Other Mother’s Recipes

It makes me so happy to introduce today’s guest-poster, Dahlia Lithwick. When she’s not cooking for her two boys, or writing about picky eaters for desperate food bloggers, she’s reporting on the law and the courts for Slate. You know, just that. Welcome! -JR

There is well-documented parental shame in having children who are known for being “picky eaters.” The implication is that had their grown-ups just introduced them to kimchee and pemmican as toddlers, they would be more adventurous today. But I have come to discover a deeper, more searing mortification than the having of a child who only eats food the color of his own inner wrist (pasta, white bread, and chicken).  And that is the shame of the picky eater who has come to believe that the fault lies chiefly with his mother.

But allow me to start at the beginning:  A few years ago, my then-six year old son came home from an overnight at my cousin’s house, raving about her couscous “recipe.”

“But I make couscous!” I yelped. “You won’t eat my couscous.”

“But Evelyn’s is better.” He explained, patiently.

So I dutifully called Evelyn to get her magical couscous recipe. And she said: “I add water.”

Mmmmm.  Water.

And thus began my longstanding fantasy of someday launching a major cookbook/website/cooking show empire entitled “Other Mommies Recipes.”  The result would be a collection, nay, a curated and glossily illustrated array, of recipes, made exclusively by people whose main qualification is that they are not me. It would feature foods made precisely as they have always been made at home, frequently requiring two or fewer ingredients, that my kids eat willingly at Other Mommies houses, as they heap scorn upon me for not being a really good cook.

In addition to Elisha’s Mom’s Couscous (couscous, water) Other Mommies Recipes would feature Boaz’s Mom’s Mashed Potatoes (potatoes, butter) and also her roasted potatoes (also, potatoes, butter) and Roi’s Dad’s[1] Famous Jam Sandwiches (jam, bread). It would have a section devoted to Auntie Carolyn’s scrambled eggs (eggs, butter) and Auntie Edwina’s hard boiled eggs (eggs, water) – a dish about which my younger son has waxed so rhapsodic, it would put Elizabeth Bartlett to shame. There could be a whole Chapter on Other Mommies Grilled Cheese (bread, cheese), but I probably couldn’t author it myself without having to be heavily medicated.

I don’t even attempt to make Other Mommies Recipes anymore because after a brief stint of pretending to call the other mommies, laboriously copy down their “recipes” and replicating them at home, I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will never ever be able to make pasta the way Tanner’s Mom makes it (pasta, pesto) or the way Grandma makes it (penne, shredded parmesan) or the way my own mom makes it (pasta). And the truly insightful among you have doubtless noticed by now that Other Mommies Recipes have one other unifying feature in common: In addition to featuring two or fewer un-screw-up-able ingredients they also produce food that is somewhere between white and light beige. Because Other Mommies Vegetables is never going to happen.

[1] The fact that this was produced by a Daddy complicates the naming of my “Other Mommies” cooking empire but I thought in the interest of full disclosure and the Absence of the End of Men, I should explain that Other Daddies have recipes too.

Thanks Dahlia! 

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my son is worse. he prefers PTA pizza (Domino’s) to the kind i lovingly make from scratch (which is delicious, by the way). these kids learn from a very young age how to push our buttons (i.e.: what’s important to Mommies!). I’ve had many successes and my son isn’t terribly picky. but the pizza one cuts to the quick for some reason.


This drives me crazy, too! My daughter asked me the other day if I could make meatballs with the sauce her best friend’s mother “makes” which is jarred! Makes me wonder what the point is! LOL 🙂


This is completely hilarious. Luckily for my mum, I’ve always loved her food. But I’m pretty sure some of this would apply to my boyfriend (not Other Girlfriends’ recipes, but ‘things I told you tasted good and you didn’t believe me until your Grandma made it for you’

Kim Uhuru

Right there with you. My kids rave about the breakfast my mother-in-law makes (toaster waffles, syrup), and constantly ask why mine doesn’t taste like that. I keep telling them it’s the same waffles and syrup they get at home. Must be the grandma love ingredient.

Rae Lovvorn

Rest assured, in some household tonight, some child is waxing rhapsodic about your corn, or spaghetti or something, because his mother didn’t make it.


Mine believe everything from school is better – e.g. the school’s carrots are better (ingredients, carrots?)

Lex Apostata

As an Other Daddy, I will report that my kids’ friends who are picky eaters are sometimes sent to eat at our house by their parents because they eat things here they would never eat at home. I don’t know why this is. Other parents gawk in amazement when I relate to them what their children consumed in my house — and most of it is as perfectly mundane as the items described above.

A Life From Scratch

My oldest eats nothing. He goes across the street to his friends house and will eat tacos – roast chicken – spaghetti – whatever they are eating. Loving food and cooking so much it breaks my heart he won’t eat it with me…!


It kills me that the only carrots my son wants are those he remembers from his old daycare lady: carrot coins, straight from the can. Gah!


i’m 35 and my mother still talks about how hurt she was when we came home and asked for mrs. P’s ‘special’ mac & cheese (kraft) instead of her homemade yumminess.


My daughter does with school lunch. She will eat or at least try almost anything presented to her at school and then come home and reject those very same things at home. I even brought home some of the exact same gumbo they served at school only to be told that “it looks funny” by the child who happily ate seconds(!) at school.


On the other hand, your child will probably grow up and drive his future wife crazy when she makes something that doesn’t taste like his mom’s did! My mom still talks about the time she made rice pudding years and years ago & my dad said it didn’t taste like his mom’s recipe. Rice + milk + sugar + cinnamon, right? The grass is always greener or something.


This is nothing new! I remember absolutely hating things my mom made, but happily eating them away from home (this was still in the time when you ate what you were served whether you liked it or not).

It took me years to realize that my mom was actually a lousy cook. She did a few things well (pretty much anything with potatoes), but much of what she cooked was just edible.

Both of my kids were picky eaters at home. They’re in their 30s now and I recently asked the eldest what they did when they ate at the homes of others. “Oh, we ate whatever they served,” she said.

Those lovely children put me through hell trying to cook for them. It got to the point that I didn’t enjoy cooking.

Lori H

This cracked me up! One day, my son’s kindergarten teacher sent home a note saying how impressed she was that Tyler not only ate the kale served, but HAD SECONDS. I thought, “Kale? The green that he tried to spit out at dinner?” haha


heh. I regularly get to hear about – not another mommy- but the cook at daycare. Recently I tried to replicate her tomato soup (Campbell’s, milk, water) that I had heard soooo much about. No go. So thank you!

Natalia Stasenko

I laughed so hard. But, really, this is hardly surprising…. Kids have very sensitive palates so they are happy with little variety and simple flavors. Which does NOT mean this is all they should be getting. It is our job, as adults, to introduce them to all the wonderful variety, stay cool when they skip dinner because they do not like it but make sure there is at one food on the table they can manage. Sometimes we, parents, over invest in mealtimes so much that kids feel like they are judged for every bite they eat – so it is less stressful to eat at friends’ houses. Also, kids do not get any short order cooking in other people’s houses and do not want to put a fuss in front of their friends, so they eat better….positive peer pressure in action!


Oh yes. This totally explains my son’s love affair with the school cafeteria’s ranch dressing, which is Hidden Valley — exactly the stuff we have in our fridge at home, except that it comes in enchanting foil packets. He hasn’t eaten salad at home in ages, though we serve it at nearly every meal. Also Grandma’s hot dogs, which all my children prefer to my hot dogs, but this one I’ll cop to — Grandma always serves Oscar Meyer, which I won’t buy because they turn the cooking water neon orange. They have to go to Grandma’s for that little festival of toxins.

Carlinne @Cook with 2 Chicks

This brings me back to when my now 16 year old son was in first grade. He didn’t like sandwiches which made packing his school lunches difficult. He had an “Other Mommy’s” grilled cheese for lunch one day. He begged me to get the recipe. For grilled cheese?! Love this post.


i think the phenomenon continues into adulthood – who doesn’t like sandwiches or salads better when someone else makes them?


Dahlia, I would have to buy that cookbook if it included “the diner’s macaroni and cheese” (pasta with a cheese sauce, JUST THE WAY I MAKE IT ARGH) and “school cafeteria chicken tacos” (corn tortilla, chicken and “I get to add my own toppings” — said while we were sitting down at home with all the toppings neatly arranged in individual bowls for kids to serve themselves. Rubbing salt in the wound: said by the child WHO NEVER ADDS ANYTHING TO HER TACO).

Also, I will happily feed your children spaghetti and meatballs (ingredients: spaghetti, meatballs, optional sauce) if I can send you mine to be fed couscous and scrambled eggs. Thank you.


Too funny. Or it would be if my head wasn’t hanging off from all the nodding I was doing while reading this. From my files – the kid who ate a tortilla the other day at food therapy and then said “it tastes like bread” – ack – I’ve only said that to him a 100 times trying to get him to try it. Now it is his favorite food, with peanut butter.


Ha! This was me this week! For some reason, Nana’s grilled cheese is always better than mine! Even if Nana is observing the mommy making it.
Thank you, daughters of mine for putting me in my place…..not really.


This is why it helps to socialise children, eat at others’ tables as well as inviting guests as often as possible. Pickiness is less daunting with the help of friends and family, and gentle peer pressure can be surprisingly effective.


such awesome comments thank you! Occurs to me that the trick may just be to stop swapping recipes and start swapping kids. Have a great weekend. Stay warm.


Add to this the lunch lady at daycare (aka…the best cooker in the world)! Her secret involves canned goods and a really great sense of humor.

btw – Natalia above has it exactly right. No “other mother” tells my kid to eat everything on the plate. My kids get a break, and a ton of praise for even trying it. And…I am guilty of the same thing. When friends are over, I never make them eat my cooking if they don’t like it. Double-standard…guilty as charged!!


As a mom of a toddler who will only eat things that are white and yellow (bread, scrambled eggs, velveeta cheese–to my horror), this gave me peace and great amusement. I am going to try sending my kiddo to other people’s houses for mealtime and see what happens. Hey, once he happily ate green curry at a neighbor’s house! So…miracles await.