Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fighting the tryanny of the kids's menu

Susan Dominus has a great article today in the NYT about a restaurateur's philosophy about family dinner, which is influenced not only by his profession but by his European background. Basically, he believes that there should be no "children's menu" of bland pasta and chicken fingers; the kids should eat from the regular menu, trying new things.  Perhaps a side plate of something more kid-friendly can be conjured up, but a special menu is not required. He walks the walks as he demonstrates his own kids' eclectic eating habits fostered at a daily family meal cooked, served and eaten with his wife, while he is at work.

It's not that surprising that a chef's children eat well, but more telling, I think, is that this philosphy begins at home, around the family dinner table.  In order to make the best of family dinner, the whole family should eat the same thing! Too many parents unwittingly turn themselves into short-order cooks when they make special orders for everyone. It's too hard and it makes meal time all about what each person wants rather than setting time for sharing the experience as a family.

In our house, we have the most trouble with our four-year old who is the most picky child of our three children and would definitely eat mac and cheese every night if we let her. As the classic mom, I am always trying to make sure that there is at least "something" on the table that she will eat. My husband, as classic dad, says let her eat what's on the table, eventually she will try it. Reality falls somewhere in between, but the stance of insisting that she at least "try" the family dinner has begun paying off. Recently she enjoyed some Chinese Sichuan fried fish and she's been known to eat bok choy, but only if we tell her its "baby bok choy." Even the "plain" food she might have at our table tends to be more adventuresome that most: rice with Nori (seaweed) or dumpling wrappers. Our basic strategy is to have at least one side dish we know everyone will eat available.

The bottom line is it doesn't matter what you are serving, but everyone should at least taste it and not be allowed to make a special order. Persistence and neutrality are key. Just keep offering the food, without arguments or fights, and eventually it will click and your kid will try it, maybe even like it. Always having the "side" of rice or pasta just gets too boring!

Looking Past the Children's Menu, Susan Dominus, NYT 5.24.10
Sara Moulton's Family Dinners, a restaurant chef talks about dinners with her family on the WNYC Leonard Lopate radio show, 5.10.10
Family Meals from examiner.com, 5.24.10

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Eat Dinner May 2010

I started this blog (eatdinner.org) in November 2007 and the posts have waxed and waned a bit over the time, covering all manner of topics related to food and family dinner: family dynamics, local food, organic food, access to food, obesity, health, wellness, fitness, politics (of course!), and everything in between. I never wanted this to be strictly a food blog, outlining what me and my family had for dinner. There are many beautiful, inspiring food blogs out there, but I wanted to explore the idea of family dinner as a topic related to health (in a very broad sense), culture, society, education, and personal and family well-being. Through it all, I realize that the main message I want to convey is that families need to commit to having meals together and that many good things stem from this basic lifestyle commitment to food and family.

Many people "know" that family dinners are a good idea. But many people also chalk it up as "too hard" or demanding in today's busy lives. Worse is the notion that family dinner is a "middle-class" luxury. I want to rededicate this blog to expressly exploring the benefits of family dinner across all kinds of families and the barriers that are in the way of more people adopting family dinner as a way of life.

Stay tuned for more research, support, and advocacy targeted at issues surrounding family dinner.

Join the discussion! I'm now on Facebook and Twitter and you can email me at grace [at] eatdinner [dot] org.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

9 by Design: the urban spin on mulitples and family dinner

A couple days after my last post, I read about the Novogratz family of "9 by Design" fame in the NYTimes. I had heard of the Bravo show, but was especially intrigued by the author's connection between multiple kids and an "oddly" sane mom. At some point during their discussion, the interviewer observes Novogratz's calm and comes to a surprising conclusion about herself:
"[this] maxed-out working mother suddenly realizes what she has been doing wrong: too few children!" Susan Dominus, NYT

On the surface, the urban, hipster real estate tycoon is a totally different mom from the Midwestern mom Janine Brogan I wrote about last week, but clearly there are similar coping strategies. Provide structure and freedom, relax about things you can't control, know that each kid is different and that the family as a unit is important too. Not sure how the Novogratz's do "family dinner; " there's a hint about take-out which is a distinctly NYC habit. Still, I thought it too good a connection to pass up.

Reality TV's Annoyingly Perfect, "Oddly" Sane Mom, Susan Dominus, NYT, 5.10.10
The Talent, Sixx Designs, by Susanna Salk on 1stdibs.com. A cool profile of the Novogratz's with great pictures.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Family Dinner for 12

Here's a little inspiration for you: Joanie Brogan and her brood has family dinners for 12, nearly every night of the week. I found their story, which was in the March 2010 edition of a local Michigan magazine, through my favorite Google search (um, "family dinner").

The numbers say a lot: 10 kids, ages 3 to 19 (with 9 living at home), 230 meals per week, 6 dozen eggs per week, 3-5 loads of laundry a day. This is a household that must take some serious management to run. When the kids outnumber the adults, you have to depend on the kids themselves, and your partner, to play as a team and "pick up the slack." In Brogan's kitchen, the kids really help with the cooking prep, with the 11 yr old wielding the cleaver and the toddler helping mix the sauce. Helping out is not "optional" or to teach some kind of abstract moral lesson; it is absolutely essential.

As the mom of "only" three kids, I do think that having multiple kids does demand a different level of scheduling and balancing. It becomes almost impossible to keep up with everyone and everything at the same time. What happens, then? Well, all chaos breaks loose, of course. (Not really. OK, sometimes.) What really happens is you let go of your assumptions and prioritize. For me, family dinner is the touchstone in an otherwise hectic life; a chance to remain connected amid competing schedules and busy lives. Whether you have 10 kids or 1 kid, or no kids, it's about making a commitment to what's best for you and your family.

I love Joanie Brogan's statement:
“I really fight for the family dinner. I think it’s a dying tradition,” said Brogan. “Being the youngest child of seven, when I was growing up, [dinner] was one of the only times I had with my older siblings. And with schedules today, we could stop every night and grab something, but we don’t. I really fight for us to sit around the table.”
You go, girl! Just another testament to make the family dinner commitment and sticking to it.

Fighting for the Family Dinner, by Julie Becker, Capital Area Women's Lifestyle Magazine, 2.24.10