Kids prove to be less finicky about their food if they can eat with their fingers. Getting a hand on meals

April 13, 1994|By Andrew Schloss | Andrew Schloss,Special to The Sun

A child's hunger is fleeting. Challenge it with a spinach-speckled casserole and it will vanish, but greet it with some fun and it just might explode in excitement.

It is a cruel irony of my profession that the less I cook the better my three children like it. They reject without tasting anything sauced or leafy, but have praise unending for naked pasta (Is there cheese on this spaghetti?) and canned baked beans (This is the best you ever made, Dad!). For many years I resented every meal I uncanned for them, but then everything changed.

I started keeping track of what my children ate in a typical day: Cheerios, carrot sticks, yogurt, cookies, chips. Their diet was neither model nor criminal. All in all, it was quite varied, but with one over-riding theme. Almost everything my children eat is hand-held.

Last September we had the first of our pick-up dinners: Chip night.

My kids do not eat many vegetables eagerly, however they scarf down salsa and chips indiscriminately. I have never objected to this snack. In fact, I've encouraged it. Of the infinite junk food opportunities, this one seemed downright healthy by comparison.

We rounded out the salsa/corn chip core of our meal with bean dip (a big hit and a complete protein with the corn chips), guacamole (one thumb down; two thumbs up), and some shredded cheese.

Since then the cheese has turned into a warm cheese dip and we've experimented with different vegetable salsas. The dippers have expanded from corn chips to include crackers, triangles of pita, pretzels, and fancy vegetable chips.

Chip night has blossomed into other hand-held/pick-up meals. My children now eat sauce on pasta, as long as it's a dip. Boil up some ravioli, tortellini, ziti, anything that can be hand-held. After draining the pasta, run it under cold water until it can be handled. Serve with bowls of warm tomato sauce and cheese sauce, and watch how many ravioli a 7-year-old can pack away.

We have also tried sushi night, which has become my daughter's favorite food. Sushi is fun to assemble as a family. You can cook the rice earlier that day. Slice up the fillings and everyone can roll their own.

Although in restaurants my children have begun to eat raw fish sushi, I do not trust the quality of the fish I am able to purchase in retail stores for serving raw, so we only make vegetable sushi at home. I have tried sarimi (crab leg), but my children don't like it, which is not to say yours won't.

Traditional tacos have always been popular in our house, but for a super-fast meal that doesn't require turning on the stove, the following deli tacos are great. And the best part is your family ends up making dinner themselves.

*

Serve the following dips and salsas with a big bowl of corn chips, potato chips, vegetable chips, pita triangles, crackers and/or pretzels.

Mild red salsa

Makes about 2 cups

2 scallions (white part only), coarsely chopped

3 tomatoes, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon ketchup

salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor or blender process the scallions and tomatoes until finely chopped. Pour into a bowl and mix in the oil, garlic, parsley, ketchup, salt and pepper.

Slightly spicy corn salsa

Makes about 2 cups

2 cups canned corn

1/2 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro or parsley leaves

1/4 to 1 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeno peppers

salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Combine all ingredients. Cover and set aside for at least 20 minutes. Refrigerate if held for longer.

Black bean dip

Makes about 2 cups

1 15-ounce can black beans, drained

1 clove garlic, minced

juice of a half lemon

1 tablespoons olive oil

salt and hot pepper sauce to taste

Mash the beans with a fork. Mix in the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and hot pepper sauce.

Cheese dip

Makes 1 1/3 cups

8 ounces American cheese, in small pieces

1/4 cup salsa (any variety)

In a small microwavable bowl combine cheese and salsa. Microwave at full power for 30 seconds. Stir and zap another 30 seconds or until fully melted. Stir and serve.

During the meal, if the cheese should start to solidify, zap it for another 15 seconds.

Guacamole

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 small clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon finely chopped onion

1 large California avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed

juice of a half lemon

1 teaspoon wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeno pepper

salt to taste

In a food processor or blender combine all ingredients and process until finely chopped, but not completely smooth.

If you are not going to use the dip right away, place the avocado pit in the middle of the sauce and store covered in the refrigerator.

Pick-up pasta

Makes 4 servings

2 dozen ravioli or 1 pound tortellini

2 cups jarred spaghetti sauce

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse in cold running water until cool enough to handle, but still warm.

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