Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Diversification and control

I've been trying to find simple recipes that my kids can cook (with assistance) that will serve the dual purpose of diversifying what they will eat and increasing their cooking skills. I've printed out recipes from blogs, checked out kids' cookbooks from the library and asked if there are any favorite recipes that I make that they want to learn how to cook.

It didn't really take off. They certainly didn't feel motivated to do research to pick out new recipes (it doesn't help that most of my cookbooks are in storage while we are doing our house construction) and on the few times they did, the cooking skills required were too complicated or dangerous. I'm not ready for them to be hauling homemade pizza out of a 500 degree oven (they do help roll out dough and top it) and they don't have the patience to slowly stir a white sauce until it thickens enough to add cheese. So it was a struggle and they weren't participating fully. Not a winner of a combination.

But I've found what I think will be the perfect tool for both diversification, kid-selection (very important for these two who need to feel like they've chosen a recipe instead of having it imposed upon them) and simple enough cooking skills:

I got a free subscription to Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine (through a program called Recycle Bank that my town has just recently discontinued. I found out that you can use your Recycle Bank points to get free magazine subscriptions and this was one of them.)

This is the perfect magazine for food-suspicious kids with limited patience and cooking skills. Every recipe has a photo. Every recipe is short (none more than one page). And pretty much every recipe requires only basic cooking skills--no complicated techniques, no obscure equipment or ingredients.

I got the first issue, explained to the kids that they each had to pick out one "real food" recipe (no snacks or desserts) that they thought they could make with my help for a family dinner. They turned the pages of the magazine warily at first, but then they were squabbling about who got to hold it and my hopes lifted.  The girl picked out a recipe for garlic lemon pork. The boy picked out a basic ground meat taco recipe.

The boy even marked two additional recipes (one for a snack and one for a dessert) that he wants to help make and I am thrilled that he is voluntarily suggesting more cooking because even the unhealthy recipes expand his limited cooking skills. Hell, I first got motivated in the kitchen making cookies, brownies, pancakes, etc. I sure didn't start with the motivation of making spinach quinoa pilaf...

I'm hoping that since the magazine will be delivered to us every month it will keep us consistent with this project: every month I'll hand over the magazine and every month they'll pick out some new stuff to try and cook. I'll report back.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Family Policy

This summer, while the kids had plenty of time and very little stress (no homework, very limited scheduled activities), I tried and implemented a policy that is a) way overdue b) actually seems to work ok and c) that I'm adopting as a permanent standard.  

In the past when I've made food I know the kids won't eat for dinner (like last night's spicy sauteed kale with lots of garlic under a heap of soupy canellini beans with rosemary and parmesan) I made something else for them. It was something simple, like a bean and cheese quesadilla and apple slices, or a turkey burger and peas or broccoli. 

It wasn't that much more work and it meant no yelling or people telling me that what I cooked was disgusting. But still, it was more work for me and even if the cooking was easy, the multitasking of timing two totally separate meals left me feeling frazzled.

But this summer we've been all about increasing competency and comfort with regular tasks. I explained to the kids that now that they are growing up and more capable, my parenting is shifting from doing things for them, to teaching them how to do things so they can do it themselves. Some skills they already had, like cleaning the bathroom, folding laundry and mowing the lawn. Others were things I taught them once and didn't really follow up on, like doing the laundry and vacuuming. But there were big gaps in basic cooking skills like how to safely use sharp knives or adjusting and monitoring temperatures of burners. If you don't feel comfortable doing this, you are pretty much limited to reheating stuff in the microwave.

This misson to increase their competency was not met with cheers of enthusiasm.

In fact it was met with lots of complaining and whining and even a bit of yelling (on both their side and mine). This only convinced me that I should have started this back when the boy was the girl's age (they are 2.5 years apart in age), though it is a lot easier to teach them both at the same time since usually one of them is in a good mood and that propels the other one to keep at it. 

So this summer they have followed basic recipes, they have used sharp knives to chop up vegetables (many of which they won't eat, but at least they know how to cut them up...), they have been coached on when to adjust stove top temps and how to see if something is cooked through.

They still need a lot of coaching. It still isn't easy to cook with them. But it's a start. And it means the new dinner policy is possible to enact.

Now, I warn them if I'm making a dinner that I know they will despise and it is up to them to decide what they are going to make and take charge of making it. (If I'm making something that I consider accessible, I still want them to give it a try; if they hate it then we can figure out what they'll make themselves). I'll help them with the cooking, but they have to tell me what they need help with rather than me telling them what they should be doing. Not all options are always available since I don't always keep all the ingredients around, but there are always at least 3 or 4 from which they can choose. 

I'm happy to report that helping them cook, when they have to take the lead and either I or their dad is just assisting, is much less stressful than trying to get two different meals on the table at the same time. And the more they do this, the less (I hope) we'll have to pitch in.

Here's what we wrote up and have posted on the fridge:

What you can make if you don’t like what’s for dinner
(ask for help if/when you need it)

Pick one main course:
  1. bean and cheese quesadilla
  2. pasta with olive oil and parmesan cheese
  3. turkey burger
  4. tuna melt or sandwich
  5. grilled cheese sandwich
  6. baked beans
  7. omelette or creamy eggs and toast
  8. english muffin or pita bread pizza
  9. homemade chicken and rice soup
  10. miso soup and tofu
  11. peanut butter and jelly (sandwich or toast)

Add two fruits or vegetables:
frozen peas
frozen broccoli
apple (half a large or a whole small)
apple sauce
dried apricots

pour yourself a glass of milk