My Mommy Confession: I Cook More Entrees for Dinner than an LA Jewish Deli

Baby Shepherd and I cooking dinner(s)

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was seven-years-old.  I just am a vegetarian.  I’ll cook meat.  (I mean, you won’t find me sticking my hands in a meatloaf, but if tongs are an option, I’ll not-touch-it-and-cook-it).  I also don’t mind if my kids eat meat — in fact, I encourage it.  But somewhere along the line, my older two stopped eating it.  As well as any other “entree” besides butter noodles.

“We are not having a double pasta day!” is something I hear myself saying all-too-often.

I’m not even sure how this “pickiness” happened.  When Scarlet was a baby, she ate everything: vegetable lasagna, teriyaki tofu, tempura shrimp, and guacamole.  It was all fair game.  When my second child came along and Scarlet became a threenager, my kids’ food idiosyncrasies rubbed off on each other until we were left having an “adult meal” and a “kid meal”.

When I was growing up, there was one dinner served.  And I’d eat what I liked from my plate and pretend to eat the rest.  As a seven-year-old vegetarian who grew up an hour from Amish Country, I lived on mashed potatoes, buttered lima beans, and “Cheeseburger, hold the burger” from McDonald’s.  My grandmother was progressive for the early 90s though and tried to sneak this thing called “tofu” into smoothies to help me get a little protein.

As parents, we go to great lengths to provide our children with what they need to lead happy and healthy lives.  I can’t stand the idea of them being hungry, so even though it means extra work for me, I make separate meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and make each plate as balanced as I can with respects to their particular food preferences.

There has to be an easier way.  I’d like my kids to be more open minded about food and I’d definitely prefer to cook one meal for the whole family (or order in something other than Italian).  So I looked to my friend, Lori Lichterman, RD, for some advice on opening up my kids’ food world’s:

Polite As Fudge:  What’s your take on kids nutrition?

Lori Lichterman:  Kids nutrition is one of my favorite nutrition topics!  “Kids nutrition” is not much different from “adult nutrition.”  The major differences are that children have different abilities depending on their age.  As babies, we go from bottle or breast to semi-solids and then work our way up to chewing and swallowing larger pieces of food.  It is so interesting to watch children progress through these stages. Then when they have mastered these skills, they are ready to explore the foods we eat and “grow into” the meals we like to serve to our families.

Polite As Fudge:  I’ve gotten into a habit I never thought I would – the dreaded two-separate-meal-dinners.  A lot of my friends do, too.  How is it different from when we were growing up? How can I transition into one meal for the whole family?

Lori Lichterman: I teach and follow Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility (DOR).  The DOR explains what the parent and child’s roles are in the feeding relationship (yes, it is a relationship). The goal is to help a child to be a “competent eater.”  What is a “competent eater, you ask?  Well, a competent eater is in-tune with their body’s internal cues for hunger and fullness and is also one who also has an acceptance of a variety of foods.  The internal cues are innate but must be honored and preserved.  A varied diet has more to do with food exposed in a positive atmosphere, which helps the child to grow to like those foods.  “Short order cooking” (as we call it when you get up to make something else) is neither fair to you, or your child.  Fair meal planning, the DOR way, gives the child enough options that are familiar (safe foods) paired with unfamiliar foods to exposure young children to new foods. This method (described in a nutshell) gives everyone at the table something that they will be happy to eat and leaves no reason to get up and make something else.

Polite As Fudge:  What’s the best way to begin the DOR?  

Lori Lichterman:  The best way to begin to implement the DOR is to start serving meals “family style.”  Think Thanksgiving dinner…bowls and plates of food are served in the middle of the table. Everyone can take whatever they want, and as much, or as little, as they want.  The key is that it’s all on the table at the beginning of the meal.  The other key is that there are several foods that each family member already “accepts” so making something else is not necessary.  Also, it is very important not to “praise or pressure” kids into eating what you think they should eat. This type of coaxing actually delays food acceptance, rather than encouraging it, as many believe it will happen if kids “just try it.”

Polite As Fudge:  Everyone’s cray cray about sugar – what’s your take?

Lori Lichterman: Sugar:  the crazier we are over it, the crazier they will be over it.  First of all, everything is a balance and there are no “bad foods.”  So, take your kids out for ice cream.  Pack some cookies with lunch.  Normal life includes these foods…and hiding them does more harm than good.

Polite As Fudge:  Why were all my kid’s great eaters as babies and then transitioned into picky ones as they got older?    

Lori Lichterman:  Great eaters as babies and then picky…it has everything to do with developmental stages.  Embrace the stage of your baby’s “amusement and discovery” of new foods, as much as you embrace your preschooler’s autonomy and ability to express opinions. They are all part of growing into the individuals that they are becoming.

Polite As Fudge:  Has your experience as a professional changed knowing what day-to-day life (eating in particular) is like with your own child?  

Lori Lichterman:  As a professional, the thing that has changed most is my passion.  I haven’t changed the way I view kids nutrition. I believe in respecting the child’s developmental stage and all of the quirks that come with it.  I believe that food acceptance takes time, and I allow for it.  I believe that a child is a little person, learning to express their autonomy, and therefore they have right to refuse or ask for more food.  And among many other things, I believe that the table, and family meals, is a place where the best family moments are created.  As a mother, the thing that has changed is how ENORMOUSLY important those values have become to me because now my own child depends on me for them.

Polite As Fudge:  I’ve been a vegetarian since I was little and now my kids are, too.  What’s your take on kids being veggie?  

Lori Lichterman:  As far as vegetarianism goes, it can be a very healthy lifestyle.  Remember that children learn what they see, so if you are a vegetarian, those are the foods that they will learn to eat. This also holds true for other eating habits too. They are learning from us all the time, so if you don’t want them snacking all day and never eating a vegetable, you have to ask yourself if those are the behaviors you are modeling.

Polite As Fudge:  What inspired you to become a nutritionist and what has your career been like in this field?

Lori Lichterman:  My career actually started in fitness. I worked as an aerobics instructor/personal trainer for many years.  I decided to return to school for a degree in nutrition when I realized my clients had more questions about nutrition than anything else!  I wanted to be a truly good source of information for them.