Professional caterer Vered Guttman thinks foodie moms need to quit with the saffron infusions and crumbled goat cheese and just make their kids a decent meal already.
Today’s obsession with other people’s traditional dishes (whoever and whatever that may be) have crowded out our own (whoever and whatever we may be), she says. Our kitchens are crowded with cookbooks, our mailboxes filled with recipe-rich magazines. We revel in serving our children novel meals with esoteric ingredients. And then stand back baffled when they swoon over the babysitter’s chicken tenders and cheese-drenched broccoli.
After asking her kids their favorite dinners and hearing them list grandma’s meatballs, sushi and quesadillas, Guttman decided to give Swiss chard leaves stuffed with lamb and rice in lemon sauce a rest and focus on family food they actually wanted.
From Double X:
… children don’t want novelty. They want good food they associate with warm, happy family meals. (Think of the simplicity of the last line of Where the Wild Things Are: “[A]nd it was still hot.”) The food doesn’t have to be steak and mashed potatoes, unless that’s what your family is into. It just has to be distinctive and—here’s the hard part—repetitive. Kids are not food critics. They like their food like they like their favorite books: great, and repeated over and over.
If you are in need of a dinner downgrade, she suggests this: come up with a fixed menu — stuff that’s relatively easy and quick to make and suits everybody’s tastes. Hit up relatives and friends for recipes, comb through cookbooks that somehow reflect your family’s background and history. Come up with 10 to 12 main dishes, 10 to 12 vegetable dishes, five carb dishes and then soups or casseroles or whatever other kinds of food your family is into. Also desserts! Come up with a short list of desserts! And also special occasion dishes — once a year, birthdays, cold winter’s night, that kind of thing.
Then put them all in rotation. The more you make them, the easier it is and the faster it will go (and the easier it will be to shop for). By doing this, she argues, you’re setting up food traditions of your own, stuff that will remind your child of childhood. And also? Feeding the family … stuff they like.
I have mixed feelings about Guttman’s strategy. At face value, she’s trading one extreme — too much fancy — for another — same old, same old. But I doubt a real home foodie cook who relates to Guttman would give up all the exotica and experimentation just to satisfy the kids. Plus, one thing I’ve learned, having been my family’s main cook, if there’s nothing in it for me, well, frankly, dinner sucks. So I tend to make what I want and often what I want is novelty. Are my kids always grateful? No. Does it bother me? Enh. I get over it.
That said, I do have about a dozen dishes that we return to time and again. Let’s say we do a fixed-menu/foodie-menu hybrid. Sometimes it’s fast, easy, could-make-it-in-my-sleep stuff, other times I’m using every pot in the cabinet and staring at a cookbook. Everyone takes at least a no-thank you bite. No saying, “that looks gross,” though cover words like “hmmm, this looks interesting!” and real-world comparisons are strongly encouraged (even if it means hearing the chick-pea soup looks like dog barf).
What do you think? Does Guttman make sense or is she catering (ha ha) to her kids too much? Is she depriving them of new experiences, as some of the commenters have claimed? Does exposure to new foods when kids are young make for better eaters as adults? Or are those raised on relatively bland meals more open to new and exciting tastes?
And just so you don’t think I didn’t notice, her piece calls out moms and relies on mothers and grandmothers for family recipes to build the fixed-menu. But dads cook too and they can be just as guilty of food-mania/cheese-sauce-on-broccoli snobbery. Older generations of men have been known for secret ingredients and special family recipes, too. But you knew all that.
Guttman explains in further detail how to get the fixed-menu going and she’s collecting recipes from readers which she’ll eventually share.