Anatomy of a Pseudo-Foodie Family

My go-to cookbooks are personal compilations.
Our go-to cookbooks are personal compilations. Bottom: main dishes, Italian family recipes, and desserts. Top: Appetizers, vegetables, starches, breakfast, sandwiches. We also keep the laundry detergent recipe in here. (You can see it peeking out from behind the tenderloin recipe.)

Item: one of Alex’s first words was “creme brulee.”

Item: when our kids go over to other people’s houses and get asked what they want for dinner, they have been known to ask for “crab quiche.”

Item: we’ve started doing cheese tastings with the kids.

We love food in our house. And over the years, Christian & I have gotten a number of chuckles out of the un-kid-like way our kids look at it. We’re not hard-core foodies, mostly because we have four kids and we’re too cheap to be. (Because, yanno, we have to be.) But as I’ve noted before, it’s all about the food.

I like to cook. For a time, as a preteen/teen, my mom paid me $5 a week to make dinner for the family. We had a set repertoire of meals, perhaps because she’d learned we would all eat them. I remember her teaching me: bacon grease in the skillet to fry the pork steaks/pork chops/round steaks/T-bones (though we might also broil or grill those), then pour some water in and cover them up to cook. There was also fried chicken, chili, spaghetti, “Aunt Jo’s hamburger dish,” burgers, barbecued chicken, and hash (which is soup bones cooked & separated and served as a stew with potatoes over bread). And of course a handful of fishy recipes for Fridays. Tuna casserole, tuna gravy over rice, microwaved perch.

I have to credit that period of time, however long or short it was, with setting me and my family on a trajectory toward cooking. Even at that time I wanted to experiment with recipes, although my experiments were pretty innocuous (chopped mushrooms in the spaghetti, anyone?).

These days, Christian jokes that I’ll say I’m making baked chicken but I’ll end up with fish tacos instead. If I don’t have an ingredient, or I know I don’t like it (hello, tarragon), I’ll substitute something else. (Anything sweet is better with cinnamon in it.) And, being on a healthy eating kick the last few years, I’m constantly trying to work super vegetables into things. Spinach is my go-to. It gets chopped up and put in every stew we eat, including chili.

But one thing I don’t do is lie to my kids about it. I made a decision early on to be straight with them. If they ask if it has onions in it, I tell them, “Yes.” Spinach? “Yes.” Mushrooms? “Yes.” Always followed by the words, “Eat it anyway.”

All my kids are really good eaters, who are not scared of spinach, because we insisted on a healthy, balanced diet when they were little and they got used to it. I don’t make anyone eat starches if they don’t want them (Alex used to gag on mashed potatoes), and there are times when we’ll compromise. The cubanos were a little exotic for them, for example. But by and large, they are very good eaters.

There are many things about myself as a parent about which I feel insecure, but this is not one of them. We endured the battles when they were little. We had budding picky eaters; we just refused to coddle them. I was not going to make separate meals for kids, and I want to eat widely and with great variety. Ergo, so will they. Every one of them went through a phase (around age 3) where dinner was a battle. I had almost given up hope on getting through it with Nicholas when he finally came around. Julianna scavenges broccoli scraps from people’s plates. (Broccoli!) Michael is the last holdout, and has been known to sit at the table for forty minutes to finish his meat (oddly, it’s not usually the vegetables.)

We’re not perfect. I’ve never been able to develop a taste for the beans and legumes that would allow us more variety in our meatless meals. But I love that our kids have a taste for a variety of food and that they’re not scared of trying new things. Last week at the zoo in Omaha we had them try sambusa, for instance. They were lukewarm about it, but nobody objected to trying it. And all our food conversations involve discussion of protein, vegetable, fruit, and starch. I feel like I’m growing kids who are going to take their food seriously—in the best possible way.