Posts Tagged ‘ cookbook Q&A ’

Dinner in 30 Minutes: Fat Chance?

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Healthy and quick have always seemed to be on different playing fields when it comes to dinner. But pediatrician and dad of two Robert Lustig, M.D., has spent 16 years trying to change that—all while treating childhood obesity and studying the effects of sugar on the body. In his latest book, The Fat Chance Cookbook, he provides more than 100 delicious and wholesome meals for families to prepare in 30 minutes or less. Still not convinced? Every recipe was vetted by high school students in home economics classes—if they can do it, so can you!

Dr. Lustig recently shared his secrets for cutting sugar in baked goods and convincing kids to eat spinach.

The main premise of the book is that not all calories are created equal. Can you tell us why that’s so important?

It goes without saying that 100 calories from a cookie are not equal to 100 calories from spinach. Your body uses and stores fuel—calories—very differently, depending on the quality of those calories.

I’m often dubbed “anti-sugar,” but I hate that. I’m actually anti-processed food. As a society, we are eating too much processed food, which contains a lot of added sugar to make it more palatable. Most of us are not consuming enough real food, which has fiber to balance its natural sugar content. We are way over the threshold on sugar and need to return to real, fresh food.

I highly recommend the TED-Ed series on hidden sugars and the food industry called Hiding in Plain Sight. It delves into the larger issues and helps parents make better decisions while grocery shopping.

What do you think is the root cause of the childhood obesity epidemic?

We are consuming all the wrong things. We need more fiber, more Omega-3 fatty acids, more micronutrients, less sugar, no trans fats. I remember when sugar used to be a condiment, not a dietary staple. It’s okay for sugar to flavor food, but not be your food. With this cookbook, my message is that you can prepare real food fast. And not one recipe includes processed ingredients.

If parents aren’t counting calories, what should they be doing?

Look at labels. More importantly, buy food without labels like fresh produce. Then determine how much added sugar or trans fats there are in the labeled foods you’re purchasing. Look for sugar hiding behind one of 56 pseudonyms like corn syrup, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose; the list goes on and on.

Be wary of health claims on the front of your favorite products. The rules governing statements like “hearty-healthy” and “low-fat” are bizzare and less strict than you’d think. Typically, if there’s a health claim on an item, you should probably ignore it and check its nutritional value and ingredients list.

Understand that real food has the answers: the fiber in your apple balances its natural sugar content. Use whole, fresh ingredients and everything improves.

Okay, so how does a busy family get a wholesome dinner on the table while running to sports games, after-school clubs, and PTA meetings?

I know exactly where parents are coming from. I have two girls, a 14-year-old and an 8-year-old, so we shuffle between soccer practice and debate team. We’re always running, but somehow my wife or I find a way to get a real-food dinner on the table every night.

Our trick: stocking the pantry and freezer. I keep a lot of options in my freezer, including chicken breasts and steak. Don’t be afraid of weekend prep. It saves so much time to cook something up, store and save it, or even freeze it for later.

Cindy Gershen, who developed the recipes in the cookbook, is stellar at using leftovers. Because of her, we were able to include tips for how to do that in the book.

What are the first few steps to make toward a better family diet?

You have to build it in slowly. It takes forethought, planning, and trips to the supermarket. It takes a little time, but it doesn’t take a lot of time. Plus, it’s typically cheaper! Start by simply planning a week’s worth of meals ahead of time and prepping a few sides over the weekend.


Which recipes are best to start with?

My favorite weeknight recipes are Quinoa and Black Bean Burrito Bowl (page 214), Brown Rice with Lime and Cilantro (page 225), and Joe’s Scramble (with homemade sausage, green onion, mushrooms, spinach, and parmesan cheese; page 142). Some may sound lengthy, but the active time of every recipe is 30 minutes or less.

And my overall favorite recipe in the book is Polenta Patties with Sautéed Greens, Poached Eggs, and Basil Salsa (page 143). But that’s more for weekend brunch, and it’s slightly elaborate.

Temptation can be hard to battle. Do you ever treat yourself?

My wife loves to bake, but when she does, she cuts the sugar in every recipe by a third. That sounds crazy but it works, and it tastes better! Without being sickeningly sweet, you can taste the other ingredients like nuts and dried fruit.

Our anniversary is coming up and we’re going to a French restaurant. We’ll definitely have dessert and we’ve planned for it: we haven’t had dessert all week!

My kids know that on weekdays dessert is a piece of fruit. If it’s the weekend, then we’ll talk about treats. And the thing is, it doesn’t bother them. They don’t feel like they’re missing anything.

Growing up, were your kids ever picky about fruits, veggies, or other healthy options? How did you work around it?

Of course they were picky. I just had to keep at it. Sure, it’s a pain to keep serving up spinach, but you have no choice. It can take 13 tastes of one savory item before a toddler will like it. Sweets only need introducing once.

But don’t give in! The problem perpetuates when people opt for the easy answer: letting their kids eat refined carbs. Then those same kids become picky eaters who won’t eat anything but processed food.

Putting the effort in is hard, finding the time and where-with-all is hard, but life is hard and raising kids is hard! In the end, it’s all worth it.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

Images: Mother and happy child via Shutterstock, The Fat Chance Cookbook cover courtesy of Hudson Street Press, Healthy and unhealthy food on scale via Shutterstock.

Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

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Eating in Color: Helping Kids Love Fruits and Vegetables

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014


Frances Largeman-Roth is a registered dietician, author of four cookbooks, and a mom of two—with a third on the way. A health expert who has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN, and the Today Show, she has helped thousands of women find the best foods during pregnancy, lose weight the right way, and incorporate healthier meals into their lives. Her latest book, Eating in Color, hits bookstores this month so we asked her how to add pops of color to our dinner plates and why it’s so important.

This book is entirely about fruits and vegetables—when they’re in season, how to choose them, how to store them, and, of course, how to use them. I have to ask: which is your favorite?

Mangos! When I spent a semester abroad in Australia, I learned how to cut them properly and incorporate them into many dishes. There are two seasons there: fall/winter and spring/summer, so you get different varieties.

You write about a study that found only 30 percent of Americans are getting the recommended 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit each day. Why is improving this statistic important to you?

My father passed away when I was 12. He had all the things that we now understand as warning signs for heart disease and diabetes. We just didn’t know it at the time. Growing up we ate fruits and vegetables, but with my mom’s German background there was also a lot of cured meats and pastries. Now that I’m a parent I understand that moms and dads are super busy, aren’t getting enough sleep, and are more stressed than ever. Because of that, convenience often outweighs nutrition. But this book is about eating better in a fun and visual way.

Tell us more about the five rules you created: eat color often, don’t be monochrome, go outside your comfort zone, make dates with your kitchen, and exercise.

I wanted to explain to readers how they can actually attain this lifestyle and not just admire beautiful images of fruits and veggies. I wanted to connect the message and explain the execution. Sure, everyone is crazy about kale right now, but you can’t just rely on that one super-healthy thing. Plus, trying new things is essential to your health. We all get stuck in ruts with the same go-to recipes or takeout dishes. Pushing out of your comfort zone, though it may take more time and planning, is worth it! And eventually a new recipe will become part of your repertoire. And getting active just has to be part of it.

You describe nutrition not just as a career choice but a life path. How can families make this a priority in their life while balancing their often-crazy schedules?

When you’re rushing home from work to pick up your kids to then rush home to cook something up for them, it’s easy to rely on processed food. But if you can spend time in the morning or on Sunday, you can make so much happen! Simply put it into your calendar to “chop veggies.”

A trip to a farmers market is a great way to get inspired and it’s really fun for your kids. It exposes them to new sights and tastes. You can do something similar at the grocery store because there’s always something new in season. Just the other day I saw a beautiful dragon fruit that turned into an entire lesson: I asked my daughter where it came from, what color it would be inside, how the rough and scaly texture looked and felt. The bottom line: What kid wouldn’t want to try a super-bright pink fruit? This is such an easy way to dive in.

When your daughter Willa was learning colors in school, you offered her “reds, oranges, and greens” instead of “beets, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.” How did changing your food vocabulary help?

It sounds like such a small idea, but it made everything much less frustrating at the dinner table. I completely understand that from the parents’ perspective, trying to get your child to try one item 15 to 20 times is just too many. By the tenth try, you’ve wasted too much food and energy. Instead, go into it with a no-stress mentality. Just put a new food on the table and see what happens. Remember: sometimes kids are simply exerting independence when they are picky about dinner. If you take the pressure off both them and yourself, much of it can be resolved. This doesn’t mean your kids will eat and love everything, but it helps them try new things.

I like to display fruits and veggies in little bowls and in compartmental kids’ plates. I often ask them, “How many colors we can get on our plates tonight?” My two can get a bit competitive with each other, which can help on the dinner-table front.


Some families have super-picky eaters. What else can they do to make the introduction of new foods easier or more appealing?

Let your child have some control. During a trip to the farmers market or grocery store, ask him or her to pick out produce by color—one yellow and one red. Depending on your child’s age, have him or her pick out a recipe and then make it with them. I can guarantee that because they had a hand in it, your children will be more willing to try it.

Just remember that it takes patience. Kids can love something one time and hate it the next. (And vice versa.) But don’t ever stop offering! Their tastes are constantly changing. Or, like in my daughter’s case, their siblings can be influential. When she saw her brother eating avocado, she wanted some.

Don’t cater to “kid food.” The more you offer tater tots and chicken nuggets, the less your children will try the other things. I’m a big advocate of the family meal. Sure, you can have back-ups on hand, but you are not a short-order cook.

Your recipes run the gamut from meals, sides, and snacks to drinks and desserts. Why so much variety?

I wanted to show that fruits and vegetables have a place in everything. When I first started working on the book, I made a list of my chapters. I always knew it would be organized by color. So I started asking myself tough questions like “Besides a pie or crumble, what else can I do with rhubarb?” I approached recipes from outside the box.

You also added a black and tan chapter—including grains, seeds, nuts, and oats. (And my favorite: chocolate!) Why are these are just as important?

I think of the black and tan chapter as the items you pair with all of the other colors. It’s your base layer. To me, these items are a great way to bring in a lot of texture to your dishes.

Okay, we want the scoop. What’s your go-to when you’re in a pinch?

We have pasta often because it’s very versatile. I personally like to make roasted veggies on the side. I use whatever’s in season—butternut squash, sugar snap peas, purple onion, baby carrots, zucchini, cherry tomatoes. Creating a mix is best! We always have grated Parmesan in the fridge so a spaghetti dish can be done in 15 minutes.


Interview has been edited and condensed.

Author photo by Quentin Bacon.


To help get your little one on board with fruits and vegetables, Elmo and Murray told Parents their favorite snacks:

Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating

 

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Dinner in a Flash

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Blogger Jessica Fisher is a meal-planning and food-prepping guru. On weekends you’ll find her cooking up a storm, making up to 30 dinners to freeze and then reheat as needed throughout the month. This freezer-cooking method inspired her first book, Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead & Freeze Cookbook, which hit bookstores recently. Fisher also shares tips for managing meals, home, and family on her two websites: LifeasMOM and GoodCheapEats. We asked the mom of six (!) how she gets dinner on the table in a flash so that you can, too.

What inspired you to share your cooking and home-making experiences in a blog?

I have always been a home cook, starting when I was about six or seven years old. My mom let me have free reign in the kitchen, so I was primarily self-taught. Many of my jobs as a teen and in college were food-related, including catering and waiting tables in restaurants. Over time I learned about food, from prepping to eating.

GoodCheapEats is all about food for families: how to get dinner on the table in a timely manner, make it fun for kids, and remain economical. I started it because, at the time, our family was in debt. By cutting back and being smarter about spending and saving, we paid off $18,000 in about a year and a half.

How does freezer-cooking fit in?

When I was pregnant, my friend and I decided to try freezer cooking for the first time. We spent the whole weekend cooking up a bunch of meals, packaging them, and then freezing them. That week, it was incredibly nice to come home and reheat a dish the oven, on the stove, or in the microwave. To have that luxury for a month was totally worth the two days I invested!

That was 17 years ago. Since then, I’ve conducted personal research and it’s been all trial and error. My family is used to my experiments, many of which have led to culinary adventures and memory-making!

You have six children ranging in ages from 5 to 16. How do you manage such a large dinner table while staying on budget?

We typically serve buffet style up at the counter. I will plate for little ones and everyone else serves themselves—it’s so much easier this way.

By planning and cooking everything in advance, the cost-savings are huge. This way, I can buy in bulk and then make a month’s worth of dinners for about $300. That means each meal for eight people costs about $10—that’s a great ratio. Plus, I’ve saved on energy bills from using the stove and other appliances less often.

What other benefits might families see from using the freezer-cooking method?

Saving time, keeping a healthy diet, and having peace of mind. Once I fill my freezer, I don’t have to think about, “What’s for dinner?” until next month. Freezing is my sanity saver. Plus, it saves us from going for fast food when we’re in a pinch—that’s why I always keep burritos or soup in the freezer!

So what exactly can we put in the freezer?

There is so much that can freeze, that it’s more about what can’t: soft cheeses, anything with mayo, deli cheese or meats, and obvious items like salads. The “What Can’t You Freeze?” section of the book goes into more detail.

How does your freezer-cooking method work?

Choose recipes that have common ingredients. When chopping onions for one dish, you’re doing so for multiple dishes—just like a larger commercial kitchen that has a prep cook. Once everything is prepped, you simply put the items together in different ways. This is what cuts down on time and hassle.

To save time, get as many things as you can. I call it getting my “maids” working: my two slow cookers, bread machine, and stock pots on all stove burners. Use the technology at your disposal to help get your timing right.

When you’re ready to freeze, plastic zip-top bags are good options, but I love heavy-duty plastic containers with lids. Just be sure all food cools completely before stowing it away. Chilling dishes in the refrigerator first works well.

Label dates and names clearly, not only for food-safety reasons but also to avoid mistaken identities. One night, my husband thought beef gravy was chocolate ice cream. Yuck! And don’t forget to rotate your stock—all items should be used within two to three months.

So can moms combine pre-made, frozen items with fresh items?

Of course! I highly recommend stir-fries: freeze your choice of protein prepared in a sauce. Then, when you’re reheating, add fresh peppers, onion, and snap peas.

How can moms who’ve never cooked in bulk get started with make-ahead freezer cooking? What are good learning curve tips? What about easy first recipes?

It depends on how comfortable you are with cooking to begin with. If you’re a home cook with a little experience, it can be a smooth transition. If you haven’t cooked from scratch very much, it can be overwhelming.

I always suggest that if you have a favorite meal, start with that. This way, you know your family likes it and you simply make a double or triple batch. If you’re only freezing two meals during your week of cooking, you can experiment with how you package it and how your freezer responds. Then, move on to making short meal plans.

To get started, choose a couple of recipes and just go for it—it takes practice so try, try again. You can’t really lose with the plans in the book, especially because I’ve already made grocery lists for you!

Does this mean mom has to sacrifice her entire weekend cooking to make the weeknights easier?

There are shorter ways to cook in bulk. Sometimes I make several dishes over the course of a few weeknights, after kids are asleep. If you don’t want or need to do a full 30-day prep, it can be as easy as doubling or tripling dinner.

Or try recycling menu plans. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every week. Try having a meatloaf night on Monday, or tacos on Tuesday. That takes the guesswork out of it. With things like pizza, you can vary the toppings each week and keep it healthy with salad and veggie dippers on the side.

Okay, so you had a crazy weekend and your freezer stock is out. What is your go-to recipe during the week?

If worse comes to worse, I always have red sauce frozen and pasta in the cupboard. Having a back-up plan takes the pressure off—because sometimes, we just don’t have the time or energy!

Interview has been edited and condensed.

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Tried-and-True Recipes for Weeknight Dinners

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Most of us have the best of intentions when it comes to putting a healthy, appealing dinner on the table day in and day out. But, finding no-fail recipes can be a challenge. Moms and food editors Kathleen Brennan and Caroline Campion have come to our rescue with their new cookbook Keepers. A collection of quick and easy (but interesting) recipes, the book is also a friendly guide for the beginning cook that promises to reveal the secrets to happiness in the kitchen. 

Q: What is a “keeper”?

A: A keeper is a recipe that you turn to time and again because it’s foolproof, the best of its kind, and a crowd-pleaser. Most people have at least a couple keepers in their repertoire—their mom’s macaroni and cheese, a roast chicken they’ve perfected, a favorite brownie—but we wanted to give families a book filled with weeknight keepers to help them get from Monday to Friday, week after week.  And we paired them with lots of tips and advice to help them become better cooks in general, too.

Q: What are some tips for moms who are just starting to cook for families?

A: Start simple. Master the basics first: a balanced vinaigrette that you can use to dress a simple green salad, warm grains, or leftover roasted vegetables; a basic tomato sauce that you can make almost as quickly as opening a jar of tomato sauce (which generally has added sugar, unpronounceable preservatives, and excessive salt); a turkey chili that you can make ahead and keep warm on the stove on those nights when everybody is eating at different times. Mastering these basics will give you an amazing head start to feeding your family! 

Q: How can cooking at home help families who are on a budget?

A: This is a no-brainer: if you were to spend a week feeding your family a menu of take-out and frozen dinners and then compared the receipts with those from a supermarket shopping list for home-cooked meals (beef stir-fry, turkey tacos, chicken pot pie, pizza with store-bought dough), you would see how much you save by making dinner. Plus, you know EXACTLY what went into the food and chances are it will be healthier and more delicious. But we’re not saying that you shouldn’t ever order in pizza. In fact, we recommend giving yourself one night off from cooking Monday to Friday, whether that means serving pizza, leftovers, sandwiches, whatever.

Q: I love some of your tips, especially “season like you mean it” and “taste your food first”. Why are these so important?

A: There’s nothing worse than spending a ton of time and effort on a meal and then having it taste like sawdust because you forgot to add the salt—yet a very common mistake! And it’s easily avoidable if you taste the dish before you serve it. 

Q: What is your philosophy regarding buying organic?

A: For many families, buying organic is just not in their budget, so we say buy organic when possible, but also when it counts (so organic fruit and vegetables—yes; organic ketchup and Oreos—no). We also think that eating locally can be equally important as eating organically: supporting local farmers and shopping at farmers’ markets.

Q: Is it realistic to think that kids can help cook on a busy weeknight?

A: It depends on a few things: your mood, the kids’ interest, how much time you have. Base it on what works on that particular night. At the very least, maybe they can help set the table, toss the salad, or grate the cheese, so they are involved in the process of getting dinner done but no one is making anyone crazy. But there’s nothing wrong with saving the more involved cooking-together experience for lazy Sundays.

Q: What do you do find is the most challenging part of putting nourishing and appealing meals on the table day in and day out?

A: Probably time and scheduling. We think the best strategy is to try and sketch out a plan of what you’ll be making for the week ahead of time. So if Monday is going to be particularly hectic, plan on making one of our “lay-up” recipes like angel hair pasta with spicy tomato cream sauce, and if on Wednesday you know everyone will be eating at different times—what we call a “staggered” dinnertime—prepare something that holds well on the back of the stove, like our smoky turkey chili or Japanese “meat and potatoes”. If on Thursday night you have a bit more time, then make our roasted chicken breasts with sweet potatoes and kale salad. Another strategy that helps us deal with the week ahead is to try and make a few things on Sunday that you can serve during the week: roasting a few sheet pans of vegetables or making one our “lifesavers”, sauces and dressings such as magic miso-mayo and chimichurri, that keep for several days and make anything taste better, including store-bought rotisserie chicken or leftover grains and veggies. 

Q: Picture this: you’ve just made a healthy, from-scratch meal in 30 minutes. SUCCESS! And then your kids won’t touch a bite. What next?

A: Do not stress—children are unpredictable creatures! One day they will devour an entire plate of your homemade fish fingers and the next time you make the exact same dish they will tell you it “looks different” and refuse to take a bite. You can cajole them all you want—cry, beg, bribe—but once they’ve decided they don’t want something, that’s probably it. Rather than going into short-order cook mode (a habit worth avoiding) and not enjoying the meal ourselves, we say, “This is dinner. Mommy is not making anything else, and I would love for you to try it because I think you will like it.” And if this fails, we do what one experienced mom of grown kids taught us and put bread and sandwich fixings on the table and invite them to make their own sandwich.

Q: What is your goal with this cookbook?

A: There are so many resources these days for people looking for help in the kitchen. You can type the word “chicken breast recipe” into the computer and it will come up with a zillion choices. But how to find one that will actually work, not call for an ingredient you probably don’t have, tastes terrific, and can be ready before the kids start to revolt? It’s often a crapshoot. That’s where Keepers comes in: every recipe is tried-and-true, most can be made in about 35 minutes or less and none call for pricey or exotic ingredients. We share lots of advice about how to stock your pantry, how to shop, season your food, and improve leftovers. It’s meant to be your go-to resource for Monday to Friday dinners, and even better, it’s like having a knowledgeable, but fun friend alongside you in the kitchen. Now if the book could also do the dishes, you’d be all set.

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Chop To It! How To Get Your Kids in the Kitchen

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

After writing more than 21 cookbooks and contributing to numerous national publications, mom-of-two Sally Sampson decided to dedicate her skills to the fight against childhood obesity. In 2010, ChopChop: The Fun Cooking Magazine for Families was born. The quarterly delivers lively food fundamentals for kids (and adults!) to doctors’ offices, schools, and homes across the country. Now, the clever cooking guide is available in book form. ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food With Your Family features more than 100 recipes to get your kids in the kitchen. And if these fun ideas don’t inspire your little ones, Sampson has a few tips that just might do the trick.

ChopChop is dedicated to teaching children cooking skills and healthy eating habits. Why is this mission important to you?

Before I created ChopChop, I was writing cookbooks but didn’t feel that was enough. I knew I could do more than write recipes; I wanted to make a difference. Teaching nutrition and cooking to a child helps her understand that there’s a difference between an apple, apple juice, and apple-flavored products. Then she can make better food choices, and that results in better health. Plus, cooking is such a wonderful way to bond with your kids! I just think it’s the greatest, most important thing.

How did you come up with the name “ChopChop?”

You know, it’s the funniest thing: we spent days and days listing different names and none of them felt right. Then one day I just said, “ChopChop.”And it stuck.

I have to ask—what were the duds?

One of them was “Picnic,” another was “Nosh.” And there were a million versions with “Kids Cooking.” When I look at them now, they really just don’t fit.

How can kids get their hands on a copy?

Subscribe! Or find copies in your pediatrician’s office, hospital, or school. If your school doesn’t have issues available, you can visit our website or call us to set up a classroom subscription. Some schools have even gathered sponsors and created custom editions!

The magazine received the James Beard Foundation Publication of the Year Award for 2013. What was that like?

It was great! It gave us gravitas in the food world—Mark Bittman has written about us in the New York Times, and our readership has close to doubled in subscriptions. As the only kids’ magazine to receive the award, in addition to being a non-profit, we’ve really stood out.

Reviewers have credited the cookbook with teaching their own children math and measurements, science and chemistry through cooking, and nutrition. What other benefits are there to cooking as a family?

It’s such a great way to connect with your child as a parent. In some ways, that’s the most important thing about cooking. It’s creative, fun, and uniting. Food is also a really good way to understand other cultures. When I was growing up, we didn’t eat hummus or salsa. Through cooking together, new foods and tastes feel more familiar.

At what age should parents start bringing kids into the kitchen?

Immediately—it’s never too early! If you have an infant, bring her into the kitchen in her high chair and tell her what you’re feeding her. Say, “I’m cooking carrots. Carrots are orange.” Start a monologue with your baby. As she gets older, continue your monologue but start to ask questions. Ask, “How many cherry tomatoes are there?” And have her toss them into a salad.

Then as your child grows, gauge her ability. She will be interested in being part of it. Children want to be a success in the adult world and being in the kitchen is a great way to do that—just be sure to let her take the next steps and progress.

It might be hard at first for parents to get their kids in the kitchen—what do you suggest?

Start very small. Tell your child you need his help. Just say, “We’re having pasta tonight, can you pick out the shape?” Then give them more choices: “Let’s plan out your meals for school lunch.” To make it easier (and healthier) for my kids, I made a chart of acceptable options and they chose which lunches to have on which days. Tiny things like that can get kids very excited about participating.

How did you encourage your children to eat a variety of foods?

This was my point of view on dinner: I never made two meals and I never made them try anything. I never said, “You have to taste it.” Instead, I told my kids that if they didn’t like what I made, they could have cereal (non-sugared Cheerios), cottage cheese, or yogurt. If there isn’t an amazing alternative your children will eat dinner. Otherwise, if you make it appealing not to eat what you make – by offering chicken nuggets for example – why would they eat it?

As for picky eaters, don’t make it a big deal. Just keep putting other foods on the table that they might say they don’t like. Avoid defining your child as a picky eater and don’t give her pickiness a lot of attention.

The cookbook proves that you don’t need to be a “foodie” in order to cook well and healthfully. Instead, it presents cooking as a fun life skill that everyone should know and enjoy. Was this part of your goal?

Yes, of course. It’s really simple and easy to cook and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming or esoteric. We need to help the generation of non-cooks raising non-cooks and get them into the kitchen. I’ve even had retirees and college students send letters, thanking us for helping them become better cooks.

So which recipes are best for kids when cooking for the first time?

Smoothies—they’re so adaptable: If a recipe calls for an apple, you could replace with a pear. If you can’t have milk, you can use soy milk. It’s also really fun to watch the blender—it’s like it’s exploding!

Sandwiches are also great to make with any age kids. Our Rainbow Sandwich recipe challenges them to fill their bread with as many colors as possible. For this, I suggest putting out a spread of cabbage, tomatoes, colored cheeses, and other options. It shows kids that a sandwich doesn’t have to be ham, mustard, and cheese.

What are your favorite family recipes?

Vegetable chili. You can make it spicy or not, and you can serve up little bowls of onions, avocado, hot sauce, cilantro, and yogurt to personalize it. It’s a great way to get kids to try new things. And they love putting together our other adult-like “Make It Your Way” meals.

And about the term “kid-friendly:” Why don’t you use it?

I don’t think there’s kid food and adult food. We don’t have anything in the magazine or book that’s not appropriate for an adult. I highly discourage having a two-meal dinner. Food is food. And you shouldn’t have anything in the house you don’t want your child to eat!

What else should readers should know?

If you’re trying to change the eating habits of your family, take really small steps. If you eat out five times a week, and you can cook one meal a week at home, that’s a good step. Really big changes really fast don’t work. Take baby steps. It’s okay.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

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