Do You Need a Dinner Doula?

family dinnerLike many moms (myself included), Lori Leibovich feels guilty that she doesn’t cook. She’s also worried that by not cooking a variety of foods for her kids, she’s turning them into picky eaters.

“For five years, I have done little more than stick turkey hot dogs and chicken nuggets into the microwave and call it dinner,” Lori (my editor at Babble.com) confesses at RealSimple.com. “I just can’t muster the energy for chopping and peeling—or even boiling water—after a long workday.”

Fed up with her culinary ineptitude and tired of feeling like a slacker in the kitchen, Lori turned to her foodie friend, The Family Kitchen blogger Jenny Rosenstrach.

Jenny volunteered to hold Lori’s hand in the kitchen and give her the confidence she needed to whip up family dinner.

“You know how a doula is there for a new mom so the mom can concentrate on the baby?” Jenny asked. “You need the same thing as a cook.”

That’s how Jenny became Lori’s “Dinner Doula,” helping her to attain three goals:

1. To eat a family dinner once a week for six weeks during which everyone would eat the same thing.

2. To eliminate at least one store-bought meal by replicating it from scratch at home.

3. To master roast chicken.

As for the roast chicken, Lori wrote, “I believe all worthy and competent mothers should be able to perform this efficiently. I also believe that if I could do this one recipe—this one simple recipe—I might just feel a little better about everything else.”

I can so relate to Lori’s struggle. Until recently, I had barely cooked anything except for Pop Tarts and somehow managed to burn packaged mac and cheese. I’ve since cracked a cookbook or two, but I still struggle to cook a family dinner where we can all eat the same thing. And I certainly haven’t yet mastered roast chicken (I generally buy it already roasted from the market).  Any chance I can borrow your Dinner Doula, Lori?

Meanwhile, do you struggle in the kitchen? How do you manage to get dinner on the table every night?

Photo: flickr/stevendepolo

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My Kids Won’t Eat Anything! How to survive toddler pickiness.

My kids hate my cooking! I can’t remember the last time I put something down at the dinner table and didn’t have to beg them to eat it. I’ve always prided myself on my cooking skills so I’m kind of at a loss here, and frankly my feelings are hurt! What do I do?

- Not This Again

Dear Not This Again,

First off: Don’t take it personally. Whatever’s going on may have very little to do with your cooking ability or what you serve. More often than not, a kid’s refusal to eat has as much to do with the situation as the food itself. There are so many factors that could be at play here, and only a couple of them are edible.

Both of us love to cook and love it when people love our cooking. So we know how hard it must be to feel that you’re not getting props at the very core of your cooking universe. But you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. The way we see it, the effort that goes into preparing a meal should be commensurate with the enjoyment the eater is likely to get out of it. These are kids we’re talking about. Best case scenario: you’re looking at a wolf-down. This is why people sometimes think of kids’ meals as something to be put together, rather than lovingly crafted from scratch. We’re not advocating switching exclusively to frozen chicken nuggets, but we do suggest you take a little pressure off yourself. If you’re not making yourself crazy with the steaming and the making and the stirring and the baking, you’re going to care less if they don’t like it.

Along those lines, your kids may be sensing your investment and reacting to it. Annoying though it is, children sometimes reflexively rebel against things they can tell their parents care about. Perhaps if you back off a little, your kids might feel less pressured to perform at the dinner table. If they want to eat your food, great. If they don’t, they can go hungry. Or you can offer an easy alternative, maybe even one they can assemble themselves, like a sandwich. But they need to know that this is what’s available, and they have to take it or leave it.

Another angle: It’s possible that your kids are not actually hungry. Kids’ eating needs do not always coordinate well with the meal schedules adults expect. After-school hunger cannot be denied. Then dinner rolls around, and kids are stuffed full of snacks and have no interest in anything but dessert. We often find ourselves in the frustrating position of struggling to finish a meal while our kids snack themselves out of eating it. You, or whoever’s with them in the afternoons, could think about ways to satisfy their pangs without ruining their appetites for later. You can try limiting snacks to right after school, allowing for an appetite-building buffer between then and dinner. Or you can try choosing snacks that don’t fill them up: veggie sticks and dip, edamame, olives, apple slices. The key is something to keep them busy and placated without getting full.

And even if you’re cooking wasn’t very good (though don’t get us wrong, we trust you that it is!), it would hardly matter. It’s nice to have a parent who’s a good cook, but crappy cooks worldwide have been feeding their families for the whole of history. Sometimes their kids develop a taste for crap; other times, they grow up with hilarious stories about their parents’ hideous concoctions. Who knows what your kids will think about your cooking in a year or two or ten? And who knows how much you’ll care?

Have a question? Email parentaladvisory@babble.com

This article was written by Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris for Babble.com, the magazine and community for a new generation of parents.

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