Chalk and Cheese By: Nadine Hughes

As a great Australian saying goes, my two sons are like chalk and cheese.  Completely different in likes, dislikes, tastes and habits.  Differences are certainly what make the world interesting but sometimes it can be a bit challenging at meal times.  My oldest son, who is 8, has a palette like a European; the more savoury and spicier the better.  He’s the one diving into the appetizers meant for adults and wolfing down the wasabi peas.  I recently overheard him asking his friends what their favourite foods are.  Most came back with pizza, pasta and bread where as he shot back with sushi and sashimi and then proceeded to describe every minute detail of it such as seaweed, raw fish, eel and fish eggs!  This description was met with gagging noises only boys can perfect but none more choke worthy than my 4 year old son.  He falls into the European category too but only so long as it comes with a side of pasta and garlic bread.

My meal philosophy has always been that I will not be a short order cook and as a family we will share one meal, whether you chose to eat it or not is up to you.  There may be some nights when the little one goes to bed a bit hungrier than the older one but he never fails to “suffer” through dinner the next night by washing everything down with a big glug of milk.  Some parents might consider this cruel but I believe that our kids are born with a fairly flexible palette and it is us as adults who impose certain likes and dislikes on our kids from an early age.  In my experience every time an adult tells a child they won’t like a certain food then invariably they don’t.  Whereas if you don’t make a big deal of it, keep offering different types of flavours and textures and not get frustrated or give in to the meal demands of a 4 year old, they will eventually open up their minds and their mouths.

It doesn’t happen over night however.  For the last few years I have been trying to convince my son that tomatoes are really a fruit and taste sweet.  Considering tomatoes are one of my favourite summer foods, I need to get the rest of my family in line with this thinking too!!  This year I decided to give my youngest more control over what goes on his plate by having him pick certain vegetables to grow in a container gardens.  Cherry Tomatoes which are perfect for containers were a natural choice but we have had great success also with mini cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, baby celery and green bunching onions.  All small enough to grow in a few pots on the deck and easy enough for the kids to maintain.  They have had a ball watching the plants develop from buds to flowers to vegetables.  And they seem to be enjoying the “fruits” of their labour.  The other day I spied out of the corner of my eye my 4 year old picking a baby celery stalk out of the pot and munching away on it.  Never mind he probably got a bit of dirt and grit in his teeth but he did it by his own doing and not my nagging.

So although the cherry tomatoes are still being enjoyed more by the raccoons and myself than the kids, they are at least involved in their food choices from picking out the types and varieties to how their appear on their plate.

It’s not too late to plant a few veggies in a small pot and get your kids involved – they might just surprise you!

Here’s a cool sandwich idea that satisfies the sushi lover and the non-sushi lover in my family and makes the most of our mini cucumbers we are growing.

CUCUMBER RICE SANDWICHES
Preparation Time:  20 minutes + at least 2 hours refrigeration (up to 24 hours)
Cooking Time:  30 minutes

Makes 32

Ingredients:
•    4 cups cooked warm sushi rice
•    2 ½ tablespoons rice-wine vinegar
•    1 teaspoon salt
•    ½ cup cream cheese, room temperature
•    ½ English cucumber, thinly sliced
•    2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1.    Line a square glass baking dish with plastic wrap.  Toss warm rice with vinegar and salt in large bowl.  Firmly press half into dish.  Spread with ¼ cup cream cheese.  Layer half the cucumber slices on top, overlapping.  Repeat.  Cover with plastic; top with a weighted baking dish.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
2.    Lift out; transfer to cutting board.  Cut into small rectangles.  Dip 1 short and 1 long side of each sandwich in sesame seeds.  Serve within 4 hours.

Nadine Hughes is the creator and owner of, The Cook’s Companion and The Menu Companion, through which she offers kitchen consultations and menu planning services as well as a cooking and entertaining school that offers classes for adults and teens throughout Southern Ontario. She is also a published writer and avid blogger who is often called upon for “emergency” cooking and entertaining advice.  Pick up a copy of her latest eBook “The Groove Mamma Goes Gourmet – Easy Ways To Put The Fun Back Into Entertaining” for $7.99 at www.groovemamma.com

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