Ravioli and Tortellini with Meatballs and Salad

Children’s Food Preference – Nature or Nurture?

Children often look like their parents or relatives which is simple genetics.  But are food preferences genetic?  Research indicates that while genetics do play a role in food preferences initially, environmental factors and exposure to new foods repeatedly do have the greatest impact in a child’s appetite for certain foods.  I guess “nurture” vs. “nature” wins this one.  It’s not surprising that a child’s food preference develops in the early stages of life and shapes their food choices as an adult.  Most of us today are lucky to have good memories of our parents or grandparents cooking real food and enjoying a family dinner.  But imagine that when all our children are grown, we are left with a generation raised on chicken nuggets and processed food with no memory of anything different?  At least we know it’s wrong, they won’t know any better.  Think I am being dramatic?  Ask Jamie Oliver about the folks in Huntington, West Virginia, it’s already happened there.

Ravioli and Tortellini

If you are lucky enough to have an Italian Market (i.e., Sam’s) nearby, it really is worth the trip.  If not, look for the local brands and check the ingredient list of your pasta before buying it.  My kids love ravioli so I made these tonight but also made a bag of the tri-color tortellini to introduce something new with it. Both were a hit.  Just remember this:

  • Use a large enough pot so the pasta has room to boil around
  • Salt the water generously before boiling
  • Do not overcook – test for ‘al dente’

Sunday Gravy (previously made, see “Sunday Gravy…”)

I always freeze my gravy in small containers so that I can defrost them quickly and in the amount I need.  Try to take the containers out of the freezer in the morning so they will be defrosted by dinner.  If you forget, just heat the frozen container in a pot with a little water until you can pop the sauce out and heat it properly in the pot (obviously with no water in it).

Meatballs:  You were waiting for this one I know it.  Keep in mind that you have to be able to really feel the proper texture of your meatball mixture so don’t be too exact with the measurements on this.  My mom used to actually test her meatball mixture raw before cooking it to ensure just the right amount of ingredients.  Me, not so much….

  • 1 to 1.5 pounds of ground Beef/Pork/Veal OR ground turkey OR plain ground hamburger
  • Salt/Pepper
  • 2 ground cloves of Garlic (or garlic paste)
  • 1/4 cup of Parsley
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 cup of Italian style bread crumbs (or 8 pieces of wet, crustless bread)
  • 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese

Mix ingredients and roll into balls.  Line baking sheet with meatballs and cook on 350 for 10-15 minutes then plop into your pot of gravy.
 My mother and grandmother always fried their meatballs but I like to bake them and swear that nobody knows the difference.

Salad:  Nothing like a green salad with a simple olive oil/red wine vinegar dressing.  Cut some peppers, carrots and cucumbers for color and nutrition.  Buon Appetito!

How Can the Kids Help?

  • Teach them how much to fill up the pot with water
  • Salt the water
  • Test the pasta for doneness.  If cooking spaghetti, you can even throw a piece on your kitchen cabinet, if it sticks – it’s done!
  • Measure and mix meatball mixture – help roll into balls
  • Teach about raw meat and washing hands thoroughly
  • Pick veggies for salad and help cut (if appropriate)
  • Cut and color paper dolls:  http://www.activity-sheets.com/cutout/world-children/italiangirl.htm

Did You Know?

  • Research by Kansas State University recommends that we offer new foods to our children in small amounts along with other already known foods.  We should encourage the child without fuss or punishment behavior to try the new food and repeat this on several occasions until the food is accepted.  http://www.knackonline.org/news/2008/01/22/shaping-food-preference-and-taste-of-young-children/
  • When Jamie Oliver went to a 1st grade class in Huntington, West Virginia, he brought all kinds of fresh vegetables to test the children’s knowledge.  They did not know what a tomato was, or a potato, or brocoli, or any other vegetable for that matter.  But boy did they recognize ketchup, pizza, and french fries!  How well would your children do on this test?
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