Barley and squash "risotto"

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Friends, lets talk about when your toddlers refuse to eat (and the blinding rage that sometimes ensues!). Despite my best efforts, this happens to us frequently (the hunger strikes, not necessarily the rage). I work HARD not to take it personally because I know it's developmentally appropriate (oral stage, individuation, changing taste buds, yadda yadda yadda). One thing I can say with certainty is that it always passes. This is our basic game plan, which we stick to, but not rigidly:

1) If he's hungry, he'll eat. Most of the time, we let him determine how much he wants. We encourage him a little if he says "all done" after two bites because sometimes he's referring to the high chair and not the food. I'm not particularly good at recognizing my own hunger/satiety cues, so I want to help M be more attuned to his body.

2) Push the veggies and protein, especially when your kids are most hungry. M is a morning eater and tends to gobble up whatever we put in front of him before 11 am, so I pack that meal with as much goodness as possible. Similarly, I offer him some veg, some protein, and some good fat in all of his meals. It's much easier to get him to eat fruit and grains, so I don't push those: They end up eaten anyway. 

3) Don't "hide" veggies, cook with them. Find the happy medium with more nutritious food. I agree with folks like Amy Palanjian from Yummy Toddler Food about not "hiding" veggies. But that doesn't mean you have to serve your kids a head of steamed broccoli and call it a day. Conversely, all veggies don't have to be smothered with chocolate or cheese. If you're making a grilled cheese, throw in some spinach and tell them that it's in there.

4) Don't become a line cook. In other words, if your kid is refusing to eat, don't twist yourself into knots preparing something else. This is the hardest to stick to and probably the least rigid of our rules, especially because M is under 2.  His tastebuds are legitimately changing, so what tasted great one day, may actually taste different the next. If he's eaten well at his other meals, we don't sweat a small dinner. Another strategy we use is, instead of making him something entirely new, we'll add a pouch or piece of toast with almond butter while encouraging him to take a few bites of the rejected food. Sometimes he refuses to eat because he's tired or too hungry and a few bites of something familiar can help him calm down and eat the other food too.

All of that to say, the first few times I made this "risotto" M loved it, until last night when he acted like I had made RANCID barley and squash risotto. I assure you, this dish is delicious and though there are a few steps, they can be done simultaneously, so it's less effort than most risotto dishes. And there's barely any stirring!

I used Kabocha squash, which has a creamier consistency when roasted than butternut or delicata squashes and a thicker texture than the pumpkin or acorn varieties. But feel free to swap in any squash you can find in your store or have on hand. Also swap in spinach or any other greens for the kale, and/or turkey, chicken, or beef for the pork sausage. I wouldn't recommend adding fish to this guy, but serving a veggie version alongside a piece of fish would be great. Last note: I used hulled barley instead of pearled barley, which is the browner of the two in the bulk bins of your Whole Foods. It takes longer to cook, but is more nutritious if you don't mind the extra cooking time. 

Barley and squash risotto

3 cups water
1 cup hulled barley
2 cups chicken stock
½-1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped into pieces
1 cup roasted Kombucha squash, about half of a small squash
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz pork sausage, de-cased
2 medium shallot
1 clove garlic
10 fresh sage leaves or ½ tsp dried sage

Combine barley and water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, over low heat until water is absorbed, about 45-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut squash in half and place cut side down on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees for 30- 45 minutes or until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork. Let cool slightly and scoop out 1 cup (or half) of the cooked squash and set aside.

In a separate pan, brown the sausage. When fully cooked, remove and drain on a paper towel and add the shallots and garlic to the pan with the leftover pork fat and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sage and cook until aromatic.

When barley is done, add chicken stock and bring back to a boil. Add chopped kale and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat and add squash, parmesan, salt, and pepper. If the risotto looks too wet, let simmer for a few minutes until enough liquid has evaporated, but remember that the risotto will firm up as it cools. (Basically, you want the mixture to be oozy, but you shouldn’t see any excess liquid.) When ready, add the sausage, sage, onion, and garlic mixture and let heat through. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top.

Yield: About 8 servings, ¾ cup each

Need ideas for using the leftover squash? Try these grain-free waffles but swap in squash for the sweet potato.