Sunday Meal Planning: Getting Kids Involved With 'The Whole Family Cookbook'
My friend Michelle Stern was still pitching The Whole Family Cookbook when I met her face-to-face a year ago during the IACP conference in Portland. Once she closed the deal and started creating recipes, I did a little testing and, as you'd expect, lots of photograph-making in the process. Because her book is focused on cooking together with children, I wanted to get Everett and Truman and Monroe involved; and I was immediately surprised to see how much benefit we get from having them join in the cooking fun. [Note: Enter a giveaway for the book by commenting; details at the end of the post.]
Even months before we got the book, then, we were discovering how much healthier kids might eat if they just take a hand -- not just in cooking the food -- but in planning that cooking. I'd ask Everett which of a couple possible recipes to try, and we'd discuss whether a recipe had ingredients he'd like together. I was a little thrilled when he said one of the recipes we tried was too sweet for him -- and we made another variation on it that had honey and a small amount of sugar and that we all loved, adding a great sherbet recipe to our family repertoire. (The recipe that made it into the book is a delightfully tart buttermilk lemon sherbet, a winner indeed.)
Handing kids a cookbook with lots of pretty photos of healthy food and asking them, "find something for dinner tomorrow" is the best way I can think of to get them involved in this hardest parental job (filling their stomachs with good "growing food") and to make sure the hard work you put in to choosing sources and shopping and lugging the stuff home and cooking it all on demand pays off. Until, that is, they're old enough to do all the shopping and preparing on their own (I was particularly freed by the image of Rebecca's teens from last week's post making turkey sandwiches and sweet potatoes). I did that one night, and the next night, we had taco salad straight from Michelle's book (my recipe adds red cabbage to the onions for a little extra nutritional zing).
The recipes all come with neat color-coded markers that show which steps would be appropriate to let children ages 2-3, 4-6, 7-10, and 11 and up help with. I found they're pretty on target; when we made the Baked Apple Puff, a sweet variation on an old fave, the Dutch baby pancake, Everett and Monroe helped along with their respective age groups. (We used buckwheat flour and switched the sugar for maple syrup and it was delicious.)
While my approach toward ingredients is a little more whole-hog than the recipes in the book (I prefer to make a pot of black beans with orange peel than to buy a can; I prefer maple syrup over brown sugar; I haven't used ground turkey in years, preferring ground beef and pork I get in large quantities from local farmers and keep in my freezer), not everyone has time for such things, and I affirm utterly Michelle's commitment to spending our cooking time with our kids making that good food to grow on with whole, local and fresh ingredients, instead of focusing all our bonding time on chocolate chip cookies and microwave popcorn (which seems to be the prevailing cultural attitude: most of the food-passionate parents here in Portland defy that Hollywood-friendly stereotype).
There are a lot of books on cooking with or for kids on the bookstore shelves right now, and this is a rare one that avoids judgment or preachiness, while at the same time embracing the concept of involving our kids in good food decisions (no vegetable hiding or sweet pretenses here). You'll probably be happy to see that Michelle doesn't call repeatedly for using organic ingredients, making a small plug for it in the prologue and leaving it at that. And I think the bar for most of our families is pretty low; if we get two or three new fruit- and veggie-packed recipes into our weekly rotation, we're thrilled! This book easily sails over that bar with plenty of potential.
And speaking of meal planning, I'm putting the "Pork Ribs with Asian BBQ Sauce" on my menu for this week: please remind me to take the ribs out of the freezer if you catch me online tomorrow...
[We posted last week about meal planning, and I had been plotting at the time to make it a semi-weekly topic for Sunday evenings when such thoughts are going through my mind. It is such a central issue to parenting that it seems to easily supply a multitude of topics: if it starts to overwhelm you, let us know!]
One more thing: I ordered a copy of this book the day before a review copy came in the mail. So I'll be giving it away. Leave a comment before Thursday, April 28 at midnight -- if you need a topic, tell us what you like to see in a cookbook aimed at parents -- and I'll pick a winner at random on Friday morning.