The rite of parental passage – better known as parent-teacher conferences – began for us last week. Like parents all around the globe, we dutifully assumed position in our “little kid” chairs, anxious smiles on faces, uncomfortable angles in knees and awaited news of our daughter’s progress year-to-date.
Here’s how ours went. We met with both of Talia’s core teachers – French and English. We breezed through the obligatory math, science, english and french evaluations without issue. And then we got down to business.
We headed straight for the topic of food. Yes, leave it to the French to include culinary observations and thoughtful food discussion in parent-teacher meetings…
Our culinary banter went something like this:
Teacher, “Talia est un carnivore.”
Teacher, “Talia aime sa viande (meat)…sa poulet (chicken)… sa boeuf (beef)…sa canard (duck)! Toute sa viande!”
Us (as the surprise of said topic and discussion faded) “Mais oui, elle adore sa viande.”
Teacher, “Pas ses légumes, mais elle adore sa viande (est ses desserts, aussi)!”
And so it was said by the teachers and acknowledged by us. Our eldest child prefers her meat over her vegetables. And she’s partial to dessert too. I guess that’s typical for most children, but I’ll admit to being a tad unsettled.
With meals, I’ve always tried to provide balance and opportunity… but Talia loves her meat. So even decent meals at home and a 5-course French school menu (see below for yesterday’s lunch) haven’t persuaded my self-proclaimed carnivore to venture too far into veggie land …
Entrée - Salade mache
Plat principal – Steak haché
Accompagnement - Gratin de brocolis
Produit latier (milk) – Emmental
Dessert – Mousse au chocolat
All of this being said, and as a veggie lover myself, I left the meeting feeling a mix of motherly guilt, shame and determination. Time to focus on vegetable-rich dinners. Ones that may (or may not) indulge Talia’s carnivorous taste buds – but ones that would re-up the balance of our food pyramid and simultaneously delight my daughter.
This lentil-quinoa stew is where I chose to start. I figured a hearty, thick soup (with a few pieces of chicken and bacon thrown in) would pass muster with Talia. An added bonus? My son loves him some lentils. So this was at least worth a try.
My experiment actually started off as a lentil soup, but I figured I’d throw in some quinoa for added texture and protein. And I thought the chicken/bacon combo would be met with equal amounts of enthusiasm. So this ended up more like a stew than a soup.
One of my biggest concerns was that it is difficult to make lentil soup look good. Let’s face it, convincing two kids to eat a bowl of food that looks like something the dog regurgitated is a tough sell. On any day. But the smell of the leeks, carrots, celery and onion cooking on the stove top was magnificent. And on a cold winter’s eve a warm bowl of stew with a piece of fresh baguette (and a glass of wine for the grown ups) warms the soul like nothing else. Neither child complained. In fact, Ozzie went in for seconds…. Perhaps one day, Talia will too.
For the Lentil-Quinoa Stew (Serves 4-5):
2 tbsp Olive oil
1 large Onion, sliced
2 Sticks celery, sliced
2 Carrots, sliced
2 Leeks, sliced
2-3 Handfuls of Baby spinach
150 grams Green lentils
100 grams Quinoa (I used red)
4-6 Garlic cloves
1-2 Tbsp Tomato paste
2 1/2 Pints/1.2 Liters Chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 Tbsp/30ml (or to taste) Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 cup/200-300 grams Shredded Chicken**
~1/2 cup/100 grams Bacon lardons**
Salt and pepper, to taste
Optional: Crème fraîche to garnish
**The addition of meat is certainly optional. This dish is just as hearty and tasty without it.
For the Stew: Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion, celery, carrots and leek. Cook over low heat for roughly 5 minutes, until soft (but not browned). Stir in the lentils and the quinoa, cloves, tomato paste and stock.
Bring to a boil and simmer gently for roughly 20-25 minutes, until the lentils are tender.
While the lentils and stock are cooking, brown the bacon and drain on a paper towel.
Whiz the stew in a blender, or use a hand-blender, until desired consistency. Add the spinach leaves. Add bacon and chicken if using. Reheat and add in the seasonings to taste. Serve in mugs or bowls with some crème fraîche available on the side.
I let the kids add their own crème fraîche as it helped secure that initial buy-in necessary for the first bite. Once the first bite was taken, they were sold.
This is a perfect weekend lunch or light dinner; served with a green salad and some fresh bread.