New Year Wishes

A favorite Tết custom of Vietnamese children all over is the giving of lì xì (lucky red envelopes containing money).  I have fond memories of giving my elder relatives and family friends traditional Tết greetings and then receiving lì xì in return.  I feel like a bit of a slacker parent on Vietnamese traditions as we’ve never really done this with Marcus.  Part of the difficulty is that we don’t live close to my family and have only been able to celebrate Tết with them in NC once (when Marcus was too young to remember).  Well, we finally got with the program.

Last weekend, we went with my friend D and her family to a local Tết festival.  The boys got dressed up in their finery and got to eat different Vietnamese foods, mill about with hundreds of Vietnamese people hawking various foods and wares, and watch some music performances and dragon dancing.  Marcus loves xôi (sticky rice), but Gavin wouldn’t try it.  Both boys loved the múa lân (dragon dance). Marcus and Gavin were coming down with colds, so they weren’t in the best of moods and we didn’t end up staying very long.  Some pics from the festival:

Truth be told, I think the festival was a little loud and overwhelming for the boys.  They were a lot happier once we got back home.

Yesterday we called my parents (out visiting our family in CA) so that the boys could wish them and our family a happy new year.  Marcus’ kept saying “Happy chúc mừng năm mới!” (which technically is “happy happy new year”) and Gavin was a total phone hog, grabbing the phone constantly and garbling out some crazy syllables that ended with “măm mới” (which technically, I think, is “new tray” or something like that).  Ha!

Then we got to the lì xì.  I had explained to Marcus that he would be getting the little red envelope of money after giving me and his dad some wishes for a happy new year just like in his Ten Mice for Tet book.  Now common wishes for Tết include things like long life, health, happiness, security, prosperity, success, etc.

Me:  Ok, Marcus.  What do you want to wish Mommy and Daddy for the New Year?

Marcus:  Uh, a rice cake.

Me (pause):  Thanks, honey.  Is there anything else you’d like to wish us for the New Year?

Marcus:  Um . . . I don’t know.

Me:  Well, what do you think Mommy and Daddy would want if we could have anything in the whole wide world?

Marcus (without hesitation): A COPY MACHINE!

I thought this was particularly hilarious.  I only found out later that he actually had said “a coffee machine!”  So while not as funny as I’d originally thought, Marcus is pretty darn observant.  At least where his daddy and coffee/espresso machines are concerned.


Growing boy

Adam took the day off from work today to take Marcus to his pediatrician for his 4-year check up today.  We’ve been worried about Marcus’ picky eating and extreme aversion to most veggies and fruits.

I guess we should try to relax a little.  His doctor said that Marcus is doing fine.  He’s in the 95th percentile for height and the 90th percentile for weight.  I still don’t like how he refuses fruits/veggies either on principle or on the mistaken belief that I’m trying to kill him.  But I guess we’ll keep moving forward with our general strategies: (1) don’t force food on him; (2) involve him in cooking; (3) make trying new foods fun and adventurous; and (4) keep our fingers crossed.  We’re totally guilty of tying dessert to mealtimes.  I know you’re not supposed to do it, but how am I expected to say, “Sure, have a cookie even though you’ve eaten only two bites of your dinner”?  Well, at least his eating habits haven’t stunted his growth.  Yet.

Oh, and poor kid had to get a flu shot.  Ouch!

Ice cream (fro yo) makes everything better though.

Miso happy!

Picky eating triumph tonight for our family dinner!  Marcus helped me make miso salmon, and he gobbled it up.  He also ate some zucchini that we broiled along with the salmon (without gagging!) and a plain brown rice onigiri.  Easy and fun to cook, and healthy to boot.  Booyah!

Cutting up some “zucchini moons.”

Painting the miso glaze on salmon and zucchini.

“Me so love miso salmon! And zucchini! And onigiri!”
(“And me so needs a haircut!”)

Sadly, Gavin was not as impressed.
(“Me so needs a haircut too…”)

Recipe below, with kid-friendly steps, based on a Cooking Light recipe that we’ve made for years now.

Miso Salmon


1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons white miso paste
1 pound salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick, skin-on is fine)
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch thick rounds or half-moons
Aluminum foil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives


1. Preheat broiler. Cover a shallow pan with aluminum foil.

2. Combine first 4 ingredients in a small bowl and have child stir well with a whisk.

3. Arrange salmon skin-side down in center of pan, then allow child to arrange zucchini around it. Have child “paint” the salmon and zucchini moons with the miso glaze.

4. Broil the salmon and zucchini for 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork, basting the fish and veggies twice more with the miso glaze.

5. Because you don’t use cooking spray, the salmon skin will stick to the aluminum. I use a thin spatula to slide the salmon right off of its skin and onto a platter. Sprinkle with chives and serve!

Picky eater extraordinaire

Marcus once was a chubby little bubby.  At his 15-month appointment, he weighed in at over 29 lbs (Gavin was about 2 lbs less at the same age, and he’s no skinny mini).  Marcus’ adorable little fat rolls were due in large part to his very healthy appetite. The boy would scarf everything from chicken parmigiana to bibimbap.  If we ate it, he would too.  In fact, he’d get downright ornery if we didn’t share.  It was so awesome to be parents of one of those kids that just eats and enjoys everything.  At least for a little while.

When Marcus hit the 18-month mark, he morphed into Mr. Independent Toddler.  He tried to exert his will with regard to just about everything although with varying degrees of success (given that we were bigger than him).  But food was one of the few areas where he was in the captain’s seat.  If he didn’t want to eat something, there was nothing we could do.  It was a rookie parenting mistake on our part to let him see how much that bothered us.  Marcus wielded his new found power of refusal like a light saber, cutting us to the quick and trimming off his delicious baby fat.  He refused new foods, he refused foods he’d eaten before, then he refused what once were favorite foods.  At one point, Marcus wouldn’t even eat macaroni and cheese (which I thought was the standby of picky eaters across America) and actually gagged on watermelon.  I mean, seriously.  Who gags on watermelon?  It got to the point where Marcus would only eat chicken, bananas, yogurt, string cheese, and sometimes rice.  He refused pasta, potatoes, all fruits other than bananas and sometimes the random kiwi, and all vegetables.  I started drinking heavily the day he refused to eat a banana.  (Well, I should’ve anyway.)

Supposedly picky eating is pretty common, but it certainly didn’t seem like it.  One friend claimed, as I watched her son happily gnawing on tomato wedges and other vitamin-filled vegetables, “Oh, my son is picky too!  He won’t eat . . . chicken.”  Um, chicken is just about the only thing my son will eat.  Around another friend’s son we had to spell out fruit names during mealtimes.  If we forgot and mentioned “blueberries” in conversation, he’d stop eating and demand instant fruit gratification.  “Please.  Shoot.  Me.” I would think.  And then there were the countless books, cookbooks, and blogs that I’d read whose authors all had kids that seemed naturally more open to trying and eating different foods.  I bet their kids never gagged on watermelon or thought that their mom was trying to poison them with macaroni and cheese.

Picky eating is like childbirth.  You have to go through it to understand it.  You can’t explain the pain of having a picky eater to someone who has never had one.  You can’t express the feelings of frustration, anger, depression, helplessness, and guilt that pummel you as you watch your child time and time again refuse to eat food that you’ve lovingly prepared for him, food that you know he would like if he would just try it, food that he needs for his body and mind to grow strong.  All you can do is give him a good multivitamin, try your best to expand his palate without treading on his precious independence or creating psychological problems for him down the road, and grit your teeth when faced with non-picky eaters and their lucky parents.

All that being said, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  With Marcus turning 4 this November, it has been an incredibly long and dark tunnel, but I think we finally are nearing the other side.  After much trial and error (and we’ve tried just about everything under the sun), Marcus is trying and eating more foods, including veggies and fruits.  He gradually is expanding his palate at a rate that he’s comfortable with.  I think our success in helping Marcus overcome his food phobia is due in large part to two things:

  1. Having Marcus attend a preschool where he eats a school-provided breakfast and lunch with his peers.  It’s nice to be able to control what goes into your kid’s lunchbox, but that’s useless if your kid doesn’t ever eat it.  Marcus is more likely to try a new food if all of his friends are eating the exact same thing.
  2. Cooking “family dinners” with Marcus.  We recently moved to the ‘burbs and now have a spacious kitchen that is more conducive to cooking with kids.  Marcus loves to cut vegetables, taste and add ingredients, stir the pot, etc.  He’s inordinately proud of the meals he cooks and usually eats a good portion too.

We also found this 5-part series on picky eating from Raise Healthy Eaters very helpful.  It’s the most comprehensive guidance that I’ve seen that takes into account the fact that kids have different eating personalities.  Some kids are naturally enthusiastic eaters, some are more cautious, and then there are others who are ultra-cautious.  Eating strategies that work for one kid may not necessarily work for another.  (I’ve got my fingers crossed that Gavin continues to be an Enthusiastic Eater, but I know not to count my chickens before they hatch.  He’s only 16 months old, so we’re still happily in the I-will-scream-if-I-can’t-shovel-that-into-my-face phase.)

Manic Monday

Marcus always gets to pick a song or two for me (or sometimes his Daddy) to sing before he goes to bed.  Lately, he’s been stuck on The Bangles’ “Manic Monday.”  I’m not sure how this song even entered the rotation, but he can’t get enough of it.  I tried to weasel out of it the other night by saying I had forgotten the words, but he said, “Mom.  Let me help you.  It starts like this.  6 o’clock already, I was just in the middle of a dream.  I was kissing Valentino by a crystal blue Italian stream.  Like that, mama.”  As he wasn’t letting me off the hook, I figured I should at least alter the lyrics so that he doesn’t raise too many eyebrows at school.

6 o’clock already, I was just in the middle of a dream
I was kissin’ Valentina by a crystal blue Italian stream
But I can’t be late, cuz then I guess I just won’t get paid
These are the days when you wish your bed was already made


Have to catch an early bus, have to be to school by 9
But if I had an airplane, I still wouldn’t be there on time
‘Cuz it takes me so long just to figure out what I’m gonna wear
Blame it on the bus, but the teacher’s already there


I omit the ‘bedroom voice’ verse entirely.  Otherwise…

Marcus at school comic