This section is from the book "Mrs. Allen's Cook Book", by Mrs. Ida C. Bailey Allen. See also: The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat.
There is no part of household economy so generally neglected as the children's meals, particularly from the time when liquid diet is supplanted by solid food up to the beginning of school days. When a seedling is first set in the earth, it is carefully shielded from the hot rays of the sun and watered regularly till the roots are well grounded. Then the shield is removed and gradually the plant grows, until, with proper care, it reaches perfection. The way of children is the same; when the little one is weaned and taught to eat solid food - up to maturity - his diet needs supervision; but the first six years, great formative period of health, are the most critical of all, for just as the plant wilts in the hot sun and shrivels, from lack of water, so may the little child fade if the correct diet is not provided.
As children grow irregularly they demand, at different periods, various kinds of food for building purposes - yet at all times enough of each element must be provided to insure the even growth of all parts of the body. Up to the age of eighteen months, the child has eaten little except milk, bits of stale bread, some hard crackers, a morsel of rice, a little beef juice, or, occasionally, part of an egg and some orange juice. He has not been particularly active and, therefore, has demanded little starch, the milk-sugar, with starch from bread, sufficing to meet his need, as he is occupied with the business of growing. He now commences to be more active, both bodily and mentally, and needs more starch, or activity-making food, to replace the energy he so freely gives off. This is best supplied in the form of cereal or bread. At the same time the pliable little bones are withstanding great weight in proportion to their strength and need foods that make them firm and well-formed. Minerals are the elements needed and, for the convenience of the mother and the digestion of the child, they may be provided under the great head, cereals. Not the ordinary, steam-cooked, predigested article of commerce, but the well-prepared, old-fashioned, undenatured cereal. Mush, made from the whole corn, heart and all, brown rice, not polished with talc, oatmeal, whole wheat mush, made from the entire grain - these are the cereals that make blood and bone, brain and brawn, because they contain all the wholesomeness of Mother Earth. They include more than minerals for bone and starch for energy; they include, as analysis shows, a goodly percentage of protein for tissue building. But in themselves they are not a perfect food for they lack fat, the great element which gives to the body reserve force, needed in stress of disease - that is why they are always combined with good milk or light cream. As they are rich in starch they should not be served with sugar, since that gives to the body too much carbohydrate.
Up to the time the child is six months old, Nature has not provided a specific digestive juice to act upon any carbohydrate other than milk-sugar. Why, then, when a child begins to run about, should his system be sated with sweets when it is not necessary to growth? Babies of two years and less cry for candy, children, not old enough to differentiate in flavors, demand sugar on their cereal; this is abnormal, the latent sugars in fruits, breads, healthful crackers and cookies being sufficient for the need. A child will not know what candy is unless taught, and if adoring relatives are instructed that no sweets or other foods are to be given, other than those in his dietary, he will always be ready for his meals and can digest them properly.
As he can eat but a small amount at a time, he should be fed often, needing five feedings a day, from eighteen months up to two years and a half, and four from two and a half up to three and a half years. He is then ready to go on a three-meal ration, though, if he shows a tendency to be hungry between times, it is far better to establish a regular period for the luncheon than to allow promiscuous nibbling.
The ideal way to feed children is away from the family table, a suitable meal being provided for them. A low nursery table and chairs of kindergarten height are often used for this purpose, lending a note of comfort and "grown-up" air to meal-time that always has a good effect. In the average American home where little help is kept this is not usually practicable as it entails extra work for the mother. It may be adopted, however, at supper-time in order to observe an early bed hour.
As children always want exactly what grown-ups have, it is difficult to feed them a strict ration, unless the elders of the family are willing to sacrifice so that the children will not see rich and tempting foods. The mother must also be clever enough to know the value of substitution. Every small boy will tease for coffee, "just like daddy," and it will often be given him before he is three, the mother never realizing that she is fostering nervousness and a necessity for artificial stimulation. The child should not be allowed to taste tea or coffee, being given, instead, a cup "like father's," full of "cambric tea," or brown bread coffee slightly sweetened, and, knowing no difference, he will be contented and happy. Make the child's food look as much like the family's as possible.
He should not be asked what he wants to eat, as his taste is undeveloped and he always wants an impossibility. He should be taught to eat anything placed before him, provided care is taken not to serve too much, or he will overeat. From the first he should be trained to chew his food well, or he will eat too fast; moreover, children should not be left alone at meals, for the same reason. A grown person should always be at hand to watch and to carry on conversation, thus interrupting the business of eating with frequent rests. Another reason children eat too fast is because food is too fully prepared, nothing being left for them to do but eat it. When a child is old enough to sit at the table, he is old enough to be taught good manners and self-help.
As it is one of the great essentials of the diet, water should be given from birth, but as the child is liable to use it to "wash down" food, it is not a wise plan to serve it at meals. Better give him a drink the first thing in the morning, also in the mid-morning and afternoon, and an hour after every meal. If he asks for more, he should be given as much as he craves.
In giving children liquids at meal-time, it should be borne in mind that most of them are foods and should be treated as such in the dietary. Milk, for instance, is a protein food and, if it accompanies a meal, the amount of meat or eggs served should be cut down proportionately, as, otherwise, the meal will not balance. When cocoa is provided, it should be considered both a starch (from the cocoa) and a protein (from the milk) and therefore treated as a factor in the meal. It is a heavy food and, taken in excess, sometimes clogs the kidneys. Therefore, it is not a wise breakfast drink, being better suited to an occasional mid-afternoon lunch or supper.
From the first, Nature provides for the child a' balanced ration. Later, it behooves the mother to plan food as nearly balanced as she gives the older members of the family. Whereas it is true that the child has little taste developed, he often rebels at monotony. Often, the necessary, every-day foods may be provided in a new guise, soft gingerbread cookies, in animal shapes, bread as a V bread man" and "eggs in a nest," instead of boiled, are all good examples of the way the same food may be served in different ways. The basis of every meal for the child should be a protein, a starch, or two, a fat, and minerals. It is best to limit the portions according to the age of the child. From a year and a half to two years and a half the day's menus may be planned as follows:
7 a. m. Fresh milk, half a cup; the yolk of a slightly boiled egg, one or two thin slices of entire wheat bread and butter.
11 a.m. A scant half cup of milk and a graham cracker.
5. p. m. One or two thin slices of toast, moistened with hot milk.
This menu may be changed from day to day, two tablespoonfuls of well-cooked cereal with an additional half cup of milk being substituted for the egg in the morning. The juice of half an orange and a thin slice of bread and butter for the eleven o'clock lunch, a tablespoonful of rare, broiled scraped beef, or a small, well-baked potato and a saucer of junket for the broth at noon, while two tablespoonfuls of cereal and rich milk could be used at night. If the child is inclined to be constipated, a tablespoonful of steamed prunes, or figs, unsweetened, may be sifted and fed at one meal of the day. This, with a little orange juice, and the persistent use of entire-wheat-meal bread will usually overcome any such tendencies.
From two and a half up to three years the diet may be gradually increased; the succeeding menus show how this change may be affected.
II a.m. A cupful of beef, chicken, or mutton broth with a whole wheat cracker.
2 p. m. A small slice of rare roast beef or mutton (a heaping tablespoonful cut up), a small baked potato, mashed and served with cream or dish gravy, a thin slice of bread, a small saucer of cereal pudding.
5:30 p.m. Whole wheat crackers and milk and soft ginger cookies.
For breakfast an undenatured cereal with cream may replace the egg, for variety. In case this is done, the egg may be used at supper. The eleven o'clock lunch should not be eaten unless the child is really hungry. At noon a little finely divided steak, chop, chicken, or turkey may be used instead of the beef, but no game, pork, veal, or fried meats should be allowed.
From three and a half years up to six the diet may be increased; from then on he will assume the general family diet. It will be unnecessary to watch quantities closely, as, if normal, the child's appetite is a fair guide and he will not overeat if taught to masticate each mouthful thoroughly. The following menus show a variety of correct combinations.
Cereal with light cream; entire wheat bread and butter; a choice of eggs lightly boiled, poached or scrambled, varied occasionally by a little well-boiled ham or baked bacon or a few creamed oysters or oyster stew. Fresh fruit should never be eaten at breakfast, as the acid is liable to combine with the starch of the cereal causing gas to form. However, it may be used as a mid-morning luncheon, ripe peaches, pears and cantaloupes, seeded grapes and oranges being suitable; bananas should never be used unless baked.
A half cup of clear soup, broth, or bouillon, beef, turkey, chicken or mutton, roasted or broiled, or a small quantity of broiled fish; entire-wheat-meal bread and butter, a choice of baked potatoes, boiled brown rice or buttered spaghetti, and one of the following vegetables: stewed celery, stewed spinach, fresh peas, fresh string beans, lettuce, or any salad green or fresh celery. For dessert, fruit, gelatine, junkets, cereal puddings, baked custards or plain cream or water ices are permissible.
Supper varies greatly with the season of the year. In winter nothing is more welcome than a simple milk soup, with buttered entire-wheat-meal toast, fresh or stewed fruit, and a slice of sponge cake a day old, or a soft ginger or sugar cookie. If eggs are not used at breakfast time, they may appear at supper, while a dish of wheat cereal and a glass of milk or cocoa and a baked apple may often be sufficient. In the summertime great care should be taken not to feed the child heating food at night, therefore, the best supper is really fresh milk with stale bread or crackers and a soft cookie. In case the child seems to need more nourishment, a well-beaten egg may be added to the milk and served as an egg-nog, while cereal (preferably undenatured), cooked with dates or figs, may be moulded and served cold with a little sugar or light cream. It should be remembered that when cereals are served at supper the same rule applies as at breakfast - fresh fruit should not accompany them. The usual stewed fruit may be varied in many ways, fruit whips, boiled apples, lightly spiced prunes, dates flavored with orange juice and steamed figs, offering a change. Often, a supper otherwise deficient in protein may be balanced by the addition of a baked custard containing eggs. It must be kept in mind that none of these meals will balance unless whole-wheat-meal bread and undenatured cereals are always used to supply the necessary mineral. They also accomplish another great mission, that of regulating the bowels through bulk.
In case the child refuses to eat, do not force him against his will, but examine his mouth, which may be sore from cutting teeth, and make sure that his digestive organs and bowels are active. Again, the food may not be well-cooked and flavored, as the majority of cooks think that anything will do for a child. If he is simply irritable and cross, take the food away and do not offer it again until the next meal.