STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Anybody who's ever had a kid knows that one of the simplest parenting tasks can become a challenge. If a baby is born knowing anything, it's how to grab something and put it in its mouth, yet feeding a kid is tough. And in a book, the food writer Matthew Amster-Burton says it's time to throw out the rules. In fact, he's got a list of rules he attributes to parenting magazines, all of which he wants you to disregard.
Mr. MATTHEW AMSTER-BURTON (Food Author): Present new foods alongside old favorites. Sneak vegetables into pasta sauce or other foods. Threaten to withhold dessert. Be persistent, it may take 10 or 12 tries before they learn to like a new food.
Sometimes I wonder whether anyone associated with those magazines even has kids, because none of these things work.
There's a solution to picky eating, but you may not like it. It's recognizing that it isn't a problem. Kids are not dropping dead of scurvy.
INSKEEP: Matthew Amster-Burton is author of "Hungry Monkey." The monkey in question is his daughter Iris, who is now five-years-old, and Mr. Burton is in Seattle. Welcome to the program.
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: You know, you're a food writer, you know something about good cuisine, what was your ambition for your child's eating?
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: Well, frankly, I didn't know what to expect. You know, my hope of course was that she would happily throw herself into a plate of anything the way I do now at age 33. In fact, you know, I have to admit that when I was a kid, I was a terribly picky eater, so I didn't really know if anything could be done to prevent that, to encourage adventurous eating. I mean, I think once a kid starts solid foods, they can eat almost anything an adult can eat.
INSKEEP: You do seem to consciously believe that we get wrapped up a little bit too much in our anxieties, whether it's allowing the kids to eat just anything because they'll only eat a few things, even if it seems like it's terrible for them, or whether it's pushing new foods on them.
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: Yeah. I don't really worry about those things, and part of the reason I wrote this book was because when Iris was a baby and I was looking for books about feeding babies, most of them were in one way or another scary -you know, worry about allergies, worry about choking, worry about an unbalanced diet - and these things are uncommon and not really worth worrying about for the vast majority of people and the vast majority of situations.
Most kids, they can navigate the world of food themselves and will eat better if they're allowed to do that without you kind of getting between them and their plate. There's always vegetables on the table. Occasionally, Iris will give a little nibble and I'll try not to act too excited because I know that will jinx it. But, you know, I really leave it up to her.
INSKEEP: Now let me ask about another thing. In addition to not worrying too much about what your kids eat and just kind of letting them explore, you seem to want to have your daughter in the kitchen with you when you're cooking.
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: Yes, what we did was we got a cheap electric frying pan and that can be Iris's stove because that way I don't have to put her on a wobbly stool in front of the real stove. We can cook on the dining room table or down on the floor.
INSKEEP: So you guys would be sitting on the floor with a frying pan frying away?
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: Yeah, absolutely, like to make scrambled eggs in there. She's made ants on a tree, which is this great Schezwanese noodle dish with ground pork and cellophane noodles.
INSKEEP: Why don't you explain that so that people don't think you're actually eating ants on a tree?
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: It's not really ants. It's one of those lyrical Chinese names. The cellophane noodles represent the tree, and the ground pork bits represent the ants. We ordered it off of a menu at a Chinese restaurant in Seattle when Iris had just turned one and she just ate a ton of these spicy noodles. So I wanted to try and recreate it at home and found a great recipe, which is in the book. Iris liked to help make it. She loves to eat it.
INSKEEP: So when you compare your child to her friends, her peers, is she a champion eater when it comes to variety?
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: It totally varies from day to day. I have this idea that I call the sushi index, which is Iris and I love to go to this sushi place in Seattle that has the sushi go by on a conveyor belt.
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: You can pull plates off. And so, the sushi index is an index of how many different items off the sushi conveyor belt Iris will eat.
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: And so if she was on a picky day, she'll eat some rice and a cream puff. Other days she'll eat absolutely everything, a piece of raw mackerel, spicy tuna roll, and so on.
INSKEEP: Now some people may be listening and be horrified that you'd be feeding your very young child raw fish.
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: And I'm not sure really what accounts for the idea that sushi is dangerous and teaming with parasites. The vast majority of sushi will be frozen solid in a deep freeze for a long time. So it's - the only danger associated with it is does the sushi staff have clean hands. But the same caveat applies to a salad.
INSKEEP: Matthew Amster-Burton is author of "Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater." And Mr. Burton, the adventurous eater is with us, correct?
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: Yes.
INSKEEP: Your - could you bring Iris in close to a microphone?
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: Sure.
INSKEEP: Iris, this is Steve, can you hear me?
Ms. IRIS AMSTER-BURTON (Author's daughter): Yes.
INSKEEP: You were listening to your dad, right?
Ms. AMSTER-BURTON: Right.
INSKEEP: Tell me about your dad. Is he a good cook?
Ms. AMSTER-BURTON: Fabulous.
INSKEEP: What do you like that your dad makes for you?
Ms. AMSTER-BURTON: Dumplings and pizza.
INSKEEP: Dumplings and pizza? Would you guys tell me about something that I know you both like to make and eat called Yeasted Waffles? What are those?
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: Oh, yeasted waffles are wonderful. They are the easiest waffles you can make. You mix up the batter with a pinch of yeast the night before and put it in the fridge overnight or leave it on the counter overnight. And in the morning you've got this bubbly, like foaming creaming head of beer waffle batter. It's got an intense, yeasty, sort of fresh bread flavor. Put it on the waffle maker, and you've got waffles. It's one of those recipes with yeast that you don't have to worry about.
INSKEEP: Iris? Iris, are you fan of maple syrup?
Ms. AMSTER-BURTON: Uh-huh. I like to dip them in.
INSKEEP: Now Mr. Amster-Burton, are you concerned at about the amount of the sugar your kid consumes?
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: I'm really not. I think if you are brave enough to let it be, it's kind of self-regulating. I think efforts to restrict sugar in kids tend to backfire and tend to make kids look for sugar anytime that their parent isn't looking, and I really didn't want to have that happen. I wanted Iris to enjoy sweets as much as I do. And one favorite is some simple gingerbread cupcakes with lemon glaze. The recipe is in the book. They're the cupcakes Iris actually had for her first birthday.
Ms. AMSTER-BURTON: I love cupcakes.
INSKEEP: Iris, what did you have for your last birthday? Do you remember if you had cake?
Ms. AMSTER-BURTON: I think I had a castle cake. Yeah, it's a cake that looked like a castle from my Grandma. And powdered sugar was sprinkled on it like snow or moonlight.
INSKEEP: Oh, that sounds delicious. That sounds wonderful.
Ms. AMSTER-BURTON: I ate the drawbridge I think, the gingerbread drawbridge.
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: I think you're right.
INSKEEP: I think that can be the title of your next food memoir, "I Ate the Drawbridge."
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: "I Ate the Drawbridge."
INSKEEP: Iris, thanks so much for sharing your stories with us.
Ms. AMSTER-BURTON: Bye.
INSKEEP: And thanks to your dad as well, Matthew Amster-Burton.
Mr. AMSTER-BURTON: Thanks very much for having me.
INSKEEP: The book is called "Hungry Monkey," and you can read some of it and get the recipe for Ants on a Tree at npr.org. we'll continue our team coverage tomorrow. Nigella Lawson explains what her kids make in the kitchen. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
DAVID GREENE, host:
And I'm David Greene.
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