Friday, September 23, 2011

Separate, separate, separate

That’s my secret for making one dinner that usually sometimes pleases both the tall and short people in my home. ‘Separate, separate, separate’ is an especially important technique for children of the preschool variety. They want power and they want it now. Food is the only thing in their little lives that they have any control over. As much as you’d like to get your screwdriver and your plumber’s helper, open their mouths and shove it in, that didn’t work for Mr. Parker in A Christmas Story and it won’t work for you.

My six year old will eat raw spinach dipped in salad dressing and she’ll devour a container of strawberries in minutes, but try combining those three items and she recoils in horror. I not only physically separate every item on the plate, I also reserve items while I’m cooking before I RUIN them with too much flavor. The other night I made one of my favorite spring dishes, Seared Tofu with Spicy Black Beans and Mango Salsa, which I discovered years ago in Peter Berley’s cookbook Fresh Food Fast. This is how the dish looks when Alan and I eat it.

For my picky little munchkins, I reserved some of the mango salsa before I added jalapeno and cilantro to it. I also separated the food on their plates like this.

Lilly informed me that next time I make this dish, the tomato is not invited to her mango play date. I meant to reserve some black beans before I RUINED them with ginger, cumin, and garlic, but I forgot. Do you see where this is going? Lilly didn’t seem to mind the beans, but this was Jonathan’s reaction:

It gets even better!

Separate, separate, separate!
Separate the food, but don’t cook a separate meal; unless, of course, you want to. If you have endless money, time, and patience, then go for it. Just keep in mind that “kid-friendly food” is a marketing gimmick, one that didn’t exist 100 years ago.

Don’t feel too rejected when the ungrateful boogers refuse the meal you so lovingly prepared for them. You sometimes have to offer a dish twenty or thirty times before a child starts to like it; an annoying fact, but true. My daughter was a really good eater when she was little. She later went through picky stages and turned up her nose at meals she once loved. On the bright side, she’s eating things today that she refused to touch just last year. If I didn’t give her the opportunity to try a variety of foods, how would her taste buds ever develop and mature? Don’t get too worked up about the food they reject. Just laugh at their full-body shudders, try to refrain from lecturing them about starving children in Africa, and celebrate small victories. We’re all in this thing together.


  1. Loved this post! I do all of those things as well :-) sometimes I wish I could just do it all one way, but I know that this too shall pass. I snagged some divided lunch trays (like schools have) at the thrift store and that is how we separate.

  2. Thanks Sara! That's a GREAT idea about the trays. I wrote this a year or so ago and Lilly has since made things even more complicated by becoming a vegetarian. I refer to your Happy Foody Kids and Food list all the time, Sara!