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Chef to Moms: Tone it Down in the Kitchen!

By Madeline Holler |

foodie-moms-kids-meal-family-dinnerProfessional 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.

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Chef to Moms: Tone it Down in the Kitchen!

  1. PlumbLucky says:

    We have the standard “rotation”, then the new dishes that get tried and its determined whether they get put into the rotation.
    It has taken close to ten years to get my husband out of the mindset that dinner MUST equal “some form of unseasoned red meat, mashed potatos with butter and salt, and some form of salted veggie covered in cheese”. That may just be him though. (Our diet is far more varied than that now. Heck, my tot will scream for lentils lately. Never saw that one coming.)

  2. [...] Chef to Moms: Tone it Down in the Kitchen! [...]

  3. Manjari says:

    I make stuff I want to make. Sometimes it’s an old favorite, sometimes I feel like trying something new.

    “Are my kids always grateful? No. Does it bother me? Enh. I get over it.”

    I love that! That sums up how I feel about it.

  4. GP says:

    Distinctive and repetitive pretty much sums us up. But, you have to be un-repetitive once in a while in order to find “distinctive”. Among the repertoire: BBQ tempeh tacos, pinto bean burritos, quesadillas, kung pao tofu, salmon pasta

  5. Maureen says:

    I cook dinner 6 nights a week (Friday is Pizza night!) and I get so bored with preparing the same thing. I’m not bored with eating the same thing, but sometimes I feel like I’ll fall asleep if I roll another meatball. But the kids, of course, do like to see familiar items on their plate so I’ve compromised… I trick myself into thinking I’m preparing something new by changing it up a bit. Adding a new veggie here or a different spice there or even changing the cooking method. It helps me get a little more excited about cooking.

  6. Amy Kuras says:

    Comments We do the “rotation” to some degree, although it varies by season (my awesome minestrone soup isn’t going to be appealing in July when it can be 95 degrees and jungle humid here). I know my husband’s family had a rotation of about ten dishes and it was always, always baked-chicken-follows-meatloaf predictable. We avoid that, but we do sort of have our fast, healthy, everyone-likes-them greatest hits that show up pretty often, and I don’t think a rotation of dishes has to necessarily be bland. I’m like you, though, and depending on my level of ambition tend to mix in new things, some of which are favorites and some of which are fails or just wayyyy too much work to make on a typical Tuesday night.
    We also have “been to the farmer’s market” weeks that are awesome and “someone in this house has to be somewhere in the evening” nights that are not. I do think that what matters is that you’re cooking real food at home, not microwaving chicken nuggets and heating a can of peas and calling it good. I disdain foodie culture, although I love to cook and eat and will try anything. It’s a common form of braggery among parents I know to talk about how much their kid looovvveeess sushi or Thai or whatever and act ashamed that they like PBJ. To which I say, so what. As long as mine are getting real food and will try new things, I don’t put a lot of my own self esteem into what they prefer.

  7. [...] gotta love this one! A chef explains why foodie moms are serving up a raw deal. What Junior really craves is familiar, simple food that tastes great. Saffron-infused truffle oil [...]

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