It’s a miracle: tonight, my four year old actually ate his roasted chicken. It probably helped that I cut it into tiny, bite-sized pieces. And instead of serving him a side of steamed purple viking potatoes with green onions, I gave him plain ol’ carrot sticks.
“This is a real chicken?” he asked incredulously, as if he couldn’t believe he was actually liking it.
“Yeah,” I said, smiling. “A real chicken. From the farm.”
It’s not like this is the first time I’ve served chicken that actually looks like chicken. But, I’ve come to learn that kids need a lot of exposure. Often times, I roast the bird whole, but it was Monday. I had prepared myself for the week by cutting up a chicken the day before and marinating it overnight to facilitate a quick-and-easy weeknight meal. That meant it was in distinct pieces, which tends to be more approachable than the sight of a whole bird (neck and all when it comes straight from the farm). Even chicken on the bone has proved too exotic for some visiting children at my table; they only know it boneless, breaded, and shaped.
Meanwhile, my twelve-year-old was eying the chicken wing I was holding, which I inadvertently pulled apart into two pieces. I rarely clip the wing tips before cooking, which doesn’t affect the cooking time at all but it does give the piece an awkward, bent-wing look. Too much for my kids to handle! Over the years, my roasting method has developed to create chicken meat that effortless pulls away from the bones. It was easy once I became unafraid of cooking at high temperatures! For cut chicken like this, it’s 50 minutes or more in a 425 degree oven. As a bonus, the fat renders out into the meat at these temperatures, keeping everything juicy without giving it a gristly feel.
When it comes to feeding kids…
there’s a huge difference between the chicken on the left and the one on the right!
As I pulled on the wing tip, it transformed into two shapes that resemble the wings on any platter you’d get at a restaurant. This caught my son’s eye as he poked wanly at the kale stuck to the bottom of his chicken breast. I pitied him and gave him a one of the two pieces.
When he finished, he licked his fingers and said, “If there are any more of those, I want them.”
“Well, there are only two wings on every chicken you know,” I said, gesturing across the table towards the wings on his dad’s plate. “Think about that the next time you’re at a restaurant and order chicken wings.”
“Only two!” his four-year old brother pantomimed.
“Yeah,” I replied, turning back to the twelve-year old. “Two wings, legs, breasts, and thighs. It’s a symmetrical bird, so two of everything.”
He picked up his fork and started in on the breast. The crispy, fatty taste of the wing must have made him desirous for more. In no time, he finished it. Poking at his potatoes, he turned one over to reveal that I hadn’t peeled them (it’s a weeknight meal, who has time for peeling?). “You can eat the skin?” he asked, his nose wrinkled.
Seriously? I had served potatoes with skins on a hundred times in his lifetime. “Yeah,” I said as brightly as I could, expecting more protest. Before he had a chance, I bucked up and added cheerfully, “It’s good for you. There’s extra vitamins and minerals in the skin.”
Or something like that. He went for it and tentatively placed one in his mouth. Then, another, and another, until he finished them right off. It helped that I had scooped him a portion with relatively few green onions (aka “the green stuff”) pasted to them. And, instead of splashing the batch with malt vinegar and salt like the portions for my husband and me, I slathered some butter and salt on his. It worked!
Kids definitely up the challenge of cooking seasonally with real ingredients, but when they like it, it’s so rewarding. Of course, for every success story, I have ten failures! I’ll admit, it gets me down sometimes, but we just keep at it. We have to be relentless and not take the easy way out if we want them to learn how to eat in a healthy way.
How do you keep up the good fight in the formation of good eating habits for the children in your lives? We could all use some tricks and tips, so let us know yours!