Friday, June 13, 2008

What's for Dinner?

Your family, I hope.

What has happened to family dinner? I am shocked an amazed at the number of families who don't sit down for dinner together. Parents feed their kids on their own and then, if and when the adults have time, they grab something to eat later. This is wrong on so many levels.

I grew up in the 70s and early 80s, my parents both worked, my brother and I were busy with after school activities but, we still managed to sit down for dinner almost every night of the week. Going out as a family was a big deal but, every once in a while we did it. We sat together, ate together, and talked together. It wasn't a fancy or formal meal. There weren't 'topics' we had to discuss, but it was a time when things just sort of came out. I never remember our parents probing us to find things out. We had a comfortable place to chat about life and that is what we did.

We also saw my parents eating, and eating good, healthy food. My mom cooked homemade food every night (some nights dinner was pawned off on us too, which was great). It still sort of amazes me that she pulled it off but, she did it and made it seemingly effortless . The nights my dad cooked we had breakfast for dinner (he too is a great cook) and the nights my brother and I pitched in, it was essentially reheating a meal my mom had prepared in advance. Having everyone at the table eating the same thing set an example for us as kids that it was just the right thing to do.

I was picky, very picky. I didn't eat meat and on the nights my mom cooked it I had a bowl of cottage cheese instead. This was the only 'special' substitution that happened at my house otherwise, we ate what was cooked, period. I am now a completely non-picky eater. I will try anything and will eat everything. When I hear from parents that their kids will only eat white food or their kids will only eat mac and cheese, I don't think it is the fault of their kids. Parents decide what to feed their kids and how often their kids try new things. If parents take direction from their 3 or 4 year old on what to put on their dinner plate, they are not doing their kids any favors.

Here are my rules for creating good eaters:

**Kids need to try things 3 or 4 times before they give new foods a chance.

**Kids need to see their parents eating good food, preferably with them, so they know the food is 'okay'.

**Food should not be a punishment or a privilege. It should be sustenance and something to be enjoyed.

**Involve kids in the cooking, they are much more likely to eat something they've had their hand in making.

**Take them to the store or the farmer's market and talk to them about where food comes from.

**Cook whole foods versus processed foods. They taste better and you can control the nutrition that goes into them

**FAMILY DINNER: if you aren't doing it now, set aside just two nights a week and start. Once you begin, I have no doubt you'll add more nights to your weekly schedule. Ideally family dinner is a homemade meal but, if that really won't work for you, pick up something healthful and tasty. I recommend cooking a few things on the weekend and putting them in the refrigerator or freezer so when you get home at the end of the day, it doesn't take long to heat them up.

I will post more recipes that work well for busy weeknight meals. I know it's helpful to have these. One favorite is our house is Sole Meuniere. It takes minutes and everyone loves it:

Sole Meuniere
2 T. flour
4 sole fillets
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
3 T. capers, rinsed and drained
1/2 lemon

Place the flour on a shallow plate and sprinkle with a good pinch each of salt and pepper-mix to combine. Dredge the fish in the flour, shaking off any excess.

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and, when hot, add the fish in one layer (cook in batches if the fish doesn't fit in the pan in one layer). Cook about 2 minutes, until lightly browned, then turn the fish over and cook 1-2 minutes more. The fish should be opaque throughout when it is done (it may take long for thicker fillets). Place the fish on a warm serving platter and add the butter to the pan. Cook until the butter has melted then add the capers . Squeeze in the juice of the lemon, stir to combine then pour sauce over the fish and serve immediately. This dish is great with crispy roasted potatoes and a green salad.

I realize people are busy-heck, I'm busy. It's hard and it takes time. It is a commitment worth making, trust me. As your kids grow up they will always know they have that dinner to come home to each night. It's a safe place for kids to talk, or argue, with each other or with their parents, no matter how old they are.

Start family dinner at your house. Whether you're 2, 3, 4 or'll be glad you did it.

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