An Uncomplicated Life Blog

Monday, August 13, 2018

How To Manage A Picky Eater

Getting toddlers to eat enough protein their growing bodies need is tough. Here's a great option for busy parents to start their child's day with a high-protein punch!

This post is sponsored by NESTLÉ® NESQUIK® but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

I never thought I'd be the mom of a picky eater. Before I had kids, I was convinced that picky eaters were MADE, not BORN. I had all these grandiose ideas about how all I had to do to have excellent eaters was expose them early and consistently to healthy, organic foods. I'd never make them a different supper than I was cooking - no, all I had to do to get excellent, diverse eaters was make one meal for the whole family, and everyone would eat it happily. Now that I'm on the verge of being a mom of four kids, I know better! Guess what? Picky eaters are born. Tastes and textures are different for everyone, and everyone doesn't like everything. Toddlers seem to be especially fond of everything in the carbohydrate family. Crackers always go over well but grilled chicken? Not so much! I've dealt with a highly picky eater and struggling to get him to eat enough protein. Here's how to manage a picky eater.

I joke with my friends that I sometimes only cook supper at all for Otto. That boy will eat ANYTHING, and a lot of it. His favorite thing to do is eat. If it's been an hour and a half since his last meal, he'll look at me and say, "Mommy, I want to eat now. It's time to eat more!" Protein, veggies, fresh fruit, homemade minestrone soup, lasagna, bratwurst, you name it, he eats it. Three to four eggs plus toast plus fresh fruit is what he eats for his SECOND breakfast of the day (I'm not kidding). It's no wonder this kid is 95% for height and 85% for weight. I'm not concerned about his diet at all! I am concerned about our grocery budget bankrupting us when he's a teenager though...

I digress. 

My first born son, Henry is entirely another story. From 6 months old when we started him on solid food through 15 months, he was a great eater. I exposed him to all sorts of fruits and veggies, and attempted to puree meats for him too. He never got into the meat, but I thought "Well I don't want to eat that either so I don't blame him!" At 15 months old, when he was properly sitting at a high chair and feeding himself at meals, he went on a food strike. He wouldn't eat ANYTHING except blueberries and whole milk. That was it. For two solid weeks. I was baffled! I was in tears thinking that he'd be malnourished and starved!

Eventually I was able to re-introduce yogurt and cheese. Other berries. And whole wheat/whole grain crackers. He clearly didn't die of malnutrition from his two week food strike, but he did continue to be an insanely picky eater. Berries, crackers and dairy are always a hit, but veggies and meats? Only recently (and keep in mind he's four years old) has he even began to TRY these foods. Clearly, that leaves us a protein gap that needs to be filled so that he can grow and so that he stays full at preschool until it's lunch time.

NESTLÉ® NESQUIK® Super Breakfast is made from 100% real milk (that's a big hit for my dairy loving picky eater!) so it's full of Vitamins A and D and calcium. It has ZERO artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors and ZERO high fructose corn syrup in it, so I feel good about giving it to my kids. And it's loaded with 12g of protein, so my picky eater is getting a great boost of muscle and brain building power to get him through his morning.

If it were up to Henry, he'd eat pancakes and berries for breakfast every morning. I love that I can add this Nesquik® Super Breakfast drink (that's available in the juice aisle at Walmart) to round out his whole grain pancakes and fruit with more protein. It comes in chocolate and vanilla flavors, but my picky eater won't touch anything with chocolate in it. This kid legitimately won't touch chocolate chip cookies. Yeah, he's THAT picky!

Parents, if you struggle with an insanely picky eater like I do, rest a little easier knowing that you didn't create that monster - he or she made him/herself! Keep on exposing them to new foods and encouraging them to try them. Don't force food on them. Praise them when they do try new foods and tell them "we'll try better tomorrow" on days they simply refuse. And to get some of your picky eater's protein, vitamin, and calcium needs in, get Nesquik® Super Breakfast drinks to add to their breakfast! Managing a picky eater isn't easy, but products that taste great and have "hidden" nutrition make it that much easier. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

My Best Cooking Tips and Tricks

I've been in the kitchen since I was a toddler and have developed some great cooking tips and tricks over the past three decades

One of the biggest surprises and sources of joy for me from blogging has been how well my recipes have been received by y'all. People are marking my food pins on Pinterest as "tried" and giving them amazing reviews and food and wine companies are reaching out to me to curate recipes for their websites and blogs. That is SO rewarding! I love it when people love my food. I have no classic training beyond a few classes at Cooks Of Crocus Hill and Central Market. I was taught the old fashioned way - my mom had me in the kitchen. By the age of 8, I was responsible for cooking one to two meals a week because she was a busy, working single mom. My stepmom is also a gifted cook and had my sister and me by her side in the kitchen. She taught us to recognize herbs from smell alone! From all my informal education via hands-on learning and decades of cooking later, I've got some great cooking tips and tricks I've developed for everyday meals. No concrete recipe, but rather ways to make your everyday food turn out great and tasting better than ever.

 Cooking tips and tricks on how to prepare tricky meal items like juicy burgers, homemade bone broth and perfect every time #cookinghacks #homemade #recipes #howto

I created this list of tips and tricks based on foods the American family eats regularly, and what we ourselves eat a lot of. Some of the items are things I struggled with for YEARS (I literally just learned how to make perfect-every-time quinoa) or things family members or friends text me about, asking for my advice on how to do it better or have it turn out tastier. And voila! These are my best cooking tips and tricks that you can use in everyday cooking and weekly meal planning for great food, every time.

Perfect every time quinoa or brown rice:

Want the recipe of the quinoa pictured above? It's right here! Quinoa is a staple in our house because it's a complete protein and refrigerates well. Brown rice is an awesome complex carbohydrate that makes great casseroles, side dishes and salads. But like I said, it took me FOREVER to figure out how to have it be light and fluffy, and not thick and clumpy. Here's how to have your quinoa and/or brown rice turn out every time (no stupid rice cooker needed!):

- the water to grain ratio should be 2:1 meaning two cups of water for every cup of quinoa/rice you're making
- bring water to boil with 1 teaspoon dried onion flakes and 1/2 teaspoon salt for every cup of grain you're making (the only time I'd omit the onion flakes is if you're making a sweet rice pudding - add the salt still though!)
- cook on medium low heat covered until the water has disappeared. Once the water is gone, turn off the heat and leave covered on the stove for a half hour to "steam." The quinoa/rice will not be fully cooked until it's had a chance to steam! No more water is necessary however. Just let it sit and absorb the water fully as it sits covered on the stove (if you have an electric stove, first I'm so sorry and second, move it to a non-hot place on the stove so the bottom doesn't burn while steaming.)
- after the quinoa/rice has sat for 30 minutes, uncover and fluff with a fork. It will be light, airy and each grain will be separate from the other. The grain will also be seasoned and tasty as is, or ready to be added to a salad, stir fry, casserole or whatever dish you're making for supper.

Tastiest burgers

I wasn't much of a burger lover until I moved to Texas. Kinda like how you get way better seafood when you live by the sea, and pork products were far better when I lived in MN (I won't even eat the pork here in Texas, it tastes so bad to me!), when in Rome, you do as the Romans, and here in Texas, the beef is fantastic. I now joke I could be a vegetarian who eats beef once or twice a week! I can pass on every other animal product but the beef here in Tejas is amaze. Here's what I've learned makes the best, tastiest burgers:

- Do NOT buy pre-frozen patties. I repeat: DO NOT BUY PRE-FROZEN, PRE-SHAPED PATTIES.
- In a large bowl, place your fresh ground grass fed beef (local if you can, it's best when it's never been frozen.Yes, the extra bucks for the grass fed beef is totally worth it!) and salt and pepper it well. Add 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and a tablespoon of steak sauce for every pound of beef you're preparing.
- Mix with your hands. You want the seasoning to be well incorporated, but not mixed to mush! Form beef patties of your desired size and use your thumb to indent the middle. Beef "plumps when you cook it" so this will make it cook to an even size, as opposed to a rounding effect of the patty.
- Let rest for at least 5 minutes after your remove it from the grill. This will enable the juices to stay in the patty rather than running out all over your plate or making your bun soggy (and that bun should be toasted too)!

Homemade Bone Broth:

It's trendy AF right now to drink or cook with "bone broth." Which is actually how all broth used to be made... And is SO easy to make yourself! I was at Whole Foods and saw that an 8oz container (EIGHT OUNCES!) was $2.99. Is that a joke?! If you're buying that, the joke is on you homie. Bone broth is more flavorful than stock. It's cooked longer and therefore more marrow comes out of the bones from which it's made. It's how I've always made stock, but I'll get on-trend and call it bone broth. Don't be bamboozled and spend your retirement on this stuff, it's so easy and CHEAP to make yourself!

- First, you need a carcass. Turkey, chicken, ox tails - something with the bones still attached to it so that you can get at that marrow. Butchers will sell bones, or use the skeleton from your rotisserie chicken (which I also find foolish to buy - $10-12 for a precooked chicken when you could buy it raw and make it yourself for $4.99. It's called math folks. Stop getting ripped off!)
- If you bought raw bones from a butcher, roast in the oven at 375 for an hour to develop the flavor. If you're using your turkey from Thanksgiving or you forked over too much cash for a rotisserie chicken, you're all set.
- Place bones in the largest stock pot you've got and fill with water. Quarter an onion (no need to even peel it), add about 4 stalks of celery (just break them in half with your hands) and add a handful of prepared snack carrots (the kind that come peeled and cut for snacking) or cut regular carrots into thirds and toss them in. Again, no need to peel them.
- Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium and let boil for 3-4 hours. Add water as necessary. You can cover it partially with a lid too, just allow some room for steam to escape so that it doesn't boil over.
- I always start my bone broth after dinner (you know, when I've got a carcass to use after we've eaten it!) so at this point, I turn off the heat and leave it covered on the stove. Yes, overnight. You're going to fully boil it again, it's fine.
- Next day, crank the heat back up on it. Make sure it's only partially covered. Add salt, pepper and celery seed (if making it from poultry) or a few shakes of dry steak seasoning (if making it from beef). Let boil for another hour or two.
- Turn off the heat and allow to cool. Strain with a colander to get all the bones, onion, unpeeled carrots, etc out. Great to use in soups, sauces, or drink as is. Freeze for up to 3-4 months and make a soup later with it.

Non-gooey/raw center banana bread

Have you ever made banana bread, followed the directions to a T, cut into it after it was done aaaaaaand... Had to toss out the middle because it was still raw? Or it barely bakes up to the middle of the bread loaf pan, and is insanely dense and and just too dang gooey? You know, when you're kinda like, "Is there still some salmonella up in this bread from the raw eggs I'm definitely consuming right now?" or "this bread would be so much better if the person who had made it had actually BAKED it!" These are all thoughts I've had when I've eaten others' banana bread. I made a homemade loaf last week, and my nanny asked me how I got it to "look so perfect and taste so good", right as I was drafting this post, and I thought, dang! I bet a lot of people don't know this. Here's how to get cooked through perfectly, yet still moist banana bread:

- First, there are tons of recipes and I'm sure you have your favorite. If you don't, use this one.
- Use extremely ripe bananas, and use all the juices that come out of them! I'm talking nearly all brown bananas. No matter what recipe you're using, you'll want at least 3 of them in there. Yes, you will.
- Unless you're following my recipe that I linked above, double the baking power the recipe calls for. Don't use any baking soda, that's too salty for a sweet recipe. Omit any baking soda, and double the baking powder. That's how I get my loaves to get so high in the middle, when is essential for having a non-dense, non-brick-like banana bread.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY: Bake the loaf for over an hour. Recipes call for all kinds of baking times and temps. If you're using a standard loaf pan and the recipe only calls for 45-50 minutes of baking, find a new recipe because that creator has no clue what they're doing. The edges of the bread should be a dark golden brown. I've lived in all climates and I've never once had banana bread take less than an hour and 10 minutes. You really want to take it to the point of thinking, "crap, I'm going to burn this!" and then give it another two minutes in the oven. I promise if you used enough butter or oil in the bread, and at least 3 bananas, it will still be a delicious and non-dry loaf of goodness!

Perfect every time!
I'm thinking of turning this into a mini-series, so if you have any questions on how to make something, shoot me a comment on this post or in social media and I'll add it to my list for the next one! Cooking is definitely an art. It takes years of practice to master certain skills, and years of mistakes to learn the best way to do things. These are my best cooking tips and tricks I've developed from my own years of mistakes and botched dishes. Enjoy!