Feeding a toddler

Meet this week’s Mac veggies:

Emily & Jesse make a cameo appearance! (along with the sunshine!)

  • Arugula — For the uninitiated, arugula is a salad green that is more closely related to radishes than lettuce. It has a distinctive “nutty” flavor (sometime hot, sometimes mild) and makes a wonderful salad base when tossed with a simple dressing. It’s also delicious lightly cooked. Sometimes we’ll even just toss it into a pasta dish at the end and let the heat wilt it. Yummy!
  • Sweet peppers
  • Kale OR chard — Your choice between these two favorite cooking greens. Now that it’s fall, we’re making a point to eat a cooked green at least once a day. Casey noted the other day that he’s not so sure that he loves the flavor of cooked kale but he definitely loves the way it makes his body feel to eat it — it’s an almost immediate rejuvenation. And, that is why we like to eat kale in the morning for breakfast!
  • Broccoli OR radishes
  • Savoy cabbage — “Savoy” simply refers to the crinkliness of these cabbages’ leaves. Savoy cabbages are great for Asian inspired flavors — the crinkles pick up and hold yummy sauces for all kinds of salads/slaws too! You can use them in any usual cabbage application — they’re just different.
  • “Orange Dawn” winter squash — YUMMY! We have really been loving this new squash, which we grew as a replacement for our old type called Ambercup. You can use this squash in any kind of winter squash/pumpkin application (squash bread, roasted squash, pureed squash). We tend to just bake it whole on a baking sheet until we can pierce the skin and flesh easily with a knife. Then we pull it out, cut it in half, let it cool, scoop out the seeds/pulp, peel the skin, and use the flesh for all sorts of yummy recipes. Most recently, I mashed it up with some goat cheese and reheated it before eating. So delicious and simple!
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Yellow onions

Yes, two newsletters about our son two weeks in a row. Bear with me!

It’s interesting how people assume that our almost two year-old son Rusty eats vegetables. I mean, I suppose it’s much more likely, given the abundance of vegetables in our life (right now, for example, the kitchen windowsill is over-flowing with quince, dry corn, sweet potatoes, and pepper seed). But, guess what? He’s still a toddler. And, toddlers are finicky eaters.

Rusty and I (Katie) have been extended breast feeding and are still going strong a few times a day, which has been a comfort to me at times when he has either refused all food or anything that’s not in cracker shape (“at least he’s still getting good mama’s milk!”).

But as Rusty approaches two, not surprisingly, nursing is being increasingly replaced by real food, and it’s been interesting to watch how this happens. It is certainly not a straightforward process, by any means!

All kids are different, but it does seem that there are shared traits at particular developmental moments in a life. I think that parents too share traits and goals — especially the desire to have healthy, vibrant children who enjoy a wide variety of nourishing foods. I think that at many moments, this desire comes up against a wall with toddlers (and, from what I hear, older children too), who are by nature “neophobic” (i.e. afraid of new things) and likely to push back against pressure to do anything.

I had the good fortune to receive a great book recommendation early in Rusty’s life: How to get your kids to eat (but not too much) by Ellyn Satter. I learned from this book the important lesson that we parents, try as we might, cannot force our children to have particular eating habits. Our job is to provide the nourishing options (along with structure for meal times); the kids’ job is to choose what to eat and how much (or if at all).

There are many important reasons for taking this approach with young kids, not the least of which is to allow them to develop their own understanding of what it feels like to be hungry or full (which we can inadvertently take away by pressuring to eat “just one more bite”).

Casey and I have adopted a few basic guidelines for our house that seem to have worked well so far:

1. We aim to only keep food in the house that we feel comfortable saying “yes” to serving to Rusty in any quantity. This goal alone cuts way down on power struggles about what we don’t want Rusty to eat! We have actually broken this guideline a few times, when we purchased a few extra pastries for our own coffee break consumption and then had Rusty want to eat them all in one sitting! It is very hard to justify saying “no” when the food is sitting there (at least, without causing a big scene!).

Certainly one could simply set limits and still have less-healthy foods around, but food is such a ubiquitous part of our life that we’ve decided to “childproof” our diet in this way (for us, it’s a similar choice to putting glass objects out of reach while Rusty is still a fumbling, bumbling toddler). Being able to say “yes” to anything in our house makes our job as parents so much easier.

So, we stock our house with items we have decided are delicious and nourishing: lots of fruit and vegetables, some healthier cracker and snack items, eggs, dairy, meats, nuts, and whole grains. We try to always have leftovers in the fridge so that we can eat healthy snacks too.

Perhaps there will be a time when we change this and stock cookies and cake too, but actually we find it to be very useful for our own eating habits as well — why keep tempting sweet items stocked if we don’t plan to eat them on a daily basis? (Of course, condiments still pose a challenge — how do we explain to Rusty that we don’t spoon the jam out of the jar into our mouths or guzzle the ketchup bottle?)

2. We don’t use food as rewards or punishments. This goes for Casey and me as well. Food is food, to be enjoyed when eaten and to be eaten for nourishment. We do indulge in small special treats, especially when we are out and about in town, but they are treats because they are treats — not because we did something special to deserve them.

I realize this goes against the grain of how a lot of people eat, but it’s my understanding that connecting food to reward (or punishment by denial) complicates our relationship to food. Using foods as rewards also implicitly positions certain (often less healthy) foods as “better” than others (especially when items such as dessert are withheld until other foods — such as veggies — are eaten first). Here’s a quote from Michael Pollen’s book In Defense of Food that puts this eating philosophy into context:

“[A researcher] showed the words ‘chocolate cake’ to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. ‘Guilt’ was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: ‘celebration.’”

Reading that a few years back was such a huge “aha” moment for me. We Americans have thoroughly vilified certain special foods at the same time that we have lost our natural enjoyment of more nourishing everyday foods — it makes me wonder how many people aren’t enjoying anything when they eat at all? In contrast, Casey and I would like Rusty to grow up with a more balanced understanding of his own appetites and desires.

3. We offer foods again and again — without pressure. “No” is one of the most frequently used words in Rusty’s vocabulary. He is almost two, which means that he is learning that he has agency in this world. And, as a small person who has very little control over his own life, the best way he can exert that agency is by refusing things I offer him.

Rusty will often say “no” as a first reaction to being offered a bite of food or drink of water. I have learned to take this with a grain of salt and, without comment, simply offer the same item again in a few seconds. More often than not, he will accept the food or water on the second try. If it’s a brand new food, it might take a few more gentle offers (and a few spit outs). And, sometimes he just isn’t interested at all.

Similarly, we’ve found it important to stay open to the possibility that he might like unexpected things. For example, even though Rusty has fairly run-of-the-mill natural toddler preferences for sweet and salty non-green things, he loves cabbage in all forms (sauerkraut, cooked cabbage, raw cabbage!).

At meals, even though we try to have something kid friendly available (i.e. some simple part of what we’re eating), we always put all of what we’re eating on Rusty’s plate. We’ve been amazed by what he will try when we’re not at all expecting it. I mean, ultimately, we’re offering him tasty things that we like, so why shouldn’t he like them eventually? Of course, trying them once doesn’t mean he’ll try them again the next time. It’s very non-linear, so we keep our expectations realistic!

Even adults have to taste novel foods many times before developing the taste for them — kids are no different, they’re just faced with a much higher number of new foods every day (since it is all new!). I think it makes sense that they would add foods slowly, as they get used to the idea of it.

These are ideas and guidelines that have been very useful in our house so far. I think that Rusty is probably a pretty middle of the road toddler, so even though these may sound like very confident musings of a mother of an “easy” toddler, keep in mind that we have plenty of food spit out on the ground in our house. And, how do we respond? By wiping it up without comment.

But, maybe you’re wondering, how is any of this relevant to a farm newsletter? Well, we find that as farmers, people seem to be extra interested in what and how we eat. People generally find diets interesting — humans are omnivores after all, capable of surviving and even thriving on a wide range of foods (of course we can also survive but not thrive on food as well, as is the case with non-nourishing, heavily processed foods).

Now that we have a hungry kiddo in the house too, we have even more reason to think about healthy food choices. And, beyond what we eat, we find it’s important to think about how we eat. Living and working on the farm, we have a unique situation of being able to have three sit-down meals together as a family, every single day. Because we’re home, we can even make those meals from scratch. What an amazing luxury!!!!!

Anyhow, I think it’s fun to provide snapshot insight into our farmer eating life every now and then. Since many of you have kids (or kids on the way), perhaps some of our experience so far may even be useful!

We don’t feel like we have it “all figured out” when it comes to feeding ourselves, let alone kids There are still many days when we’re scratching our heads about what to cook, not because there aren’t options, but just because we’re tired and not feeling creative at all. But, ultimately, when it comes to food, we feel very privileged and rich in every way. I hope that as you share in the bounty of each week’s harvest, you too feel rich.

I say it every week, because I really do hope that you will: enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Welcome Fino in Fondo!

We are always excited to share news of our food friends in town, so in case you haven’t heard, we wanted to suggest you try Mac’s newest culinary addition: Fino in Fondo, a salumeria offering Italian style salami. Eric Ferguson and Carmen Peirano of Nick’s are the proprieters and salami makers. We tasted a sample last week, and it was YUMMY! You can purchase their goods at their tasting room, 777 NE 4th St, McMinnville (in the purple industrial building at the dead end before the tracks). Hours are 10-7, Thursday – Saturday.

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