Figs and a Fulcrum: Rethinking Balanced Meals for Kids (Week 39, 52 New Foods) October 03 2013, 1 Comment

An unexpected scenario in our kitchen when we decided to try something new: cooking with figs.

Balanced precariously on a block of cheese was a ruddy wooden plank, two stainless steel bowls, a package of unsalted butter and a big batch of freshly picked figs. It was an unlikely scenario in our kitchen—one that I hadn’t expected when we decided to try cooking with figs.

A humble and unassuming basket of figs from a friend’s garden was the catalyst for our food experiment. When they arrived on our doorstop, we couldn’t ignore the signs. A new food for my kids, a relatively unfamiliar one to me, and a hallmark of the season, it seemed only natural to welcome figs to our family table and make it the food of the week in our 52 New Foods Challenge.

So together as a family, we talked about the ways we might like to try figs. I was happy to simply eat them straight from the basket, or tossed in a salad. My husband voted for an Italian-inspired recipe, prosciutto-wrapped figs with a blanket of basil. My son suggested trying them with a familiar favorite, yogurt and honey. My daughter took it up a notch, to a deliciously sinful fig bar recipe reminiscent of her favorite cookies: Fig Newtons. We had our plan, figs four ways.

It was that last recipe that inspired the makeshift scale that was constructed on my kitchen counter. The recipe called for a pound of fresh figs. Without a kitchen scale, how were we to know how many figs to use?

My six-year old son James is studying balance in his first-grade science class this semester—perfectly synchronous timing for our fig conundrum. He started by suggesting that we could just hold a package of butter in one hand and a bowl of figs in the other and guesstimate. But in action he discovered it was harder to decipher the difference between the two sides.

“We could make a scale!” he suggested, surprising even himself. “We need something long and straight for the arms.” He scurried to the garage, with my husband, to source materials for his contraption. The oversized ruler he used in his first try proved to be too flexible, which led him to the sturdy wooden plank. A block of cheese from our fridge served as the fulcrum. With the package of butter on one side, he started adding figs to the other—one by one—until he achieved the balance he was seeking. About 14 figs.

Google could have easily answered our question. Or I could have just bought a basic kitchen scale. But those solutions would have lessened the learning that was at hand. By letting James experiment, and figure out a solution for himself, he had the opportunity to learn much more than how many figs are in a pound. He exercised his creativity in coming up with a solution, constrained by the materials at hand. He encountered failure (albeit a small one) and modified his method to find a new path, instead of just giving up. He worked persistently to find a solution and felt satisfied with himself at the end—a much different kind of satisfaction than the one he would have felt with a set of search results.

Yes, searching for the answer on Google would have been faster, easier, simpler. But like so many things in our 52 New Foods Challenge, the journey is about so much more than the destination.

A mother of two, Jennifer Tyler Lee is the creator of the award-winning healthy eating game, Crunch a Color®, and author of the upcoming book, The 52 New Foods Challenge (Penguin/Avery 2014), a week-by-week playbook to get your family eating healthy, one new food at a time. Like most parents, she struggled to get her kids to eat healthy, balanced meals, so she decided to make it into a healthy eating game and she’s giving back to support non-profit kids’ nutrition programs. Winner of the Dr. Toy and Parent Tested, Parent Approved awards, Crunch a Color® has been featured by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Rachael Ray's Yum-O!, Laurie David’s Family Dinner, Kiwi Magazine, Dr. Greene, and Yum Food & Fun For Kids, among many others, as a simple, fun and playful way to get kids to eat healthy and try new foods. Jennifer’s passion is making mealtime fun and healthy for busy families. Her easy recipes, quick tips, and new food adventures are regularly featured at Pottery Barn Kids, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, The Huffington Post, and on her weekly recipe blog at