Archive for December, 2008

Masterly Inactivity: Using Sphinx-Like Repose to End the Food Fight with Picky Eaters

December 30, 2008 13 comments
If your kids don’t like the foods you want them to eat, you need to do less instead of more about it.

A “wise passiveness,” as William Wordsworth called it, is prescribed.

“Wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education,” writes educational reformer Charlotte Mason. That includes the education of taste and good habits in eating.

“Masterly inactivity,” an expression of Thomas Carlyle’s brought to life in detail by Mason, is the perfect balance between being a dictator and a doormat. It is a letting alone that is rooted in insight. A parent’s wise self-restraint is grounded in the authority and self-confidence of experience and knowledge, which the child lacks and needs.

The parent “must see without watching, know without telling, be on the alert always, yet never obviously, fussily, so,” Mason explains. “This open-eyed attitude must be sphinx-like in its repose.”

This solidness as a parent is anything but throwing up your hands because it’s too difficult or confusing to do what you should as a parent. Neither does it mean being pushed around by your kids to their detriment.

It is vastly different from the attitude I have often seen between a mom and a child as soon as food comes into the picture. Mom becomes fussy, over-involved. Negotiations begin. The parent oppresses the child with her own anxiety. The child plays on mom’s fears and becomes balky. Parents lose their cool, children lose their appetites.

At the other extreme are parents who indulge their children, allowing them to eat whatever they want, whenever they want, in all good humor but with a lack of authority and wisdom.

My kids went through a time when they would fill up on the main course and wouldn’t feel like eating a salad after it, as is the French custom. So I began to serve the salad first. I just got them to the table hungry and served the salad, while the main course was still cooking. I did not tell them, “I want you to eat salad. You must eat your salad. It’s good for you.” I knew what was going on but they didn’t need to know. They ate it and were happy.

I also always wanted my kids to eat raw vegetables regularly. But I didn’t tell them we eat raw veggies because they’re good for us. I just enjoyed them myself, made them interesting and presented a wide variety when they were hungry. They ate them and were happy.

Children will eat healthy foods with pleasure if they are presented unapologetically and without cringing.

The parents must bear the burden of their children’s training, but “let them bear it with easy grace and an erect carriage as the Spanish peasant bears her water jar,” Mason urges. It is a big responsibility, but with the right posture, it’s really not so heavy.

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 30 December 2008 / All rights reserved

This post was featured in the Charlotte Mason blog carnival of June 23, 2009.

Having Trouble Getting Kids to Eat? Feed Them, but Cook For Yourself

December 27, 2008 2 comments

Mom cook “Good—leaves more for the rest of us,” my mom used to say to any kid who didn’t want to eat something.  At our house, eating was the club we wanted to join.

A powerful tactic for parents who want their children to voluntarily eat the most nourishing foods is to enthusiastically prepare and enjoy eating those foods themselves. 

A begrudging, unenthusiastic cook is missing out.  She could be enjoying herself and upping the chances her children enjoy themselves. Why not conquer your boredom and turn a chore into a game? It pays off in so many ways.

“Feed them, yes; but do not cook for them. Cook for yourself,” advises Robert Farrar Capon in The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection.

“What they need most of all in this vale of sorrows is the sight of men who relish reality,” Capon writes. “You do them no lasting favor by catering to their undeveloped tastes. We have not acquired our amplitude for nothing. No matter what they think, we know.  We are the ones who have tasted and seen how gracious it all is. What a shame if we were to hide that light under a bushel.”

Like with the emergency air masks on the airplane, you have to take care of yourself first in order to be able to take care of your child. The more passion you genuinely feel for what you cook, the better the chance they will catch your enthusiasm.  Modeling enjoyment of good things will likely foster your child’s enjoyment of the same.

I occasionally ask my husband or kids if there’s something they’d like to eat, and sometimes I might make what they ask for if I also happen to be in the mood for it, but generally I shamelessly follow my own whims and cravings.  Making what I feel like cooking or eating is the best cure I know to stave off cooking boredom and reluctance. Whether I hear the call of a certain flavor, of something new or of an old favorite, I follow Capon’s advice: “Please yourself, first, last and always.”

© Sacred Appetite/ Anna Migeon / 27 December 2008 / All rights reserved

Warm Goat Cheese Salad

December 23, 2008 Leave a comment

This salad is a French standard that the average cook knows how to make, his or her own way. Super simple, yet scrumptious, attractive, and elegant.

Goat cheese (about six-eight oz. ) (The cheapest place to get it in San Antonio is Costco. Whole Foods has a good price, too)

Mixed baby greens or any kind of lettuce

1 C of bread crumbs (I use the heels or leftover toast of Genesis 1:29 bread, by the makers of Ezekiel bread, in the frozen foods section, toasted and left to dry out and get stale, or Ryvita-type crackers, ground up in a blender or food processor.  Optional additions to the bread crumbs: a couple of tablespoons of coarsely ground pecans or walnuts and/or fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary)

One egg, blended in a bowl

French vinaigrette

Croutons (also made from heels or leftover toast, cut into squares and fried up gently in a mix of butter and oil) until crispy-chewy-crunchy

Butter and/ or  olive oil, about 4T (or less) for the croutons and another 4T (or less for the goat cheese medallions)

Make the croutons first as they can cook during the next step. Watch that they don’t burn.  They can cook for quite awhile, just getting crunchier the longer they cook.

Divide the cheese into eight thick slices and press them carefully into medallion shapes if they try to crumble. Dip each one in egg, then roll it carefully in the bread crumbs and put it on a plate. It is a messy process.  Let them sit in the fridge for a few minutes, to cool and harden.  Meanwhile, put the salad in the plates and have the table set and ready.

Move the croutons from the skillet to a small serving bowl, and using the same skillet, heat the rest of the oil or butter on medium.  Place the cheese medallions in the oil, and let them cook a few minutes on each side, taking care they don’t get too cooked. Turn them very carefully as they get soft and delicate.  When they are a bit browned on each side, turn out two on top of each salad. Serve while still warm. I let everyone add their own croutons and vinaigrette to taste.

Serves four.

© Sacred Appetite /Anna Migeon / 23 December 2008 / All rights reserved

Simple Homemade Vinaigrette: Real French Dressing

December 23, 2008 1 comment

When I moved to France, I discovered that the thick red salad dressing in a bottle called French Dressing that we used to eat as kids is something completely foreign to the French. 

It was also in France I first realized that there was an alternative to keeping a supply of a few different store-bought salad dressings, complete with artificial flavors and colors and practically synthetic oils and whatever other rubbish is included at the factory where they’re made, standing at the ready inside the door of the fridge. 

The everyday norm in France is to whip up your own vinaigrette as needed. Real French dressing takes about two minutes to make, and it’s homemade, all the time, with no artificial flavors, additives, thickeners, or preservatives. Just plain mustard, oil and vinegar. But like bottled dressing, it keeps indefinitely in the fridge.

It’s also far better for you, cheaper, just about as easy, and tastes like real food. It IS real food!

The French concept of salad dressing—la sauce de salade—can be that basic vinaigrette or tailor-made for the particular salad recipe.  It can include different kinds of oil from olive or sunflower to walnut or peanut.  Most include mustard (never the bright yellow “French’s” type, also foreign to the French), whole grain or smooth Dijon. Another main ingredient will be one of a variety of vinegars: balsamic, red or white wine, sherry vinegar, or juice: lemon, lime or even orange or apple. Some even call for some yogurt in the mix. Then there are the innumerable possible herbs and spices, along with garlic and onions.

For now, let’s start with the everyday vinaigrette.  Portions are highly flexible, but this mix is especially good.

Real French Vinaigrette

3 T red wine vinegar

1 ½ t Dijon mustard

½ C olive oil or mix of walnut and olive oils

Optional: 1 finely minced shallot (very small, mild-flavored onions)



Start by blending the mustard and vinegar thoroughly, and add the shallots. Then gradually add the oil, stirring constantly until it blends and thickens. 



 © Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon December / 23, 2008 / All Rights Reserved

Spinach, Fennel and Feta Salad

December 20, 2008 Leave a comment

Ever seen fennel in the grocery store and wondered what to do with it? Or what it tastes like? A pale green to white bulb with feathery green fern tops, this little-known vegetable is crunchy, crisp, and has a subtle licorice flavor. It’s good in salads or soups.

Last time I bought fennel I thought, “$3 is a lot for that little thing.” But when I had the salad for dinner that night, I thought, “It was worth it.”

A favorite of ours, this salad could not be quicker or easier. It’s a delicious combination of flavors and textures—the perfect way to bring a new vegetable to your table.

Spinach, Fennel and Feta Salad

3 T olive oil

2 T fresh lemon juice

1 shallot (small, delicately flavored onion), minced


6 oz. baby spinach

1 large fennel bulb, more tender parts of the stalks, thinly sliced crosswise

1 bunch of radishes, sliced

¾ C crumbled or cut up feta cheese


Whisk oil, lemon juice and shallot in small bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Combine spinach, fennel and radishes in a serving bowl. Sprinkle feta cheese over salad and serve with the dressing. Serves four.


From Bon Appétit magazine, a great source for do-able, delicious recipes and cooking inspiration.

Your Child’s Hunger: To Fear or Not to Fear?

December 19, 2008 3 comments

Children must eat or they will die.  Does that fact scare you or give you a sense of power?

When it comes to eating, in many American families, the children are successfully controlling the fearful parents, who are in turn unsuccessfully trying to control the children. The parents are afraid the children will be hungry instead of being glad their children will be hungry.

I heard last week yet another mom complain, “Little Caiden has eaten nothing but tater tots and pickle loaf for the past week.”

“My kids would never eat that,” says another mom who sees what I feed my kids. “How you get them to eat that?”

All I wonder is: who is furnishing the tater tots and pickle loaf or whatever else that enables a child to refuse perfectly good Real Food and live?  And why? 

I can only guess is that parents give kids what they want because they are afraid the child will go hungry—which leads to sickness and death or at least a lower IQ—instead of leveraging the very powerful tool of their hunger to entice them to eat Real Food.  

Parents cave in because they think it’s their responsibility to make sure, with no gaps in service, that their kids eat. Something—anything—is better than nothing. They allow the fact that a child will die without food to unsettle them when it should empower them.  So, a child finds herself using food to jerk her parents’ strings.  

On the other hand, the more pushing and controlling by the parents, the more oppositional the child becomes. Many children would rather go hungry than be pushed around, or give up the upper hand.

Jane Nelson, in Positive Discipline, tells about a four-year-old who wouldn’t eat. The mother scolded and pushed. The child had the last word when she ended up with rickets. The doctor told the mom, “Leave her alone! Put nutritious food on the table, eat your own food, and mind your own business. Talk about pleasant things or else keep your mouth shut.”  “As with many controlling methods used with today’s children, it backfired and she had achieved the opposite of what she wanted,” Nelson notes. 

“Several children I’ve known whose appetites were killed by parental urging eventually wanted only olives or pickles or frankfurters,” reports Dr. Benjamin Spock. “They came from families in which these foods were considered harmful to children.”

The foods the parents most value are the ones many children will hate most, and the ones the parents think are bad for them are the ones they will most want to eat, Spock adds. 

So quit making things difficult for yourself, and take comfort in your child’s hunger and need to eat. It’s not something to fear but to leverage. Fear only fulfills itself. You hold a powerful card. Use it to your advantage, and your child’s.


© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 19 December 2008 / All rights reserved

The Five Steps to Removing Food Resistance

December 19, 2008 1 comment

1.      Show no interest in what a child eats or how much.  Offer food neutrally. You do not have to be sincere, but you do have to be convincing.  

 2.      Instead, be confident and pleasant at the table.

3.      Present the best and widest variety of Real Foods, in the most delicious and enticing manner in your power, consistently.

4.      Do not make available foods you do not want your child to eat, but avoid turning it into a power struggle. Distract them with more interesting things.

5.      Count on the combination of your child’s hunger and delicious foods needed by the body, and only that, to eventually correct the imbalance.