Last week, my editor sent me the index section of my book to look over. I thought it was going to be some straight stuff, but there were a couple moments when I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud (then found myself crossing those moments right out with my red pen). Such as, under C, “cocktails, enthusiasm for.” And under J, Just Married, “worshipping talented cooks.” And, under A, “Awkward Silence Strategy.” (I had to look that one up myself.) But then there was one I came across that actually made me angry. Again, under C, the indexer had listed beside the word Children, “See also Picky Eating.” I like to think things are not so bad at our collective family tables that we need to assume, as this note did, that all children fall under the category of picky eaters. We all have our handicaps (in our house, they are eggs and pasta — think about that! Two of the most fall-back-plan-y foods that exist in this world!) but if you’ve been reading this blog for a few years, hopefully you’ve picked up a few strategies beyond the heart-shaped cookie cutter to help things along. Here’s a recap.
Invest them Up-Front in the shopping part of the process. I’m all for having them cook with you, too, but convincing them to pick things out with you at the ground level — the supermarket, the farmer’s market — is a much lower maintenance (and a much less messy) proposition than having them stir the spaghetti sauce all over the stovetop.
Make Sure There’s Always Something Familiar on the Plate. I call this “psychological latch” food, like tater tots or one of those par-baked Trader Joe’s dinner rolls. Or if you are going to make pizza with clams or poached eggs, make sure at least one half of the pie is a classic marinara and mozzarella (above). It’s just not fair to spring something like Pork Scallopini on them without an anchor.
But Pork Milanese that’s another story. Anything Milanese is likely to knock their socks off.
Point and Cook If you are cooking from cookbooks or blogs, have the kids flip through the pages or scroll through the slideshows, and tell them to point to what looks good. Of course you run the risk of it not looking exactly like the picture, but at least their heads are in the right place when they sit down.
Never Answer a Kid When He or She Asks “What’s For Dinner?” Especially if it’s something new. Just repeat these words: “I Don’t Know Yet.” Giving a kid some time to think about a dish that they potentially hate or that is just downright mysterious gives them a window to formulate an argument against the food — and also gives them time to convince you to make them something else. Repeat: I Don’t Know Yet.
Re-Package, Re-Spin, Re-Brand. Name dishes after people. Replicate favorite restaurant dishes. When it’s time for sandwiches, use your waffle iron. We’ve turned grilled cheeses and regular old bologna sandwiches into edible masterpieces that way.
Apply Broccoli Logic. If all else fails and the only thing you can get your kid to eat is a hot dog, remember Andy’s Broccoli theory? No matter what broccoli (or kale or quinoa) is sitting next to, it will magically transform the dinner into something you can feel good about feeding your children. You might have a hard time finding this concept in most indexes.
Photo by Jennifer Causey for Dinner: A Love Story, the book.