Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Picky: Kohlrabi Cakes

As you've probably guessed by most of what I post here, I'm a fairly adventurous eater.  I love beautiful, tasty food.  I love supporting local farmers, and incorporating lots of vegetables into my diet.  I also love the bad-for-you stuff like cake and cookies and ice cream and chocolate, though I have high standards for those things, and try not to waste my calories on the ones that are just sweet, and not toothsome (e.g. high cocoa content dark chocolate with sea salt).  I raise my children to know where food comes from, and I cook pretty much all of our meals.  Very little of what's in my grocery cart is processed, and a lot of the produce we eat during the summer comes from our farm.

So perhaps you can imagine how difficult it has been for me to wrap my brain around my daughter's approach to food, which is decidedly ambivalent, and even occasionally antagonistic.

Like her brother, N. was interested in food at an early age.  I made about 95% of her baby food, which consisted of fresh, and often local, organic vegetables.  Her transition to solids, however, was rocky.  Now, at age 16 months, she eats black beans, chick peas, broccoli, carrots (with hummus), all manner of fruit, avocados, whole grain waffles, cheerios, fish sticks, and yogurt; most of this she refuses to chew.  She won't eat meat (which is fine with me, less fine with my husband).  She will rarely even try pasta (a travesty according to S.), and never actually eats any of it.  She licks bread and puts it aside.  She turns her head from pieces of cheese.  She overturns plates, and if she doesn't have a plate, she sweeps things onto the floor with grand hand gestures.  She is rarely willing to eat what we are eating for dinner, though that's what I put in front of her every night.  She cries inconsolably sometimes when she is presented with her plate of food, as if I have committed some unforgiveable offense.

Some days, I am very patient.  I talk with her, I offer options (different utensils? no utensils? condiments? a different venue? a swig of milk to cleanse the palate? is her resistance about asserting independence? is it an issue of texture or bite size?) without changing what's on her plate.

Some days, like today, I completely lose it.  I walk out, I try to collect myself.  I come back.  And finally, I yell.

In my more crazed moments, I think back to Mel's post about being a picky eater.  And I try to summon my patience back, try to be more understanding, try to remember that she is ONE, that food is still relatively new to her, that our communication, though improving, is still quite limited, that perhaps she really is just a picky eater, and that all I can do is keep trying.

Cup of Jo posted a review today of the book French Kids Eat Everything. I have never read the book, but I'd like to take issue with the review, and with the fact that the French do everything right (French women also don't get fat, and the "bring up Bebe" better, and who knows all what else).

We do all of the things that Jo says the book suggests.  We schedule meals, and eat together (especially at dinner).  We offer the kids the things that the adults eat.  We don't offer food as a reward/punishment/bribe.  We offer vegetables first (though I don't offer "all manner" of vegetables, and my daughter has never once even picked up a piece of carrot salad--one of the options Jo suggests--which I'm sure she would lick and summarily expel from her mouth with her pointy tongue).  We don't offer much by way of snacks.  We eat as slowly as it takes (last night, it took my son over an hour to eat his dinner).

My daughter is in the lowest quartile of weight for her age group, though in the highest quartile for length.  She's a petite little thing.  And she is extremely active, even more so than my son ever was.  So of course, I worry about making sure that she has enough energy in her to burn.  Will she eat something she won't even usually try if she's hungry enough?  Perhaps I've never gotten her hungry enough, but so far, the answer is a resounding no.  She is a mass of muscle and willpower, which will serve her well in the future, but in the meantime, is testing my resolve.

Children don't come with instruction manuals.  They are all different.  And when they're pre-verbal, you simply do the best you can to make sure that you are providing them with a good example while making sure that they grow up healthy.  I'm invoking the authority of DWYNTD parenting on this one.

I tried these on N. the other night, just to see what would happen.  As usual, she refused to touch them (everyone else thought they were just fine), but finally gave in when I put enough ketchup on them, so that she would eat them by mistake while trying to lick the ketchup off of her spoon.

You could even eat them plain.

(And I'd love to hear your thoughts about picky eating, about French child-rearing, or anything else you feel compelled to share.)

Kohlrabi Cakes
adapted from Asparagus to Zucchini

4 kohlrabi, peeled and grated
1 t. salt
1/4 c. spring onions
2 eggs
2 T. panko
1/4 c. corn kernels or diced red pepper (optional)

In a large bowl, salt the peeled and grated kohlrabi, and let it stand for about 15 minutes.  Transfer to a colander and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.

Beat eggs in the bowl, and add the squeezed kohlrabi, along with the remaining ingredients.  If the cakes are not looking like they will hold together, add a little flour or more panko.

Heat a griddle or nonstick pan over medium heat, and spray with cooking spray.  Cook for 3-4 minutes per side, or until browned.  Serve with yogurt, soy sauce and wasabi, or large quantities of ketchup.
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  1. Oh yes, we were so so smug when B was an infant---he ate EVERYTHING we presented to him! What a great eater! Then he became a toddler and mealtimes are a challenge. He is a typical beige food eater. He will pick the tiniest pieces of green/red/purple vegetables out of a casserole. He will put food in his mouth and then let it fall out (gross!) Is it a taste thing? Texture? No idea. We all eat together & he is served what we are eating. I offer a variety of healthy options and have tried being sneaky, preparing them differently (fresh vs. frozen vs. spicy vs. slightly sweet....)
    I've read other blogs & talked in person to mothers who themselves are picky eaters (and remember quite well my mother's battles with my EXTREMELY picky sister, who is now a quite reasonable, if not adventurous, eater), which has been extremely helpful---some times there is absolutely nothing you are doing wrong---that all the advice there is out there is what works for THAT person, and won't necessarily work for you---and that eventually most adults figure out a way to keep themselves nourished. I don't think being a picky child correlates at all with obesity or unhealthy adult habits---if the family models healthy eating, whole foods, cooking, etc... than that is what she is likely to follow, even if the repertoire of what she eats is limited. Definitely that conversation on Mel's posts challenged my views on the purpose of food---not everyone builds their lives around procuring/preparing/enjoying food---for some its really just a survival thing. It seems sad & weird to foodies, but there are things I couldn't give a flying flip about that other people are really into...

    1. B. sounds a lot like N., down to the food-falling-out-of-the-mouth trick. Oh, but that does drive me crazy!

      You're right; just because I love food doesn't mean she has to. There are plenty of things she loves that I don't, too! (And: I think that people who obsess LESS about food probably have a more healthy relationship with it in the long run...)

  2. My daughter is a picky eater as well though I don't do everything right like you do (and I'm not saying you implied what you're doing is right, I think it is right, but I don't have the energy to do it). While all her baby food was homemade, now that she is almost two we give her a lot of more processed foods like Mac n' Cheese, which she just started likening, pasta (doesn't like) and frozen chicken or fish sticks (meerly a conduit for ketchup or veganaise). Basically she eats cheese quesdillas, MnC, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, toast with butter and jam (sometimes peanut butter) and all manner of fruit (thank goodness). For veggies she gets a half homemade veggie purée, half applesauce concoction in a reusable pouch once a day. She also likes sweet potatoe (sometimes) and yogurt. I fall back on Fage Total for fat and protein a lot (a serving has 18g of protein and 23g of fat!) mixed with fresh banana and berries (also server in the reusable pouch). I always worry about her weight; she is 10th percentile for weight and 75th for height but I know there is nothing I can do. If she won't eat she won't eat.
    I was CRAZY picky when I was young so I can't really get mad at her. I just hate when I spend time and food on a meal she won't eat (we don't eat until 9ish so she eats alone (with someone there) and eats different food from us. Anyway, I don't have any answers, just know that I only ate white food for a decade and I turned out okay. ;)

    1. It's funny ... I think I was just spoiled by I., who ate EVERYTHING. I don't understand why N. doesn't like beige foods, though. Don't even picky eaters like toast?

      I made salmon cakes the other day, too, and told her it was fish sticks. She gave me a big smile until she licked one ... and then BLOOP! out of her mouth it went, unceremoniously. It was quite spectacular to watch. ;)

      You and the other commenters have definitely made me feel better, though!

  3. I also saw that glowing review on Cup of Jo and just clicked away. For one, that's not French: it's just 1950s. I took my daughter to France and that's certainly now what the other moms I saw were doing (although we were only in Paris0. But nobody is all that nostalgic about eat-it-or-go-to-bed-hungry 1950s/1960s which my parents were raised with. Moreover, it's one thing to laud all of that careful attention and rules! consistency! with one well-behaved, mostly non-verbal baby. I can't do family mealtimes (my husband works past 8 pm every night, like most New Yorkers), but moreover I am not the type of mother to ignore my highly articulate 3 year old announcing that she is TOO HUNGRY TO PLAY at 10 am. Or 4 pm. When she asks for a snack, she gets one. I try to keep snacks light and healthy, but I also trust her and respect her needs.

    Like you, our second baby is petite (ok, miniature. He long ago fell off the growth charts for weight). My daughter enthusiastically ate everything until about age 2, at which she switched to classic toddler fare. And our son is so little and such a picky eater that we have resorted to entirely absurd and unhealthy extremes like offering him hot dogs for breakfast (bite for bite they are the highest calorie food he will take in the morning. We also do crackers with peanut butter. He won't eat yogurt or eggs most days). For now, we're just practicing patience and hoping that as he can articulate what he wants more the process will get easier.

    ps - Have you tried having her feed you? It may not encourage her to actually eat something new immediately but it may help with sensory issues/at least get her to pick up and play with food/may make meals more playful.

    1. Rachel, great suggestion ... I do let her feed me sometimes, and she's quite happy to give me things she doesn't want. ;) But: I should look at this differently, as play, as experimentation.

      And I think you're absolutely right about the nostalgia for a bygone era that no one much liked in the first place, either!

  4. It is your job to provide varied, healthful meals. It is her job to eat. My suggestion is to focus on your job and forget about hers altogether. W was all about solid foods from the moment we gave them to him. A took much longer to become a solids eater (and thus to give up nursing) but he is a good eater now.

    And you can tell S that my W eats no meat except bacon (which he gets rarely) and he's just fine.

    1. Yes ... times like these I think maybe I was too hasty to wean her. But she didn't like nursing either ... so there you have it. ;)

  5. I was a very picky eater. My Mom says when I was young she would try to not give in, but sometimes ended up just giving me PB&J so I would eat something. When I was a little older if I didn't eat I would "go hungry". I was always told I had to try everything at least once and I think it has made me a better eater as an adult.

  6. That looks like such a yummy, healthy recipe. You can't imagine how often I read here and wish you were my next door neighbor.

    I was a hugely picky kid. Proof that there is no karma in the world is that I have two adventurous eaters.

    BUT. My stubborness has been matched. So karma may exist after all.

  7. My son (6) is a horrendously picky eater, and always has been. His little sister (3.5) is much more the typical "you liked it yesterday, why don't you like it today?" child, which at least gives me comfort that it wasn't anything I did that made him that way. For now, until we figure out what to do next, he subsists mostly on peanut butter sandwiches. I'm not saying it's a good thing, but it's where we are.

    They are both right about average on the growth charts, and keeping to their appointed curves, so despite their tiny appetites, I don't worry unduly, most of the time.

  8. I have no words of wisdom, L is a great eater and always has been. I will say that my younger brother was a super picky eater until his early 20s when he finally began to branch out. So I guess I'm trying to say that eventually (maybe in 20 years?) it might get better? :)

  9. Some kids are just picky. Period. And I don't think it has anything to do with approach. I had a good laugh at your comment about the French. Yes. It's an interesting fascination, that current one and I'm just waiting for the books about French potty-training ("but it must be un w.c. porcelain! For la experience!").

    I'm sure the French do things very well. But the idea that any one group of people has cornered the market on perfection...well,je ne crois pas.

    Sorry to hear of the rocky time with N.. I hope she grows out of it soon.


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