Remember the good old days when your baby would happily open wide for a spoonful of organic baby food? Yeah…me neither. Now I wonder if I’m the only mom who actually sheds tears of joy when her toddler asks for an apple instead of a cookie. Helping your child develop healthy eating habits and a palate for nutritious food can be a struggle to say the least. Here to help is fellow mom and food blogger of http://www.simplywholesomekitchen.com Alissa Abbey Stoltz.
BN: Has cooking nutritious food always been a hobby for you? What made you decide to start a blog?
AAS: I have always enjoyed cooking healthier foods, but over the past few years my definition of healthy has evolved considerably from a more traditional low fat/low calorie mentality to a focus on wholesome foods (by wholesome I mean recognizable and minimally processed ingredients with moderate fats, sugar, and sodium, and no transfats, scary chemicals, preservatives, or artificial colors). This focus made me a bit obsessive about reading ingredient lists, which in turn made me very particular about the pre-made foods that I will buy – it is amazing what kinds of ingredients sneak into the most basic foods!
When my daughter was born, I became even more committed to cooking at home – I’m not looking for more work, but I think an essential part of my job as a mom is to make sure we are all eating good quality food, and that is not easy to come by outside of our own kitchens. But chasing around a baby made it much harder to keep track of recipes I liked, so I started The Simply Wholesome Kitchen as a virtual recipe box. I figured that if my recipes were posted on the internet along with my thoughts and changes, I could never lose them :). But as more people have started to read my blog, I have become even more motivated by the idea that maybe my experimenting can inspire others out there to make wholesome foods. I really love getting feedback that people have tried and enjoyed my recipes, especially from people who do not generally cook! It is very gratifying to have even a small impact in an area I feel so strongly about.
BN: What advice do you have for a mom who isn’t Martha Stewart in the kitchen?
AAS: I am not even close to Martha Stewart, and I don’t think any mom needs to hold herself to that kind of standard in order to make tasty wholesome food for her family! I have taken on some ambitious cooking projects in the past, but now that I’m a mom, the majority of my recipes involve very basic cooking skills and limited timeframes. I think the reason some people avoid cooking is because they think they need to put together elaborate, gourmet feasts every time, and that is way too much pressure. Everything doesn’t have to be the best meal you’ve ever tasted, or the most beautiful – there’s really a lot of room for error in cooking, and you are doing your family such a huge favor by choosing to try rather than depending on processed, prepared foods. The other thing I’d add is that practice really helps – it might feel overwhelming the first time you try a recipe or technique, but once you’ve done it a few times, you can probably cut your prep time in half, making you feel like you are Martha after all! This is the beauty of having a few staple meals you make on a regular basis – it becomes easy to have the right ingredients on hand to throw together a dish your family will enjoy with minimal time and effort.
BN: As you know, when you’re a mom, more often than not, it seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day. If whipping up an elaborate recipe isn’t on the to do list, what convenient and nutritious meals/brands can you recommend?
AAS: I have found there are a few nutritious meals I can throw together at home in less time than it would take to heat up a frozen dinner, and which include wholesome ingredients that are easy to have on hand. Here are my 3 top super-easy and super-quick ideas for lunch or dinner:
Scrambled eggs: Throw some frozen chopped spinach (or other veggie) into the pan to defrost before adding the eggs (or serve fruit or a veggie on the side), and serve with a whole grain English muffin or toast, salsa and a glass of milk.
Grilled cheese: Melt organic cheese on whole grain bread in the toaster oven. Serve with fruit or a veggie (tomato on the sandwich counts!).
Pasta: Cook your favorite shape of whole wheat pasta and throw a bag of frozen veggies in with the pasta about 3 minutes before it’s ready. Serve with olive oil or good quality jarred sauce. Boiling water takes a little more time, but the payoff is that if you make some extra, you have lunch or dinner in under a minute the next day!
BN: Have you ever done a price comparison between your recipes and more traditional ones?
AAS: I haven’t compared my recipes to more traditional ones, although I am sure that my grocery bills are higher than most since I feel strongly about sticking to organic products as much as possible, and ironically many minimally processed ingredients are more expensive than their more processed counterparts (e.g., whole wheat vs. all purpose flour, honey vs. granulated sugar). But what I think is more important is how my meals compare to pre-made items at the store. I can make a tray of muffins for about $3 and a loaf of bread for $2. Even accounting for the large size of most store bought muffins, I’d estimate that my cost for both of these items, using organic ingredients from Whole Foods, is less than half what you’d pay in the store. Plus the ingredients are likely to be higher quality and I can control exactly what goes into everything we eat. So between the cost savings and the improved healthfulness, cooking at home really does pay!
BN: What is your ‘philosophy’ about feeding young children?
AAS: I believe that it is our responsibility as parents to expose our children to as many healthy, and as few unhealthy options as possible, with the knowledge that we can’t make them eat anything. With very rare and extreme exceptions, children will not starve themselves, and if you consistently offer a variety of wholesome foods they will learn to like at least some of what you give them. A few things that help this along are sitting down to eat with them (my daughter’s willingness to try new foods improved dramatically when we started eating meals together), setting consistent boundaries around where and when food is eaten (e.g., all meals at the table, no running around with food or snacking all day long), and never pressuring them to eat something they don’t want. This takes a lot of patience, though – research suggests it can take 10-20 exposures to a new food for kids to learn to like it! The hard part is not falling into the trap of just giving them processed food that has been engineered to be easy to like (e.g., high fat, sugar, and sodium) at the expense of our health. Once kids become used to this kind of food it is more difficult to go back, but if you start with wholesome options early on, they will never expect anything different! My toddler is by no means the perfect eater – she eats the same foods over and over again, rarely eats vegetables, and changes her mind constantly, but at least I know the food that is making its way into her body is good for her.
BN: Does your blog discuss other eating habits (sitting at the table for longer than 2 seconds, snacking, etc.)?
AAS: The Simply Wholesome Kitchen is more about recipes for the whole family than about toddler specific eating habits, which is in line with my belief that toddlers should learn to eat like the rest of the family rather than being catered to. That being said, I do include tidbits about how my daughter reacts to many of my recipes and tons of ideas for meals and snacks that are easy to prepare and can be enjoyed by toddlers, children, and grown-ups.
BN: What words of encouragement do you have for moms who spend hours cooking (and cleaning) only to have their child refuse to eat?
AAS: This situation can be incredibly frustrating. I have had the experience on many occasions where I prepare a meal my daughter previously loved only to be greeted with tears when she sees it on her plate, so it’s really impossible to know what the reaction will be! But this is also why I will not cook anything that my husband and I won’t enjoy as well – it’s bad enough to have your child refuse to eat your food, but it’s even worse if you went to special effort just for them and then are rejected. If I am serving a food that might be new or challenging for my daughter, I always make sure I am serving something else with it that she generally likes that she can fill up on if need be (e.g., smoothie, bread, pasta, fruit, etc.). This way I know I’m not torturing her by making her feel like she has to choose between starving and eating something she really doesn’t want, but I am also not giving her an “out” and adding to my own frustration by becoming a short-order cook. And in the end, if she takes two bites (or no bites!) of a meal and tells me she’s done, I have to respect that and do my best to not take it personally.
From picky eaters to compulsive snackers, from food throwers to cookie monsters, kids and mealtime can be a stressful combination. But if we take some cues from Alissa Abbey Stoltz, there’s a good chance our children will develop good eating habits and a healthy relationship with food. Bon appetit!
Visit http://www.simplywholesomekitchen.com for more information and tons of yummy recipes!