Recently, a friend was commiserating that her young child was eating too much candy. Every time my friend turned around, she said she found a few pieces in her child's hand. Or, the little one would cry after dinner for dessert. Again - that candy. I just listened. Never uttering a word. Letting her get her junk food rant out and on the coffee house table. When she was done complaining about everything from the fact that it was too much sugar. That her child was borderline overweight. That she was no longer eating the good foods on the dinner plate..I finally stepped in with one simple question:
"Who bought the candy?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, who purchased the candy? And who told you to keep it in the house?"
"Well, um. I did," admitted my friend.
And herein lies the problem. We are our kids' own worst enemies. We buy them candy. We soothe them with ice-cream. We treat their A's and good behavior with sugary rewards. We're setting them up for disaster in the years ahead. And, whether you want to believe this or not, this happens more in America than anywhere else in the world. And what excuse do we use? 'Um..my kids are just picky eaters.'
In a past blog post on my other site, www.indianasapplepie.com, I've joked that in India moms feed their kids Indian food; in China, Chinese food; in America, we feed our kids crap - non food. And, we're actually okay with that. Give them a sugary morning yogurt, or maybe a bowl of sugary cereal with marshmallow bits in it..send them to lunch with a sack filled with fake yellow cheese paired with crackers made from white all-purpose (no nutrition) flour, add in some chocolate milk spiked with sugar, maybe a cookie or two...give them a bag of chips after school to munch on with a can of soda...bring them home and feed them McDonald's maybe some chicken nuggets - maybe pizza - maybe even some fruit punch if they whine long enough. No wonder our kids are obese - that they lack focus in school, that allergies are on the rise, and that they are often just medicated for outbursts in school linked to diagnoses like Attention Deficit Disorder.
No, I'm not a doctor. I'm not even a nurse. I'm just a lowly reporter that tends to ask a TON of questions. And I constantly ask myself - why do we understand that a car could not work when you put oil in the gas tank, but for the life of us cannot make the same correlation to food and our bodies - especially the young bodies of our children? They are not able to handle so much non-food in their system. They need real food! Real fruits and veggies. Real grains. Real legumes. Even real, non-atiobiotic injected meat if they eat it. (I only say if because many families that are vegetarian are also equally raising very healthy kids.)
The point I'm making - wake up! You regulate just about everything else in your kids lives up to say the age of 10...13 - 18 if you're lucky...how about regulating their eating? How about going out of your way to have a hot meal on the table for them? How about spending time with them in the kitchen chopping up veggies and prepping fruit for the next week? It all makes a huge world of difference.
It was this realization that drove me crazy as I worked as a morning TV reporter covering every major story for my former news station. I just sat in the live truck and wondered what my kids were eating for breakfast. If they would get something healthy like my mother gave us when we were little, or if it would something quick and easy like most kids in the States get these days. It was this feeling that truly made me give up work as a reporter - to stay at home and focus on my kids and what they ate - it was THAT important to me. It still is.
I'm not saying that it's easy. I'm not saying that some of you don't already do it. I'm saying many of you don't - I know I didn't. I used every excuse in the book.
"I'm too tired...I work too damn hard...It's easier to open a box than cook from scratch."
But, I finally woke up and saw these feelings for what they truly were and are: excuses.
You had those kids for a reason. And, they ARE work, folks. It's about time we own it and stop making excuses.
And, take a page from the Indian culture. One of the first things we usually feed our kids as soon as they start eating solids, is the liquid broth from boiled lentils, or dal. It's easily digested and high in protein.
It's also one of the first Indian dishes I ever fed my kids when they were young. It's not only a breeze to prepare, but it's also not one that you have to dumb down to serve your kids. The flavor profiles work on adults too. My kids love soup, and so something served like this with Indian spices thrown in is always a winner.
To serve it more traditionally, eat it with bread (roti or naan), or with basmati rice. When the kids were just infants, I would roll up tiny balls of Indian bread (roti) in between my fingers and throw them into a bowl of dal to let them soak and soften until the girls could eat them.
The lentils I recommend using are yellow, split lentils, or dhuli moong dal. The moong lentils are the little, round green ones. Skin them, and split them, and you have bright yellow lentils that cook faster and become a beautifully backdrop for a soup. You can also substitute the orange, salmon colored masoor lentils more commonly found in mainstream markets.
Try making this with your own kids. Let them actually get into the kitchen and take ownership of the dish. And then ask them to taste it. Don't make them down a bowl right away..maybe just a taste here and there and then a couple of tablespoons. Take it slow until they get used to the flavors.
Simple, Yellow Moong Dal
Makes 10 cups
2 cups yellow, split moong lentils, picked over and washed
8 cups water
2 - 3 tablespoons oil or ghee (I use grape seed oil)
2 pinches asafoetida or hing*
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 small yellow or red onion, peeled and finely diced (1/2 heaping cup)
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated or minced
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and grated or minced
2-4 Thai green chiles, stems removed and diced (omit if making for kids)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon red chile powder or cayenne (omit if making for kids)
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
fresh, chopped cilantro for garnish
1. In a deep saucepan bring lentils and water to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn heat down and simmer for 25-30 minutes uncovered or with lid slightly ajar. At this point, the lentils will be soft and broken down, like a porridge. Turn the heat off, and put the lid on the pan to allow the dal to set while you make the tarka (seasoning).
2. On the side, in a sautee pan, heat oil or ghee over medium-high heat. Add asafoetida (if using), cumin, and turmeric. Cook about 30 seconds until the seeds sizzle and get slightly reddish brown.
3. Add onion. Cook until brown, about 1 minute.
4. Add ginger and garlic and cook another minute. Add green chiles if using, and cook another 30 seconds.
5. Put this mixture into the pot of cooked lentils and mix well. Add garam masala, coriander powder, red chile (if using), and salt. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer for 1 - 2 minutes until all the flavors have a chance to come together.
Serve piping hot in small bowls topped with a dollop of butter or soy margarine and chopped cilantro.
*Asafoetida is unique to Indian cooking. Use it sparingly - a pinch here and there - in heated oil to give your dish not only the taste of leeks, but to also is improve digestion. Beware, uncooked, it has a funky smell the does go away after it's heated in oil. If you don't have it - no worries - cook without it. But, know that you can purchase it at any Indian grocery stores, and it's now available at more specialty grocers like Whole Foods Market.
** Many folks love tomatoes in this dish, but my kids don't like cooked tomatoes, though they love uncooked tomatoes. If you want to use them, add one chopped tomato in after the ginger and garlic have a chance to brown slightly. Add any other veggies. Chopped spinach is delicious added in the end.
Have fun. Pure, unadulterated comfort in a bowl! And, please - don't underestimate your kids. Give them a fighting chance to develop their taste buds for different foods and flavors. If you don't do it now - it may never happen!