Tilapia with Tomatoes, Butter Beans and Sweet Peppers

tilapia with tomato sauce and butter beans

This was dinner on Monday night.  Olive’s plate looked no different than ours, except I compartmentalized things so she could easily grab them.  She ate one piece of tomato, one bean and all her fish.  She tried and spit out one olive.  We also gave her a cracker and after she ate half, she declared herself “all done.”  That’s it!  We didn’t ask her to eat more, we didn’t get upset that she wouldn’t try any more beans, although I know she loves beans and would like them.  I wanted to but I didn’t.  It’s a hard resolution but we have vowed to stop messing with Olive during meal times.  I have resolved to respect her more and trust her to eat what she needs at the mealtimes provided.  She only has one snack a day, between lunch and dinner, as we usually don’t eat dinner until 7 or 7:30, and so for the most part, she is hungry at meals and will eat.  Lately, because she’s not growing as rapidly as she did around a year-18 months, she doesn’t have a big appetite.  She is fine after a few bites and will declare herself finished, sometimes way before I believe she’s had enough.  But what do I know?  And how exactly do I know how hungry she is when she is probably a tenth the size of me?  I have seen that when she knows she’s not going to be messed with, she acts more controlled, more independent, and she is more focused on her meal.  On the contrary, when she feels watched, observed (it’s hard not to look at a kid while they’re eating), she immediately starts acting out.  She drops things and bangs her spoon on the table and tries to get out of her chair, and if I’m honest, it’s probably because she doesn’t want to eat with someone who stares at her every move and intimidates her to take “one more bite.”  Would you want to eat with one person like that, much less two?!
So we’ve vowed to stop.  Before Matt and all Olive’s stuffed animals as witnesses, we both said we would simply present dinner, encourage her to try new things, and then back OFF.  I firmly believe that if we trust our children to eat well and make good decisions, they will, eventually.  It’s that eventually that I know so many of us parents struggle with.  We want our kids to eat like we do, right now.  And so we often fall back on what we know they’ll like (insert fried or bland food here). We don’t realize that good eating is a learned skill, just like anything else.  It takes time.  It takes a few meals of “I don’t like it” and a few times of eating two bites and declaring “all done.”  But we must stick to it and not abandon ship at the first sign of resistance.  Here are a few rules around eating that we adhere to, nearly every day:

1. Eat only at meal times and one snack a day (Olive is 22 months old, by the way, and I’ve been doing this since she she was about 15 months old.  I do let her have milk between meals, but about an hour before a meal, I cut her off and give her only water if she’s thirsty.)
2. Variety is offered, along with something she recognizes.
3. I serve the new thing to her first, and we all eat a little bit of it together as a “first course,” if you will, because what kid is going to eat Brussels sprouts when there’s chicken on the table?
4. After the new food is presented and at least tried (she doesn’t have to eat much of it, just a taste), then I bring out the rest of the food, I put a little bit of each thing on her plate, explain what everything is, and then back off.
5. No distractions during meals – no toys (well sometimes the stuffed animals eat with us, but they’re not used as a distraction from the food), no toys, a.k.a. iPhones for me and Matt, no answering texts or calls.  This helps.  It really does.  Because as soon as Olive spots a phone, she wants it, or suddenly becomes dissatisfied with her sitting-down-and-not-playing-instead situation.  We try to engage her in our conversation, as well as encourage her not to shout during ours 🙂 It’s a growing and a learning process and more often than not, it does NOT go perfectly, but I think it’s the consistency that is the key.
6. If there’s dessert, you don’t have to do anything special to get it.  Not even eat all your vegetables.  You simply have to wait for everyone to finish.  So, if Olive eats just a bit of dinner, but not much, and I have already planned on serving a dessert, I do NOT tell her she needs to eat more before she can have it.  She can have it if she stays at the table.  If she wants to get down, she can, but if she wants dessert, she must come back, sit down and be civilized to get it. Dessert must not be contingent on her being a “good girl” or eating her “bad broccoli.”  If I could banish one crippling habit in the world, it would be our habit of calling foods “good” or “bad” and rewarding or punishing ourselves accordingly.
7. We eat together.  She doesn’t start first just because she’s hungry.  She waits.  And then we all sit down together.  This teaches respect, patience, and a realization that she’s not the only one that needs consideration.

So before you declare yourself or your kids a failed attempt before even trying, let me remind you that Olive very often doesn’t like what I serve.  She very often will only eat one of four things presented. Sometimes she shocks me and eats EVERYTHING, including the stinky cheese.  But this is rare, and yet I let it be a glimpse and a proof that she likes food, she just doesn’t always want a lot of it.

This meal was from Jamie Oliver’s, Jamie Magazine Recipe Yearbook (on news stands now!).  It’s so full of great recipes and I can’t wait to try more.  We loved the flavors and it was a refreshing way to serve the same ol’ fish and beans 🙂

tilapia with tomatoes, olives and butter beans

Tilapia with Tomatoes, Butter Beans and Sweet Peppers*
serves 4

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 orange or red bell pepper, diced and seeded
2-4 sweet pickled red peppers (I got mine at the olive bar at our grocery store)
1-15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup pitted olives
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1-15 oz. can butter beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
4 white fish fillets (sole, tilapia, swai)

For the sauce, heat half the oil in a medium pan and fry the onion for 5 minutes, or until soft.  Add the peppers and fry for 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and olives and season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
Add the beans and dill and heat for about a minute.  Set mixture aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat and cook the fish about 2-3 minutes per side, until a nice golden brown is on each side.  Season with salt and pepper and arrange fillets over the tomato/bean mixture and serve with extra dill and a side of bread – dinner is served!

*adapted from Jamie Magazine Recipe Yearbook

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Happy New Year’s Resolutions and a Bowl of Hoppin’ John

Good Luck Peas
New Year’s resolutions are notorious for being too lofty and often unmet.  I’ve resolved to make my resolutions more about matters of the heart this year, rather than focusing on one particular flaw that needs improving.  Because as I’ve learned the hard way over the past few months, external flaws or bad habits are results of a ruined heart.  They are results of being far away from the Creator and instead, closer to the creation.  So instead of losing weight or being more organized or improving my correspondence with friends, or whatever needs improvement, I will instead put these resolutions on my list for 2014, and like the scriptures promise, “all these things will be added to you.”

1. Work for Christ instead of approval of men
2. Speak less frequently and listen more
3. Seek the Kingdom first thing in the morning through prayer, quiet time or reading
4. Look to the needs of others first
5. Treat Matt, Olive and everyone I come in contact with, like Christ would if He were me.

That should keep me quite busy this year.  I know for certain that  a year lived in this way will yield joy, whether good or bad things happen to me externally.  I think I’ll type these out and review them daily.  So many good things fall under these simple rules.  Preparing and serving good food could technically fall under resolutions 1, 4 and 5.  Today, I had the joy of keeping a tradition running in my family and preparing a huge pot of black eyed peas for us to have for lunch, lest we miss out on a year of good luck. Of course I don’t believe in superstition or luck, but I do believe in traditions and I look forward to them and I especially look forward to them if they are served with ham hocks and buttered corn bread.

Growing up, my Mammaw would bring us fresh frozen black eyed peas from her garden and we’d have them buttered with chopped, sweet onions.  Nothing fancy, just your obligatory New Years peas!  A few years ago I made a pot of dried beans with lots of bacon and chicken stock and it was pretty life-changing and so I have stuck to the same recipe, more or less, every year since.

Today, I give you my recipe for New Years black eyed peas, or Hoppin’ John, or whatever else you want to call it.  In true Family Meal style, Matt and I both contributed to this recipe.  I got the beans going, Matt made the cornbread, and Olive kept us entertained with things she found out in the yard as we took down Christmas decor.  I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day – it’s the only January 1, 2014 you’ll ever get,  so by all means, live it well!

Hoppin' John

New Years Day – Hoppin’ John

16oz bag of dried beans (if you use fresh, you’ll get to skip the first step)
1 sweet, medium white onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
3 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cups hot stock – I used beef stock, but chicken or vegetable would work fine, too.
1 large ham hock, or about 8 ounces chopped bacon or ham

1 recipe of really great skillet cornbread

In a large bowl, submerge the peas in water by at least 2 inches and let sit over night or at least 6 hours.

Drain the beans and set aside, picking through to remove any bad ones.  In a large, heavy pot over medium heat, add the butter and olive oil and let it start to bubble.  Add in the chopped vegetables and stir for about 10 minutes until they all begin to soften. Add in the black eyed peas and ham hock and stock and bring to a full boil.

Reduce heat and bring it down to an active simmer and let it cook on the stove, uncovered, for about 3 hours, until the beans are tender.  If you’re using fresh, you’ll probably only need to let it cook for 2, but just check occasionally for doneness.

Serve over cornbread with plenty of dashes of hot sauce and ring in the new year right!