If you were to guess how many moms make two meals for most dinners (one for the kids and one for the adults),what would you guess? Or how many moms only make one meal but end up eating chicken nuggets and freezer fries, or frozen pizza for the sake of the child? Probably a lot. We do this because what family doesn’t have at least one major picky eater. The easy route is to just eat what they like. Before Ava was able to eat what we ate, I was among the moms making two meals for most dinners. And occasionally I would be among the moms eating whatever I put on Cali’s plate. I was soooo tired of not making a normal meal. A wholesome, great tasting meal. Not two that were subpar, and not one that had kid written all over it. No, I wanted to start making the food that I missed, the food that both Casey and I could look forward to eating at the end of a long day. So how does this work when you know your child or children are not going to eat what you make? Let me share with you what we do.
Take eggplant lasagna. Tell the family you are making eggplant lasagna for dinner and I bet you loose the battle when “eggplant” left your mouth. To be honest I don’t know if even casey would be stoked if I told him, “Guess what?! We’re having eggplant lasagna tonight!!” Well, I recently purchased a new favorite cookbook, The Food 52 Cookbook, and fell in love with it’s eggplant parmesan recipe. It was love at first sight actually. Man do they make food look good in cookbooks! After a few tweaks and adaptions, I named my version eggplant lasagna. When I made this the first time, I happened to leave out the eggplant part when telling the girls what was for dinner, but as I look back, why didn’t I just tell them the truth. Introducing them to a variety of vegetables at an early age probably doesn’t hurt. Maybe by the time they’re ten they won’t gawk at the sight of eggplant or shy away from hearing it’s name.
Last Sunday I made this DELICIOUS meal and the girls were completely content to have “lasagna” for dinner. The plates were set and Cali and Ava were getting adjusted in their seats. A nice dinner was on its way, that was until Cali saw the “black stuff!!!” Oh the dreaded “black stuff” or how about the dreaded “skin” (all fruit and vegetable skins). Don’t forget about the dreaded “sides” (girls’ description of the bread’s crust) or the dreaded whatever. There is always something wrong with the meal. Usually we can get through it and the girls, especially Ava, will be able to get past their certain food aversion. This time around, Ava could care less about the “black stuff”, she was eating as if she had just finished a marathon. Cali on the other hand had my ears ringing after hearing “I don’t like the black stuff!” ever other second…literally. Finally I decided to pull out a trick from my Autism Journeys bag, and end this family dinner once and for all.
“All right Cali. I’m going to set the timer. You have fifteen minutes to finish your meal. When the timer goes off, dinner is over. Only those who start eating their meal will get to finish the movie.” Hysteria erupted. But guess what. The timer was going and that was that. No reminding her to eat or reminding her that the timer was about to end. I gave one explanation. Period. If you have ever read the Love and Logic parenting books, you will remember this….you actually hope your child will fail at this. What?!?! What kind of parenting is that! I thought the same thing, but guess what…it actually makes a whole lot of sense. I know for me, my greatest learning and growth comes from making mistakes or failing at something, and trying to do better the next go around. Isn’t that was life is all about anyhow. You fall, then you get back up. Fall and get back up. Each time you get back up you have learned something. If the timer sounded and Cali still had not touched her food, I was pretty certain she would learn quickly to eat her dinners. Well, the timer did and and Cali had not touched her food. I can’t even put into words the grand hysteria that instantly exploded as I took her plate away. The hysteria wasn’t about the food thought. The wailing and anger was because she knew their would be no movie for her. Ava watched the movie, while Cali went upstairs to be with her dad and get ready for bed. Of coarse my heart ached for her, but I was committed to the process. She was fine…after about 45 minutes. But seriously, the rest of the night went fine. Although, she definitely kept talking about the movie up until the moment she went to bed. She mentioned this to Casey as they laid in bed before saying goodnight, “Dad, some kids run away when they don’t eat their dinner. They go to other peoples’ houses to watch movies” Uhhhhh, looks like we might need to be on the lookout!
A couple more rules accompany this “getting your kids to eat trick”. Here they are:
1. Once the timer sounds, dinner is done. Completely over. NO FOOD FOR THE NIGHT. Even an hour later when Cali says she is ready to eat, it’s too late. Even if she wants the eggplant, it’s too late. My response is, “Sorry, looks like you can try it again tomorrow night.” No anger or frustration. Only sympathy.
2. You can’t remind them of the timer rules while the timer is going, but you can praise yourself or the siblings who ARE eating their dinner. “Ava you’re eating great! I bet you’re really excited to watch your movie”. “Man, I’m glad I’m eating my meal so that I can watch that movie.”
3. If you commit to this dinner trick one night, you have to be committed for the next few nights or more. If your child becomes a magical eater after one trial of this, than WAY TO GO. You must have magical powers!!! Odds are it is going to take awhile for the child to learn that what you offer for dinner is what you offer. Don’t do a restaurant the next night, or plan a dinner over at grandma’s house. This only works well if done in your own home with the least amount of distractions.
4. This has to be an actual plan. A plan with certain expectations. Expect that it is not going to be a pleasant dinner, and expect that you are going to have one grumpy, ornery child for the rest of the night.
I know, I know. Many of you are thinking I’m a heartless mother, but this little trick works well for us. Cali isn’t a perfect eater by any means, but she is improving. I now make one meal for nightly dinners. Not every meal is as complex as eggplant lasagna, and at least a few of the nights the dinners will be more kid oriented. Either way the girls are beginning to learn that what is placed in front of them for dinner is what we are eating. No persuading me to make them something different. It is what it is.
So here it is. The recipe…(A little disclaimer: this meal is a bit complex. If you don’t enjoy cooking, don’t try this. I you do, you will L.O.V.E. it and I bet it becomes a family favorite.)
- 3 punds eggplant, slice 1/4-inch thick*
- Kosher salt
- Olive oil for drizzling
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cup grated parmesan**
- 1/2 pound buffalo mozzarella*** sliced 1/4 inch rounds
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 garlic cloves, sliced thin****
- Two 28-ounce cans whole, peeled tomatoes with juice (Fire roasted San Marzano are my favorite. Pour tomatoes in a separate bowl and crush them with your hands. You don’t want the tomatoes to stay whole)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, julienned***** or coarsely chopped
- Parmesan rind from the parmesan you previously grated*******
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Set an oven rack in the top third of oven.
2. Place 1 cup flour and 1 teaspoon pepper in a baking dish for dredging the eggplant later on in step 8. Stir around with a fork.
3. Peel the eggplant and slice vertically into 1/4-inch slices (you don’t have to peel them).
4. Sprinkle each layer with salt (slightly, not generously) and place in a colander, overlapping and salting as you go (For example, place first piece in colander. Sprinkle top with salt. Place next slice on top of first piece, then sprinkle withe salt). Each slice should be salted. After you fill the colander, lay a plate on top and weight it with a heavy pan place on top or pitcher filled with water. Let the eggplant sweat for 30 minutes (Don’t check during the 30 minutes. Trust me it will sweat).
5. While the eggplant sweats, make the sauce. Coat the bottom of a large saucepan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Once hot (about 45 seconds) add the garlic and cook until it sizzles (Do not let it brown. About 1 minute). Add the tomatoes and their juice, 1/2 tsp of salt, and parmesan rind. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low. Add in thyme and basil. Simmer until reduced by almost half. About 20 minutes. Tate and adjust the salt if necessary.
6. Remove the eggplant form the colander and throughly pat dry each slice (I use a dish cloth).
7. Coat the bottom of a baking sheet (or how ever many you need enough space to hold all the eggplant in a single layer) with olive oil.
8. Dredge the eggplant slices in flour, shaking off any excess. Arrange on the baking sheets and drizzle each slice with olive oil (or for times sake, spray each slice with olive oil spray). Bake until brown on one side (about ten minutes or if you slice yours thicker it may be about 15 minutes), then open oven and turn over each slice and brown the other side (3-5 minutes). Repeat until you have cooked all the eggplant. Lower the heat to 400 degrees.
9. Using a 9X13 baking dish (I like to use ceramic, but you could use stainless steal or glass), spread a THIN layer of sauce on the bottom (if you add too much you won’t have enough for the top layers) and layer the eggplant until is completely covers the bottom (kind of like a puzzle).
10. Sprinkle generously with the Parmesan (about 1 1/2 tablespoons). Add another layer of sauce and then the eggplant. Continue to build the layers until you are about two layers from the top, then add a single layer of sliced mozzarella (mine ended up being four layers deep). Finish with a couple of more layers of eggplant, sauce, and Parmesan. Finish the top with Parmesan.
11. Place the dish on the rack in the top third of the oven. Check it after it’s been in for 20 minutes. You may find that it throws off more liquid as it bakes (although this didn’t happen to me so I took it out of the oven at this point). If so, press down on the eggplant and draw off any excess liquid. Cook for another 5-10 minutes. Let stand for a good 15-20 minutes before serving.
*My own tips and techniques:
* I use a mandoline to cut my eggplant in thin, 1/4-inch sliced. Much faster and much easier. If you don’t have a mandolin, just make sure to use a sharp knife. The slices won’t come out as evenly as if using a mandoline, but it will work just fine. You just have to watch when you back the eggplant. Uneven sliced may result in some browning faster than others.
** Buy the mozzarella that come in a white ball. If you have to buy the pre shredded, it won’t hurt. The more authentic mozzarella is much tastier, however.
*** DO NOT BUY the processed Parmesan. Go to the cheese counter and buy a block of Parmesan. If you don’t have this option, then buy the pre shredded Parmesan around the dairy section. If you are able to buy the block of Parmesan, then cut off the back side which contains the rind (about 1/2-inch thick)
**** You can easily minced your garlic but I like slicing mine thin, adds a little more texture to the dish and pockets of flavor.
***** Go here for tips on how to julienne your basil.
****** If you are able to buy the block of Parmesan, then cut off the back side which contains the rind (about 1/2-inch thick).
The FOOD 52 Cookbook Tips and Techniques:
“When selecting eggplants, choose ones that are large, smooth, and firm. If possible, Nacy Jo said, ‘go for male eggplants. they have fewer seeds and a rounder, smooth bottom.’
“All of the cooking here is centered around getting the eggplant and tomatoes to the right texture so that when you fuse them, neither is the sauce watery nor the eggplant soggy. Nancy Jo accomplishes this by baking slabs of flour-dusted eggplant in the oven with just a trace of oil. They come out stiff as cards. And the tomatoes are cooked down in the pan until pulpy. When the two meet in a baking dish, the eggplant soaks up some tomato juices but retains its own character, so you get distinct layers. And Nancy jo adds the mozzarella as a center layer, so you get the warm melted cheese right in the belly of the dish.”
WOW!!! I think that might be the longest post ever!! Again, if you aren’t into cooking this may not be the recipe for you, however it is DELICIOUS!!! For those of you who try this out. Let me know what you think!!!