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Family Meals

(article, Maria Helm Sinskey)

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h3. From the introduction

You might think that you will never get your kids to eat anything that isn’t pasta, cheese, or white bread, so why bother with a book that introduces so many new things? That in itself is a reason. Kids shouldn’t eat only white foods.

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Our likes and dislikes take root at an early age and sometimes linger well into adulthood. Parents shape their children’s future patterns of consumption and food memories, good and bad. It’s what makes our food experiences personal.

Parents wonder why their kids like buttered pasta, plain cheese pizza, and cheese sticks. The answer is simple: it is because we are the ones who are feeding those dishes to them. Kids don’t starting cooking buttered pasta for themselves at 18 months. Parents invariably feed kids whatever meets the least resistance, because food battles are a frustrating waste of time and energy. 

The best way to get kids to eat something new is to let them participate in its preparation. Having ownership in a finished dish instills a sense of pride and helps to make new foods less scary. The first time I allowed my daughters to make homemade fish sticks, they almost knocked me down to get to the ones they had made. 

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When you introduce a new food, even if your kids helped put it together, say nothing. You can praise them while they are cooking, but when the food hits the plate, smile and say, “Bon appétit.” The minute you like something, your kids will hate it (except maybe buttered pasta). Put the new food in front of them, along with something they are familiar with, and see what happens. 

If they refuse to eat it, act like it is no big deal. It may take several tries — sometimes as many as 10 — to get a new item accepted on their menu. Just make sure you have something on the plate you know they will eat, so they won’t go hungry. Enjoy your meal as you normally would — no oohing and aahing over the new food — and eventually your kids will wonder why you keep serving it and they will try it — and probably like it. 

One of the most important things to do when attacking a meal or a project is to plan ahead. Use your chosen recipes to put together your shopping list. Make sure you have all the equipment you need and feel free to improvise. I have rolled out pasta and pastry dough with a wine bottle on more than one occasion. 

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h1. About the book and author

Family Meals offers tips on how families can make cooking together part of their daily lives. The book's simple, seasonal recipes are designed to appeal to both kids and adults and to put the book's techniques into practice.

Based in California's Napa Valley, Sinskey is a chef, writer, and the culinary director at Robert Sinskey Vineyards.

Excerpt reprinted with permission of Oxmoor House (2009).

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Plan simple meals for weekdays and bigger projects and feasts for the weekend. Every dinner doesn’t have to be a three-course extravaganza. A main course with a side dish or two is perfect for an everyday supper. 

Some meals go together quickly and others will take a lot longer. Consider your schedule, and don’t try to do too much in too little time. 

The first time your family cooks together will probably be a little rough. Just remember to stay calm, to be willing to make mistakes, and to check your inner control freak at the kitchen door. Rest assured: The more your family cooks together, the more fluid the experience will become. 

You will soon recognize who has a gift for washing greens or for rolling out pastry dough. Or you may discover that your five-year-old is a whiz at measuring dry ingredients and that your husband really can make vinaigrette. 

To get my family ready to cook, we wander through the local farmers’ market together or stop at farm stands on weekend drives. If you don’t have a backyard garden, plan a visit to a U-pick farm. Be open to buying things that aren’t on your list — something that calls out to you or your kids because it smells good or is a beautiful color. 

Trundle everything home, roll up your sleeves, and get to work on a simple meal that everyone will enjoy.


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