I won’t eat that

I group kids’ eating habits in two categories: adventurous palates (AP) and cautious eaters (CE). I avoid calling them “good” and “bad” (or “picky”) eaters, because kids hear more than we think they do and they live up — or down — to our expectations.

Putting a variety of nutritious choices in front of little eaters — no matter how cautious or how adventurous — is a challenge. So we asked three local chefs what they cook for their own kids.

Brenda Langdon (Café Brenda and Spoonriver) suggested vegetable pancakes, with five kinds of vegetables. She said, “These pancakes make a good, simple meal and kids love them.”

Mary Scheu (Cooks of Crocus Hill) gave us a recipe for fish tacos and mango avocado salsa and said, “It’s a great way to introduce kids to fish.”

Solveig Tofte (Turtle Bread) knows how to get the whole family to eat more whole grains: pizza! “People avoid whole-grain baked things because they usually taste like sawdust,” she says. “This comes from underhydrated and underfermented doughs.”

We put all the recipes to the ultimate test: a group of hungry kids, with the APs and CEs about evenly matched. They all loved the vegetable pancakes and pizza and about half liked the fish tacos. My own 4-year-old CE claimed she “didn’t like” the fish tacos without even trying one, but her best friend Lulu (a definite AP!) enjoyed hers so much she wouldn’t put it down, even when she headed back to the swings.

Maybe it was Lulu’s bravery that showed my own cautious girl the way: That night she asked me to make all of the recipes, even the fish tacos.

Fish tacos with avocado mango salsa
Courtesy of Mary Scheu
12 ounces cod, halibut, grouper, or sea bass filets
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground coriander
8 fresh soft white corn tortillas
2 limes, halved
avocado mango salsa (recipe follows)

Brush fish with ½ tablespoon olive oil. In a small bowl, combine cumin, salt, pepper, and coriander. Rub spice mixture generously on both sides of the fish. Let rest 35 minutes in refrigerator.

In a sauté pan, on high heat, add 1½ tablespoons olive oil. Add fish and sear until just ready to flake. (Thicker cuts may need to be finished in a 400-degree oven.) Remove from heat and serve on corn tortillas with salsa and a spritz of lime juice.

Avocado mango salsa
2 ripe avocados, pit and skin discarded, diced into ¼ -inch cubes
1 ripe mango, pit and skin discarded, diced into ¼-inch cubes
2 medium tomatoes, diced into ¼-inch cubes
1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped, stems discarded before measuring
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
¼ cup diced red onion
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Toss all ingredients gently in a medium-size bowl.

Vegetable pancakes
Courtesy of Brenda Langdon

1 large potato, grated (approximately 1 1/2 cups)
3 medium carrots, grated
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 large parsnip, grated
1 bunch scallions, minced
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, separated
pepper, to taste
3/4 cup unbleached flour

Grate potatoes and rinse twice with cold water to remove starch. Squeeze out all excess juice. Mix all grated vegetables, green onion, and salt. Let sit 10––15 minutes to sweat the vegetables. Add three egg yolks, pepper, and flour to vegetable mixture and stir well. Beat egg whites until stiff and gently fold into the pancake batter. Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a heavy pan until it shimmers but does not smoke. Drop batter by generous teaspoonfuls into oil and fry on both sides until golden. Serve sprinkled with soy sauce, alongside steamed vegetables or a salad, or topped with applesauce and sour cream.

Whole-wheat pizza dough
Courtesy of Solveig Tofte

1½ cups white bread flour
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast (available as RapidRise or bread machine yeast)
1¼teaspoon salt
1¼to 2 cups water

Put all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. If you have a stand mixer, use that with the dough hook attachment. If you’re mixing by hand, get a sturdy spoon. Start adding your water with the mixer on low speed. Keep adding water until it seems like if you add any more you will have soup. Whole wheat flour absorbs more water than white and, depending on how coarse the grind and the age of the flour, you might need more or less than the recipe asks for. The consistency should be like a cream puff dough or a stiff brownie batter (something spreadable, rather than pourable). If the dough is forming a ball, add more water. Mix for about 5 minutes on speed 2, or by hand until you get tired. You should see some strands developing as the gluten proteins come together.

Scrape the dough into a well-oiled pie tin. Cover with plastic and let sit for one hour. Stretch and fold the dough: pick up one edge of the dough, stretch it up and fold it towards the middle, then repeat on all four sides. (Do this with wet or oiled hands: it will be messy!) You should see the dough gain some strength at this point. Cover again with plastic and let sit 30 minutes. Again, stretch and fold on all four sides. Cover and let sit another 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into two pieces, put into oiled plastic bags and put in the refrigerator. It will be ready to be turned into pizza in 8 to 24 hours. (The dough can also be frozen at this point).

To make your pizza, preheat the oven to 550˚F (if using a baking stone) or 450˚F if using a cookie sheet. Stretch the dough out and place on your oiled pan or pizza peel dusted with cornmeal or lined with parchment paper. Top with your favorite sauce, cheese and toppings.

Bake 5-–8 minutes on the baking stone or 15-–20 minutes on a pan.

There are a couple tricks to making tasty whole-wheat baked goods. The first (and perhaps most intimidating) is to have a very wet dough. This dough is so wet it resembles a batter — you won’t be able to knead it on the countertop! The second is to allow the dough to ferment for a long time to develop the fruity and nutty flavors. I recommend making this dough the night before, or in the morning the day of. Anything less than 6 hours in the refrigerator isn’t going to yield very satisfying results. This long fermentation also helps to give it some strength so it’s actually quite easy to work with.

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