas summers.  One advantage to being cooped up inside is that I spend some extra hours in the kitchen.  Tinkering with recipes, exploring new culinary creations, and making special treats that I normally wouldn’t bother with.  Last week, I felt entirely deflated by my deflated flop of a sourdough starter (don’t worry – I eventually achieved success!) and needed a major kitchen victory to lift my spirits.

I remembered this David Lebovitz recipe that I had pinned ages ago and never got around to making.

At the beginning of this summer, I very wisely invested in this adorable red Cuisinart ice cream maker.  Allow me a moment to wax poetic about it.  Just indulge me here.  Aside from being so aesthetically pleasing, this beauty is so much quieter than the monsters from my childhood.  Now – I said “quieter” – not quiet, per se, but quiet enough that I’ll let it run inside my kitchen instead of banishing it to the back porch like the ice cream makers of old.  Second-of-ly, NO ICE OR ROCK SALT NEEDED.  (I feel very strongly about this. I don’t know why, but this was a huge deal to me.  The bucket stays in my freezer and whenever the I-need-to-make-ice-cream mood strikes, I pull it out and go!)  Lastly, this baby gets down to business.  She knows how serious frozen desserts are and she’s not wasting anybody’s time.  Within 15 minutes, you’ll hit milkshake consistency and by 20-25 minutes, you’ve got soft serve.  If you want a fully firmed ice cream, you’ve got to transfer it to the freezer for a couple of hours but we have enjoyed many a batch straight from the bucket with no complaints.

Back to the recipe.  I was intrigued when I saw it because it was a sorbet – not an ice cream or a gelato – so there was no cream or milk or eggs called for.  But I’m a sucker for dark chocolate and it looked ridiculously delicious.  More importantly, it had a short ingredient list full of items we keep on hand regularly.

Dark Chocolate Sorbet - This sorbet can be ready in less than 30 minutes and has the most velvety smooth texture! No cream, milk, or eggs required!

Sugar.  Water.  Cocoa powder.  Salt.  Vanilla.  Some form of solid chocolate to melt.  That’s it.  Other than the obvious advantages, I love a simple recipe because it gives me lots of room to play.  It’s easy to see what role each ingredient is playing in the end product and therefore it’s easy to substitute for subtle flavor adaptations.  With any kind of frozen dessert – you’re basically juggling fat and sugar contents in order to maintain that scoopable texture while achieving the taste you’re after.

The first time, I added mint extract instead of vanilla for a peppermint patty sorbet.  The second time, I used peanut butter in place of the bittersweet chocolate (since they shared a similar fat content) for a peanut butter cup flavor.  And there’s a milk chocolate hazelnut bar in my pantry just begging for a chance to step up to the plate.

I also plan to make a batch replacing some of the water with strong, cold brewed coffee. And I picked up some butterscotch morsels that will probably find their way into this recipe before summers’ end.

So start your ice cream makers and get a batch of this started asap!

David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Sorbet Recipe

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