Dinner plans: Lots of restrictions - please help
March 2, 2014 5:59 PM   Subscribe

I'll be in Azerbaijan this summer with my 5 year old. Last summer we were there and I found that we were eating the same thing over and over again. Here are the issues: - 5-year-old is picky - when in the U.S. he likes pasta, pizza, chick'n nuggets, smart dogs, mac and cheese, burgers, fries. Veggies I sneak into other things. Fruits he eats a lot of. - I don't eat meat except for chicken and occasionally fish - While lots of yummy fresh veggies are available, much of my favorite stuff isn't available easily and this is especially true of cheeses and spices - I am a pretty lazy cook - Processed food (like my kid likes, like nuggets) is almost impossible to get

Thus last summer was pasta over and over again, eggs, and more pasta. I brought some powered cheese to make fake mac and cheese, although it didn't work well. But more importantly, kid was behaviorally off the wall and I tie a lot of that too his food intake.

I want to do better next summer. I am thinking that I'll bring a crock pot, as I use that a lot at home. I was thinking that eggplant parm would be a good idea, on the occasion that I could find cheese. Pancakes maybe? Homemade pizza dough? Pasta with more interesting stuff? Like this.

But I'd love recipe suggestions that fit this weird set of constraints.
posted by k8t to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Why not just learn to cook local food?

You're going to have a much easier time dealing with recipes designed for local ingredients.
posted by empath at 6:16 PM on March 2, 2014 [9 favorites]

One thing that fits 'picky little kid' and 'parent who sneaks vegetables' well is vegetable pikelets, sort of savoury little pancakes. (Cheese optional, and any rich dairy would do.) They freeze well. Not that I am endorsing this sort of Mrs Seinfeld stuff. I would make him suck it up

Can you wean him onto rice? Once rice registered as a desirable foodstuff here it opened the door to all sorts of Indian dishes (because they come with rice!) and "Chinese fried rice" (veg and egg with rice as an afterthought) and pilafs and so on. Dolmades, sushi, and bowls of plain brown rice are all held in high esteem. Because: rice! And rice is not a hard sell for a starch-oriented kid, and the Wikipedia page says [rice pilafs are] "one of the most widespread dishes in Azerbaijan, with more than 40 different recipes." So a good thing to focus on. You could try orzo as a transitional food...
posted by kmennie at 6:33 PM on March 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

It will probably be helpful to frame your child's food preferences as being a developmental phase. Because it is, but he won't evolve past it if you don't continually introduce new foods.

Introducing easily replicated foods at home might make it easier to feed both of you overseas. Simple honey basted chicken skewers are an example; your son may find them fun to eat. You can skewer and grill veggies for yourself with a different marinade and cook them together. Can you get white flour and yeast ? Then you can make pizza. You should be able to get mozzarella there because there's a whole Italy/Azerbaijan connection due to native water buffalo.

And quite honestly, you can buy 5 boxes of old fashioned Mac n Cheese, donate the macaroni to your local pre-school for crafts, and stick the cheese mix packets in your luggage for emergencies.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:37 PM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Also you can make home made nuggets, baked or fried. If you could make these a part of his diet at home, it would be easy to keep making them abroad. St. Patrick's Day is coming up; if you made green ones, would he be interested?
posted by DarlingBri at 7:03 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

For spices that you use commonly but can't get abroad, I would take them with you -- no reason they won't keep well, and then you can keep with some familiar flavors.

For homemade pizza, I highly recommend the "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" method -- if you Google it, you should get lots of hits, or you could check the book out of the library and read through the bread/pizza bits. The basic idea is that you mix up one big batch of dough (no kneading!), and then you can make 4 pizzas out of it over the next 2 weeks (or freeze some). You can also use the same dough to make homemade bread if you prefer.

For unusual vegetables, I find that almost any vegetable is really good roasted in the oven with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and maybe some other spices that you guys like. Extra good with a whole roasted chicken. This one from Thomas Keller is delicious and really is simple (despite being a Thomas Keller recipe).

You can do both chicken and fish in a way that mimics chicken nuggets/fish fingers. Put out 3 plates: flour mixed with salt and pepper, a couple of eggs scrambled with a fork, and breadcrumbs or panko (I like panko, but any type of breadcrumbs you can find or make will work). Cut your raw chicken/fish into strips or nugget-sized pieces, and then alternately coat in the flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs. Then just put them on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until cooked through.

If you guys like eggs, you might try making a veggie-filled fritatta. They usually have cheese, but don't need to. Basically it's just a quiche without the crust, so a little healthier. This feature from Fine Cooking walks you through how to do it with lots of options for ingredients -- and obviously, you could substitute other vegetables that you have available to you.

In general, I find the "Recipe Makers" feature on Fine Cooking to be great when I know a general dish I might like, but want to customize it to what I have in the fridge. The following might be the most useful to you: Meatloaf (using ground chicken or turkey), Quiche, Pizza, Chicken Soup, Bean & Vegetable Soup, Frittata, Grain Salad, Stir-Fry, Summer Pasta Salad.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:17 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I realize this might sound insane, but might be worth a try: homemade cheese? It is dead simple to make an un-aged cheese (paneer/farmer's cheese) with just milk+lemon or milk+buttermilk. You'd need a cheesecloth to strain it. It's very easy - many recipes online or in eg How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The cheese cubes are very mild and can be used in various ways, eg fry them lightly. (I haven't tried breading it before frying it, but that might be a way to simulate nuggets.) Could try this at home and see if it grabs him.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:20 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

@DarlingBri - yes, brought powdered cheese last year. Didn't work as well as I had hoped, but was a nice treat.

And yes, kiddo eats rice.

And kid has been exposed to local food at daycare and at friends' homes, but doesn't do all that well with it. He is picky. :0/ Even if it is a stage, he is a picky kid.

Keep 'em coming!
posted by k8t at 7:28 PM on March 2, 2014

Do you involve him when you cook? Is he growing edible plants at daycare/preK/home?
posted by brujita at 9:31 PM on March 2, 2014

There is no way for me to garden in Azerbaijan. (Apartment living, pollution, no way to get potting soil that I can think of.) And we are usually there for the summer. When we are in the u.s. we do garden and he likes it. And he does cook with me. This is really an issue of ingredients availability and my normal go to dishes.
posted by k8t at 9:34 PM on March 2, 2014

It seems like lack of cheese is your main obstacle. Can you use the time before you go to introduce flavors he would experience there? Can you get honey/sugar? Sweetness is a gateway drug and if you use it properly (honey grilled, sweet n sour, new grains with sweet toppings) you can crack the door a little. Obviously you don't want sugar on everything, but it's something that most kids will agree to try. Then once they like something, you can introduce a less sweet version.
posted by emjaybee at 10:10 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Honey and sugar very doable. I do worry that he has too much sugar there as it is, as other people as well as daycare give kids a lot of sweets, despite my asking them not to. But I hope genetics and good teeth brushing will help. Thanks!
posted by k8t at 11:18 PM on March 2, 2014

Well, on desperate days you don't feel like cooking, there's always McDonalds for the little guy, but you have to have figured that out already. (But, pardon my ignorance, are there really no frozen french fries or pizza to be found anywhere else at all? There's no expat store or anything?)

For you - not necessarily Azerbaijani but I think the stuff will be there, given the commonality of cuisine/ingredients in the area (very broadly defined) - tarator is easy to make and filling in the heat - I mean the yogurt dish, apparently that also refers to a tahini spread in some places. I bet they have dolma everywhere just in cans, no? I would guess they must have börek, if you like feta (in which case feta cheese in a tomato and pepper salad is nice.) Otherwise, yup, eggs and pasta and stir-fries, probably, if you're likely to stick to the stove-top. One thing that's nice and easy is a pepper "omelette" that's 70-80% peppers - just use one egg as a bit of a binding agent, if you don't want to be sick of eggs. You could do that with most veggies, add whatever kind of cheese if you like / find it.

But really in your situation, I might just get half my stuff out, and some of that might be street meat (or chicken).
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:25 PM on March 2, 2014

I'd start getting him used to things like Hummus with carrots to dip in it. Or pita.

Fish is plentiful, so you can bread it and fry it, or grill it with rice, or bake it for sandwiches.

If you can get him to eat yogurt, then get local yogurts and sweeten them with honey and fruit.

Personally, I'd see if falafel would go down well. I mean, who doesn't like falafel?

Not to be 'that person' but I'm personally hating how much wheat/gluten you've got in your proposed diet. I suspect that if your child is wheat sensitive that some of the issues you're seeing may be traced to that.

Also, kids need a lot of protein so if he's favoring carbs, that could also be contributing to the problem.

If you can get chicken, you can make your own nuggets.

Cut chicken into nugget sized pieces
Toss in an egg wash (egg, milk or water with salt and pepper) You can just throw the pieces into a bowl and toss.
Then put breadcrumbs in a bag and toss in chicken pieces. Shake. This is fun, so have your son help with this part.

Then take out and bake. If you have a freezer, put baked chicken nuggets in there, and you have enough for a few meals. If not, just make them one meal at a time.

Here's the thing, kids are as picky as you allow them to be. Also, processed foods are such that they have an addictive quality. So catering to a kid who prefers processed foods is just reinforcing those preferences. (Husbunny was one of those kids, and now he's one of those adults.)

Start now, by alternating your typical meals with more varied meals. Introduce new foods along old favorites and encourage tasting (you have to take one bite. If you hate it, you don't have to eat it) at every meal. Keep serving the same things. Sometimes the palate needs time to get used to something. We didn't come out of the womb loving Hot and Sour Soup, but MAN is that some tasty shit!

Once you get to Baku, the kebabs won't look so alien, and he'll have a start for veggies.

I'd advise you to seek out local dishes that you might like and set the example. I'll bet by the end of summer, you'll discover that there are local dishes that sound yukky on paper that are delicious for supper.

Here's a cool blog about Cooking in Baku, giving recipes with items easily found in Azerbaijan.

I'm going to encourage you to find enjoyment in cooking. Cooking is the original labor of love. Involve your son in cooking and make it a family activity. Things don't have to be complex, but going to a bit of extra effort will pay dividends, in the variety of foods you both eat and the quality of the food.

If all else fails, if you're in Baku, you can go to the Americana Supermarket for imported American and British foods.

81 Nizami Street, Baku, Azerbaijan
22 Hussein Javid Avenue, Baku, Azerbaijan
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:55 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

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