Melanie Rehak was always a foodie, but after becoming a mother to a picky eater, she wanted to know more about the food she was serving to her family ... and how to get her son to eat it. So she volunteered for an entire year at a restaurant that relied primarily on locally grown food. She also worked on the farms that supplied it to see how and where food is raised.
In the process, she wrote a book, Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food From Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid.
I caught up with Rehak to glean some of her learnings. Here's what she had to say and a great recipe for picky eaters too ...
Were you surprised when you discovered that your son was a picky eater?
Yes, very! But I think most people are, aren't they? I just assumed that because my husband and I both love to cook and eat, our child would at least be a good eater, if not a really adventurous one. That he turned out to be such a selective and weird eater was just sort of beyond both of us. We had no idea how to deal with it.
How did his eating habits change during your journey?
Well, he finally started eating pasta at around 3 -- a major milestone! Now if only he'd eat it with something on it ... but he's a lot better now. He eats chicken and meatballs and a bunch of other things that he shunned until fairly recently. He's always been good on fruit and vegetables, at least once we figured out that he'd only eat them raw (with a few exceptions, like corn on the cob). The big issue for us was always finding something he'd eat, period, when we were out. The months before he caved in and agreed to eat bread were pretty rough. He still absolutely refuses to eat cheese.
What tips would you offer other parents of picky eaters?
Have faith -- if my kid eventually got better, there's no way yours won't, too! And also, don't make it a battle of wills. We've never gained any ground by trying to force our son to eat something. If he wants to, he will; if not, the threat of no dessert or no something else or bargaining over numbers of bites doesn't do a thing.
What about the newest addition to your family, are you worried you'll go through the same thing with him?
I just had another baby boy about a week ago, and I confess, now that he's here and healthy and I have the luxury of worrying about less important things, I'm really, really hoping the new one isn't a picky eater.
Can you share one of your recipes with us?
This is amazing because it seems nothing like carrots even though it is. It goes well with fish or meat (in the spring we like it with soft shell crabs) or pretty much anything. It's incredibly easy and always impresses dinner guests, too.
A Recipe From Eating for Beginners: Carrot Purée
- 1 pound carrots
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. Wash or peel the carrots and chop them roughly; circles are fine.
2. Place carrots and butter in a frying pan (preferably not nonstick) over medium heat.
3. As butter melts, stir constantly so that the carrots caramelize and don't stick to the pan. You want them brown but not burned -- about 15 minutes.
4. When carrots are nicely caramelized, remove them to a blender and add heavy cream.
5. Blend on low, pressing carrot mixture down as it purées, so that it all gets blended together. If it seems too thick, you can add a bit more heavy cream to loosen it up (this is really personal preference, but you don't want it too runny).
6. Remove the carrot purée to a bowl and add salt and pepper to taste, folding it in as you go.
What have you learned about your toddler and picky eating?
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