Why and How Encourage Your Child to Eat Lentils

Unhulled red lentilDoes this scenario sound familiar? You’ve spent several hours consulting web-pages and books in order to advance your knowledge of child nutrition. Then you’ve selected quality ingredients, chopped them, cut your finger in the process, cooked, pulverized and carefully seasoned a meal. You’re feeling as you’ve accomplished a small feat when you finally get to serve it to your little one. And the only thing she says (with a super-sad face) is:

“Oh, no…but, something smelled so good from the kitchen!”

And you’re holding onto that last straw by saying:

“This is what smelled so good! And it tastes even better!”

But the truth is (and you know it), this meal will not be eaten and you’ll have to recoup your enthusiasm and try again some other time. The only good news is that there’s more good stuff for you.

There are big and small disappointments in life. In the category of “small”, I classify cooking a wonderful, thoughtful, nutrient-infused meal and offering it to your child who dismisses it even before trying.

Being a mother to one picky eater, I learned it’s true that it REALLY does take 10 to 15 attempts (or even more) before your neophobic child can get used to a new taste.

I remember our sushi experience. The fist dozen times I offered sushi, Zoe was sitting, looking quite grumpy, because she was served something that was not to her liking. Having an attitude of a snobbish food critic she would take one piece of sushi, smell it and slowly bring it up to her mouth. She would then carefully take the smallest bite possible which she may or may not decide to swallow.

I guess I stopped counting, but one time (maybe fifteenth?) I was setting a table for dinner and placed a plate of sushi. Without saying anything, Zoe sat herself and started transferring sushi pieces from the serving plate onto her plate until she created a small “pyramid” of sushi. As she waited for everyone else to be seated, so she could start eating, she looked like a cat watching a bird in a cage. To cut the long story short, she devoured her sushi, while my husband and I laughed to tears. True, her manners were not so nice at a time, but who cares? She ate the sushi!

These days she says:

“When are we making sushi? Can I help? Please? Pleeeease?”

Or (remembering our slow start with apples)

“I can’t even think of doing my homework until I eat two apples.”

Sweet rewards for a mother.

Lentils: The Real

red lentil

credit: flickr whitneychicago

Super Food

Here’s my lentil confession: Just writing about a lentil soup makes my mouth water.

Lentils are without doubt one of the healthiest and the most environmentally sustainable foods on the planet. Here are some things worth knowing about lentils (or why a parent shouldn’t stop trying giving lentils to their picky kids):

In only one cup of cooked lentil you can get superb amounts of six important minerals (including iron, phosphorus and copper), two B-vitamins, dietary fiber and protein. Being nutrient-packed, less-resource intensive than meats and beneficial for the soil, lentils (along with other legumes) have two magnificent qualities: they reduce environmental impact and they do good to our health. Did I say lentils are tasty?

It took quite a bit of tweaking to create two yummy lentil soup recipes likeable to my daughter. After trying many recipes, I narrowed them down to two, both using red lentil (hulled or unhulled).

Recipes follow below.

Curry Lentil (recipe with curry, yogurt and lemon)


2 teaspoons sunflower oil

1 onion, chopped

credit: flickr dichihecho

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoons fresh, minced ginger

2 teaspoons mild curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

one potato, peeled and cut in small dice

1 cup red lentils

5 cups vegetable broth

Juice of one lemon

1/2 cup yogurt


Procedure: Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, curry powder and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes more. Stir in lentils, potatoes and broth, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Season and stir in lemon juice just before serving. Serve with plenty of yogurt.

French Lentil (recipe with tomatoes and Parmesan)


2 teaspoons olive oilkid friendly lentil soup with grated parmesan

1 large onion, chopped

1 celery rib, chopped

1 cup red lentils

2 tomatoes peeled and chopped

1 carrot, chopped

5 cups vegetable stock


freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Procedure: Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in lentils and cook for one minute. Add the tomatoes, stock, salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Let the soup cool slightly. Puree in a blender until smooth. Season and reheat. Serve with plenty of Parmesan cheese.

Food tricks that worked…

Adding to the soup something that Zoe loves. She likes yogurt and lemon so I added them to the Curry recipe. She also like tomatoes and Parmesan and I modified the original French recipe by adding those.

Pureeing everything that Zoe would not be pleased to see or chew (like onions or garlic).

Include her in the cooking. Even finding and handing over measuring spoons can be fun and rewarding.

As Nancy Samalin writes in her book “Loving Without Spoiling”, a child should feel empowered with choices. So I ask: “Would you like a lentil soup or a spinach soup?” She feels she is really in charge when she rejects the spinach soup.

Food tricks that failed…

The original French recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of dried herbs de Provence, so I initially incorporated them. A huge mistake. I told Zoe a story how these herbs used to be wonderful purple flowers that grew in France, the country of Ratatouille. Uh-Uh. Does not work. No dried herbs for Zoe and no chopped parsley. It’s good that you can serve some chopped parsley on a side and add it into your own soup.

Any persuasion that incorporates words “nutritious”, “healthy food” or “good for kids”.

Gentle Simplicity tips:

  • Buy in bulk.
  • If you can, choose organic.
  • Environmentally-friendly cooking means working with the ingredients that you have at home, local and seasonal ingredients. Both recipes can be modified to meet those criteria.

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  1. Lovely ideas! My little one’s FAVORITE entree is lentils! Moujendra, to be exact (well, that and pizza ; ). She asked for it for her birthday dinner this year.

    It was the *first* food I ever gave her that was a mixture – and she’s loved it ever since : )


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