Every month we run a Q&A called Happy Meals–which I’m considering renaming “Eat Your F#*king Food”–in which we interview a parent about their mealtime secrets and rules on junk food. For the latest installment I asked Eva Ruiz, who runs a flexible, bilingual daycare in Clinton Hill called Mi Casita, what she feeds her three-and-a-half-year-old girl Ona. Ruiz shares the recipe for one of her winning dishes, Special Meatballs, below.
Is your girl an adventurous or picky eater?
I used to think I was the luckiest mom when I was first introducing new foods to Ona. It seemed there was nothing she would not try, and rarely did she say she didn’t like the taste, color, or texture of anything. She probably made me a bit overconfident both in her ability to try and my ability to cook. With time, Ona slowly started to get more picky about textures, and for a minute I was so scared we were entering that phase our pediatrician called the ‘beige diet.’ I have seen far more picky eaters, but by no means would I say Ona is adventurous.
What kinds of foods did you give her from the start? Do you feel like you influenced how she eats now?
As I said before, I really started by introducing Ona to all kinds of age appropriate foods. While her meals were still blended, I really tried not to limit her palette, nor did I believe foods should be over bland. If we ate garlic sautéed veggies, she ate a less salty version, blended or finely chopped as that became appropriate.
I’m sure our diet has influenced her diet. For example we are definitely a meat, fish, and chicken eating family, and so is Ona. She also shares our distaste for tofu.
What’s a typical breakfast like for her?
Cereal (Crispix, Raisin Bran Crunch, or Cracklin Oats) with blueberries, in the winter she liked oatmeal with blueberries, milk, OJ, and sometimes a “cold hot chocolate” as she calls it (light on the cocoa). On Sundays she loves silver dollar pancakes.
A typical lunch?
Since she often eats dinner before us, I tend to give her for lunch what we ate the night before for dinner, or some version of it.
What are your go-to dinners?
The go-to dinner is fresh avocado with olive oil, lemon and a bit of salt or green beans and potatoes with vinegar and olive oil for greens, and my special meatballs (I usually prepare in bulk and freeze) or “pink fish,” aka salmon (guess what Ona’s favorite color is).
What do you keep on hand always (in the freezer or pantry) for last-minute meals?
Potatoes, Gyoza, edamame, prosciutto, cheese, red beans, garbanzo beans, chicken broth, fideos (tiny cut angel hair pasta), ravioli, and of course Annie’s mac and cheese.
How often do you eat out or order in? What are your favorite places for take out or dinners out as a family, and what do you get for her?
We don’t tend to go out too often or order in. When we do, we order most often the Savoyarde (bacon and sweet grilled onion over a white cream sauce) from Nice Pizza in Clinton Hill.
What’s your policy on sweets and junk food?
We just don’t have a lot of it around the house. My husband and Ona tend to make cookies on Sundays, so that is really the most she gets. The truth is that neither of us feel adamant about denying her junk food, and probably that is because even when she spends the better half of an hour asking for the lollipop that the local bodega store guy inescapably offers her, she tends to take two licks and throw it out. I hope that sticks!
How do you get her to try new foods?
It’s all about how the new foods look, but again she is not super adventurous. I find getting her to eat new food is often about the renaming of those foods. For example when I first introduced edamame in their shell, I called them popping peas.
Do you have a favorite recipe you’d like to share? Something quick and easy?
My special meatballs (it’s fun to shape them with Ona):
-Roughly 1/2 pound of ground beef and the insides about 4 or 5 pork sausages (but I’m Spanish so we do that). I’ve also used ground turkey alone.
-A handfull of bread crumbs
-Finely chopped spinach or kale
-Seaweed (at Ona’s doctor visit when she was 2 they said she was a bit anemic, so when I read that seaweed has a lot of iron, I began adding it to everything)
Total cook time if the meatballs are about ‘IKEA’ or Swedish meatball size is about 10-12 minutes at about 375 or so. I am a touch and go, not very precise cook, so I just cook the meatballs til they seem ready. They really take so little time to bake that if you are planning to freeze I really just begin baking them to hold them together.