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Book Review: The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution

As much as we stress, fret, and fight it, picky eaters are here to stay. Why? Because picky eating is a normal behavior, says author Elizabeth Pantley of the best-selling No-Cry Solution series. I wish I'd known that when Jake was first entering this phase. As a nutritionist, I successfully convince clients to try fruits, vegetables, and other healthful foods they normally wouldn't go near, so why not my own son? It's been humbling. But I've eased up on his eating, especially after realizing that he has consistently grown almost 3 inches each year and is at an ideal height and weight for his age. He has tons of energy and easily fights off colds that travel through his classmates. This reassurance is echoed throughout Pantley's book.

First, I do want to acknowledge that Ms. Pantley very kindly sent me a copy of The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution to consider writing a review when it debuted in 2011. I happily agreed after thumbing through and finding it to be an excellent resource, but I never did...until now. The truth is that book reviews intimidate me because I'm a very slow reader, and when scanning Pantley's chapters I was so impressed with all the useful information on every page that I felt overwhelmed with how I could summarize it all into a concise book review. Anyway, I'm motivated now because the topic is such an ongoing problem for many parents, and it's one of the top reasons I counsel kids under the age of 10. 

Before writing the book, Pantley enlisted the help of 172 people, or test parents, and their children (294 to be exact!) from all over the world to study picky eating behavior and what advice worked and didn't work.

Chapter 1 provides checklists of what is normal picky eating behavior versus an immediate health concern. For example, though your child may eat only a small selection of the same foods every day, does she/he have a lot of energy, sleep well, and fall into a normal height and weight range at doctor visits? The chapter also reviews why kids are picky, with reasons ranging from genetics (the number of sweet and sour taste buds you are born with) to protective instincts (avoiding sour or bitter flavors as found in poisonous plants and spoiled foods) to anatomy (about one-quarter of young children are "supertasters" with an unusually high number of taste buds) to control (no need to explain this one!). Pantley discusses several food facts, of which I found the nutrition information to be completely sound, on why it is important to focus on produce and whole grains while limiting sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. 

Chapter 2 is my favorite section discussing four key points: attitude, environment, amounts, and rules. These cover the importance of parents' attitudes toward food and mealtimes, the types of foods available in the family kitchen, proper portion sizes and amounts from each food group for different ages (their actual needs are probably less than you think), and which food "rules" are ok to bend and which are not. 

Chapter 3 is full of practical food tips, such as how to improve the favorite boxed macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and how to sneak mashed vegetables, ground flax, whole grains, tofu and other ingredients into common recipes. There is also an extensive Q&A section and an abundance of ideas and creative tactics to try.

Chapter 4 is a compilation of favorite nutritious recipes by authors of children's cookbooks.

This book is a must-have for any new parent. Whether you're tearing your hair out after mealtimes or just trying to get your child to eat one new vegetable a month, this is a highly informative read about childhood eating behaviors and how to foster at an early age a healthy attitude towards food that will stick with them for life.

Want even more guidance? Check out a free workshop this Tuesday at Bright Horizons in Wellesley Get Smart on Raising Healthy Eaters.


Fiesta Bean Salad with Quinoa (Ensalada Fiesta con Frijoles y Quínoa)

I'm getting ready to teach my first bilingual diabetes cooking class with Latino recipes. In the past six months I've counseled a growing number of Latino patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes. The challenge is that beans and rice is such an important staple of their diets, often eaten 2-3 times a day. Some have made the change to using brown rice instead of white and adding less oil, but they admit it does not taste quite right. I understand this because growing up my family's meals always included a bowl of steamed white rice along with whatever else was served. There are certain dishes where you just can't substitute brown rice for soft fragrant white rice! So my strategy is to offer a different dish entirely but with familiar ingredients. I found this Fiesta Bean Salad recipe on skinnytaste.com, a fantastic blog for healthful and flavorful recipes. It contains beans, vegetables and cilantro, all rich in fiber and phytonutrients, along with the healthful fat of avocados and olive oil to improve absorption of some of the nutrients. There is no rice but I added a small amount of quinoa, a soft-textured whole grain rich in fiber and protein, to offer more nutrients and help mimic the idea of rice and beans.

This quick and easy recipe is perfect as is but I made a few minor changes. I added ~1 cup of cooked quinoa. For the dressing I increased the olive oil to 2 tablespoons to account for the additional grain and added a tablespoon of honey (or you could use Stevia) because the dressing was a tad tart for me. I also used 2 teaspoons of garlic powder instead of the fresh garlic that I forgot to buy. One serving (a little over one cup) provides about 3 1/2 carbohydrate servings, and the inclusion of fiber, protein and healthful fat slows digestion to keep one's blood sugars from spiking.

The result was an incredibly flavorful and yummy vegetarian dish that tastes fantastic warm or at room temperature. Even though it seems like a summer dish, I definitely plan on making this year-round. Hoping and praying that my diabetes class loves it, and that you do too!


My Ugly Happy Healthy Wontons

Growing up, my mom would occasionally make wontons. It was rare probably because she didn't enjoy all the wrapping of them. When my brother and I were old enough, we became a little assembly line to help make them. One would wet the wrapper, another would insert the filling, and another would fold. We'd make dozens and it would take hours. Actually I'd forgotten all these details until I tried to make them by myself for the first time this week! I was inspired by a YouTube video with a woman's soothing accent and easy display of creating such beautiful and tasty dumplings. Even though wontons are already pretty healthy, I wanted to go further by using a whole wheat dough, ground turkey instead of pork, and kale as the vegetable.

Well, it sure isn't as easy as it looks and I'll share what I learned with you:

1. For my first try, as in the video, I made my own dough but used whole wheat flour. Mixing the dough was easy enough but rolling out the dough into little circles became tedious. Even more tedious was shaping each wonton. I liked that the fresh dough was pliable and didn't tear; you also didn't have to add water to make the edges stick but I couldn't roll out the dough thinly, so the end result was a too-thick wonton that looked more like Peking ravioli. It also needed more flavor as I didn't add enough salt (I don't like using too much salt but this filling definitely needed it!) and the video didn't suggest herbs or other seasonings.







2. My second attempt I bought ready-made wonton wrappers, which I could only find locally at Whole Foods. They were nice and thin but unfortunately that meant tearing. I wet all four sides of the wrapper with water to make it sticky, placed no more than a teaspoon of filling into the center, and tried to fold in half and then fold down to make a circle (this is shown in Part 2 of the YouTube video). But the wrapper kept tearing or the filling oozed out. So with my main goal now being to keep the filling in, I either made a simple rectangle or random pillow shapes...wondering if my parents would ever eat such ugly wontons!


For this filling, I halved the recipe from the video, using a half-pound of lean ground turkey, 5-6 ounces of pre-chopped baby kale (softened in gently boiling water for 7 minutes), a few tablespoons of broth, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of Hoisin sauce, and 2 teaspoons each of onion powder, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes. I mixed and mixed with a spoon until well blended. After shaping the wontons, I slid them all at once into a pot of water boiling on medium-high heat for about 8 minutes.

Thankfully these tasted more like my mom's. The wonton wrappers were SO silky smooth. This texture is such a vital part of the dumpling that I felt a bit silly for attempting a whole wheat version. I noticed that the filling started to slide out of the rectangle wontons, whereas the filling in the uglier folded wontons stayed in place—and you really couldn't see how ugly they were after putting them in a bowl. So I'd encourage you to make a folded more secure shape even if they look terrible before cooking!

Here's a nice tip if you get tired of shaping wontons or have leftover filling: Add 1 egg and 1/4-1/2 cup breadcrumbs (depending on how much filling you have left) to the ground turkey mixture, and mix well. Use a small scoop or tablespoon to shape into meatballs on a baking sheet covered with foil. Heat oven to 400 F and bake for 20-25 minutes or until meat is no longer pink. Serve with rice or pasta. Tastes great!