When Simple Can Still Be Elegant-Brace Yourself for An Incredible Crab Cake Recipe
"The two most powerful warriors are patience and time" - Tolstoy
I wanted to share with you a simple weeknight dish we made last night (scroll to the end for the recipe or keep reading for ideas to help your family have more enjoyable meals) .
Photo credit: Me
First off, I have a 2 1/2 and 5 1/2 year old. We fed them Yummy Dino Buddies Chicken Nuggets, leftover Annie's Mac&Cheese and leftover sautéed broccoli. While I'm a huge proponent of families eating the same meal for dinner, sometimes it's way more practical serving kid- friendly food when what you want to cook is too sophisticated or spicy for young tastebuds. My workaround for this is utilizing leftovers and easy cook options (like chicken fingers & fish sticks) every so often, so I can make a recipe for Graig and I while not becoming a short order cook, making two meals. Re-heating foods takes some extra time too, but can be done while other foods are cooking. My kids are too young, however older children can be given the heating up tasks. Another idea is that we certainly could have grilled burgers for the boys, but we like burgers too and is another easy, family friendly dinner that I encourage my clients to have on their "Fast, Easy Go-To Dinners the Whole Family Loves List."
And I'm going to be honest, dinners at our house aren't always easy and I've had times when I thought my new recipe was going to knock it out of the park and it did a huge belly flop and other times I've dreaded dinner because I was exposing my boys to a food they snubbed before and have either been pleasantly surprised or unsurprised by their negative reaction. However such as life as a parent. We need to do things are kids don't like in order for them to go and learn.
So, before I list a few strategies to add to your armamentarium of how to expand your kids' food horizons, it's best to check in with yourself and whatever grown-ups are regularly at the table with you to connect whether this is a priority and how to go about it because it'll help you to forge on rather than give up and to have the back-up needed to support that this is family value. It's so helpful to talk with the grown-ups and come up with the game plan to support this. When kids see a division, they will use it to their advantage. For those reading who are picky eaters themselves or struggling with a selective eater who is an adult, progress can still be made with small, consistent and supportive steps.
Idea 1: Prep your kids (and adults) about new recipes or formally rejected foods being on the dinner menu in advance, ideally when they and you aren't tired. You can share with them why you picked it out and can hear from them their thoughts. Being open to your family's textural and tastes preferences models respect and can lead to solutions you may not have ever arrived at. Also remember that exposure is key in order to really give food a chance and could take a minimum of 10 times could be one of your explanations to serving a particular dish. Please expect respect from your family too. If your family puts you down for your cooking, that isn't okay either.
Idea 2: Sometimes telling them doesn't work, but the goal isn't to "trick" them either. It's a common strategy that sends a message that hiding things are okay to do, which when put that way makes it clear why it's not the best strategy. Instead, you can tell them only if they ask or when they finish it inform them what you did in a neutral, matter-a-fact way like this, "What did you think?" Give them time answer. "Well, I diced up mushrooms really small. Glad you liked them that way." Then if they happen to change their mind after you tell them, definitely give them credit for eating it and ask if they have a suggestion to improve it the next time or if appropriate, give a knowing look and smile that you know what they're doing. I have taco recipes that have diced up red peppers and mushrooms that my kids don't spontaneously eat, but because it's so small they can't discern it. I wouldn't necessarily tell them at that time, but I would bring it up in the future referencing it as a time they liked it. Also be aware that having it cut up or prepared differently can increase or decrease likability. It's all about opening up taste preferences and exposure, not full acceptance or liking/loving.
Idea 3: Don't start or begin to phase out giving a lot of attention to a picky eater. Kids love attention and feed into it (pun intended). It's usually out of their awareness and for adults/older children becomes either part of their identity or a reinforced belief that they don't like something, but don't blame them. Who doesn't want attention and to have someone leaping over hurdles to make their every need met? However if true fears about eating exist that's affecting their quality of life or health, setting up an appointment with an eating disorder specialist may be necessary.
Idea 4: Make dinner about connecting. The Family Dinner Project has awesome suggestions to spark conversation when "How is your day?" falls flat. In regards to how to handle food issues when food is rejected: encourage it and then give it some time. I found saying, It's there when you're ready for it" and moving on to a more enjoyable conversation, reinforces my expectation without undue pressure. Since I have young kids, playing games like I spy or being silly provides distraction and time to help them come around to their meals. It's not 100% foolproof, but eating never is and needs to be looked at flexibly. It's helpful to have other foods at the table that you know they like because at least basic needs are met. At our house we have a 'try it rule' that we negotiate with our 5 year old since he was around 4 years old. Younger than that developmentally they might not be there, so use your judgement. For the younger kids (and even older), try giving choices about how they want to eat it (a fork, spoon or fingers), how they want it cut or have them sit on your lap or lean over and have them feed you the food, then say "it's Your Child's Name's turn." See what happens. The goal is to be flexible and help them feel in control of the situation that might feel scary to them. To increase empathy, think of foods you wouldn't want to eat and think if you would be okay with the current tactics you try on your kids. If you can only come up with, "that's what I had to do when I was a kid," then maybe your parents were wrong. Your welcome. :)
Idea 5: Lastly, lower your expectations of yourself while teaching your kids (and maybe adults) kindness. It's okay if you don't make the perfect meals. Try to be okay at hearing feedback as a way to improve your dish or change who's in charge of meals. My husband and I also have agreed to monitor our feedback that as long as whatever is served is "good enough" we won't offer any criticism about the dish. Any rudeness needs to be addressed. The other day my 2 year old said "yuck!" and I felt disappointed (and annoyed). Encouraging to teach appreciation for the cook and reduce rudeness leads to a more positive meal. Phrases like, "I don't care for this," "no thank you," "thanks for cooking" are easier heard and also promotes good manners. The corrective response could sound like, "Yuck is a rude word. Please say I don't care for this when you don't like it."
You may notice that these aren't an easily applied quick tip and I feel expectations of that is an unrealistic hope that sets us up for thinking we're doing something wrong, when in reality it takes time to shape behavior. These ideas will take effort on your part, but hopefully will give you some thinking points to have better mealtimes that teaches open communication and team work intended to increase respect, connection and enjoyment at the table for all. Keep up your efforts. It might not always lead to a perfect meal short term, but longterm your family will reap the benefits.
Okay, so you know from the first paragraph what my kids ate. My husband and I had crab cakes with a spinach salad. It was mouthwateringly delicious! And this is an example of how family input improves outcomes. If it was up to me, we would have eaten the leftover grilled chicken thighs, but we had to use up the crab and my husband loves novelty (and is willing to look for recipes and cook). The crab cake recipe is slightly adapted from a husband and wife team at 2 popular Chicago restaurants, the American Brasserie cookbook. I highly recommend buying the cookbook. Easy and amazing recipes. It's not a health focused cookbook, but I think it's important to have all types of cookbooks to account for both taste satisfaction and health-they go hand in hand! Some meal logistic tips: It calls for 1 egg and 1 egg white, so if you hate to waste, here is a yummy recipe for Lemon Bars that calls for that extra yolk. We served on potato rolls. I usually buy whole wheat buns because I don't taste much of a difference, but my husband doesn't love them and bought these as treat for him. I recommend buying a large red bell pepper for the crab cakes and for the salad. Adds a great crunch to the salad! If you can swing it, buying a different color grape tomato will add visual appeal!
To your health and happiness,
Photo credit: Me
Crab Cake Recipe
1 pound lump crabmeat (available at the seafood counter at grocery stores, link doesn't endorse the brand; I wanted to show you what to look for)
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley or chives
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/3 cup canola oil or extra virgin olive oil mayonnaise
2/3 cup whole wheat panko (or plain breadcrumbs)
Kosher salt and pepper
1 tbsp canola or avocado oil
Spicy Aioli Recipe
1/2 cup canola oil or extra virgin olive oil mayonnaise
1/2 avocado, mashed
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 tsp hot paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1. Lightly squeeze any liquid out of the crabmeat and pick over to remove bits of cartilage. Put the crabmeat in a bowl. Add the egg, egg white, fresh herbs, bell pepper, lemon juice, cayenne and cumin and mix with hands to combine.
2. Add the mayo, panko, salt and pepper to taste and mix just until moistened and well combined.
3. Divide mixture into 4 cakes. Heat oil on a skillet over medium high heat. Saute crab cakes until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes on each side.
4. Make the Aioli: In a bowl or mini chop food processor, add the mayo, avocado, lemon juice, garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, salt and pepper to taste and mix until well blended.
5. On a bun, spread aioli on the inside of the top bun. Assemble crab cakes. Enjoy!
1/2 lb baby spinach, chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced (can use leftover pepper if bought a large red bell pepper)
1 cup yellow, orange or red grape tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp fresh chives or fresh parsley, minced
1/2 cup feta cheese
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp sherry wine vinegar (red vinegar works too, but sherry adds a touch of sweet)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Kosher salt and pepper
1. In a bowl, mix baby spinach, pepper, grape tomatoes and herbs.
2. Pour oil, vinegars, salt and pepper to taste over top and mix.
3. Add feta and mix again.