By Erin Wyble Newcomb (Recycled from June/July 2017, Edition 21)
Illustrated by Annie Dwyer-Internicola
My elder daughter is an adventurous eater who is willing to try just about anything; my younger daughter is more cautious, preferring her favorite standbys to culinary experiments. The challenge for my husband and me is to respect their personalities while still planning and preparing healthy, delicious and affordable meals for our whole family. I’d like to share some of the strategies that work for us, at least most of the time!
Emphasize where food comes from. We love to pick up produce and specialty items at local farms and farmers’ markets, because of course adults are not the only ones who love samples. There’s also something inherently satisfying about snacking on the fruits and vegetables we’ve picked ourselves after a lovely morning at the farm. While we don’t have a lot of space for a garden, the same magic seems to apply to our small plot. Somehow, those cherry tomatoes never make it into the house because the girls eat them in the yard. Knowing where food comes from and the nurturance it requires are key values for my family, so we prioritize spending our time and money on quality ingredients—not to mention the quality experiences we get to share!
Make it together. These days I rarely bake without my children. Even very young children can stir, mash, knead and fetch supplies; common sense can keep it both safe and inclusive, if a little messier. My older daughter is quite competent at measuring ingredients; she’s working on developing safe knife skills and using the stovetop. So, my little one mixes the pancakes and my older girl flips them! At this point, I appreciate those early, sloppy investments because now I have two eager sous-chefs.
Keep the focus on fun. For our family, food is a celebration—of life and togetherness. Of course lots of times we just eat cereal, but we try to pair good food with family fun as much as possible. Sometimes we turn an everyday meal into a picnic or a tea party, or we use the cloth napkins and fancy dishes just to make the ordinary feel special. A blanket on the living room floor and a pack of tea cookies from the farmers’ market makes an easy party. My kids are always involved in the whole process, from selecting the ingredients to preparing the meals to enjoying our creations and busing our dishes. The work feels easier together, and we know there’s a delicious reward at the end of our labor.
Meal planning with my family prompts me to reflect on the purpose of food; if it is, as I hope, to nourish our bodies, minds and spirits, then I want it to nourish our relationships, too. We can nurture our own relationships with food as well as with each other by focusing on respect for good ingredients, teamwork in the kitchen and enjoying every bite we try together. █