Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dear discouraged cook

Some days it feels like nobody is happy with dinner at our house.  In which case, I may as well cook whatever I like. Some days I do just that.  And then some days I cook mac cheese again in the hope that people will like me again.

Honestly, nothing dents one's ego like cooking for an hour knowing that everyone is going to react miserably when they see what is on the table.  "They" tell us that children need to be served a new food at least 10 times before they are likely to take it on board.  On that basis, if you cooked the same "new" meal once a fortnight for half a year you might have a chance of getting it accepted by the family.  That's a loooooooooong term commitment to grumpiness for the greater good.  I'm willing to go that extra mile for carrots and broccoli but I don't have that kind of energy to waste on tofu.

But we can't just eat mac cheese every night (well, one member of our family would be fine with that).  As it is, it comes on rotation about every 10 days that, my friends, is my absolute limit.  "We" will also eat spaghetti with meatballs (but there's no love lost on spaghetti bolognaise or lasagne - go figure), roast chicken, fish and chips and basil pesto (but only if it has sausage in it).  Then there's a few sundry meals that the majority approve of but it's not unanimous.

In the hope that my children won't grow up to have the world's most limited palates, I still inflict new foods on my kids.  Outrageous dishes like chicken pie (gasp) or radical stuff like home-made baked beans with bacon, or really exotic dishes like sweet and sour pork (fearless, I am).  I've discovered that my energy for experimentation and the resulting grumpiness is not great mid-week.  It's not worth throwing everyone into a fit of gloomies on a Monday night when baths and homework still have to be finalized.  So I save these 'tastes of the world' for the weekend or school holidays and cook the tried-and-true dishes most of the week.

In the last year or so, we've struck up a newish tradition.  At the start of the school holidays, we borrow some cook books from our local library and each child gets to pick a main dish they think they would like to try and cook (with mum's help) for the family.  Sometimes, I end up cooking most of the dish with very minimal kid-help depending on difficulty.  But their willingness to try something they've chosen and prepared is sky-high compared to when it is being inflicted upon them by Mother.  Double-sky high if it is a recipe from a celebrity chef (thanks, Jamie).  Even if they never want to eat the food again, they are actually willing to try several bites and a lot less likely to complain about it before they've given it a go.  Out of this experimentation, we've managed to hit on a couple of winners that they are willing to have inducted into the elite hall of acceptable family dinners (like the basil pesto - who knew?).

584397This school holidays we've given this cookbook by Lelila McKinnon a real work out.  I went a little crazy and allowed them to choose both a dessert and a main.

Here were the results:

Baked salmon: the picking child loved it but it really wasn't embraced by the rest of the family.

Berry pavalova (front cover there): easy and well-received.  It is quite large and very suitable for taking over to a dinner at one's minister's family's house to share (for a totally random example that may have in fact happened). Gluten free.

As-good-as-it-gets lasagne: beautiful but a tad time-consuming.  Sadly, only really loved by one child but the adults don't care - we are not going through the next 20 years without lasagne so everyone's just going to have to cope.

Lamb souvlaki: excellent marinade.  Very easy.  Enjoyed by all.  Will make a regular appearance in the future.

Salt and pepper squid: only attempted this because we have a good fish shop that does all the cutting and prep for me.  It was way too salty and the kids didn't enjoy it much.  It may be okay if we cut the salt down heaps but I can't see it being a regular fav.

Tiramisu: gorgeous.  All the kids liked this.  But it was huge.  Next time I'll only make it when we've got guests.  It's taken me us several days to work our way through the leftovers.

Chocolate mousse:  lovely but not chocolate-y enough.  I'm going to re-try it with dark choc instead of milk.  Recipe was very easy though and the kids enjoyed it (except for the one kid who found out it had raw egg in it and then refused to touch another spoonful and went to wash out his mouth).

The recipe book is very, very good.  Most of them are simple but they are honest family food.  And from a reasonable smattering of cultural backgrounds.  I even found a Filipino favourite of mine!

Anyway, that's the cooking status at our house.  It's back to mac cheese tomorrow.


CardsAsGifts said...

Your "they" says 10 times of exposure to accept a new taste, with special needs kids with sensory issues, it is between 20 and 30 times... sometimes more. I hear you about the frustration of meal times... they are more than a chore here.

Petrina said...

I love your school holiday idea - Mr 4 often looks through recipe books and likes the look of things but we rarely get to cooking them.

I'll be looking up that cook book too :)

Deb said...

@ CardsAsGifts: It would be REALLY hard to commit to a dish 20 to 30 times when it was going to be rejected. Not to mention the waste and frustration! Ugh. I'm guessing you see a lot of the same meals on rotation. :)

Deb said...

@ Petrina: it's well worth a look. There are a huge range in there and each recipe has a little intro from the person who submitted it. The berry pav is Margaret Fulton's entry. Hope Mr4 finds something he loves.

Jean said...

It seems to me that our culinary experiences have gone from broad (pre-kids) to ridiculously narrow (young kids) and now, as they are growing older and able to choose recipes from cook books and attempt them (I'm with you, sister!) broad again. I find myself buying strange (and expensive) herbs and spices once more, and putting them back on our shelves. A great relief. So I'm all for getting kids to choose and help cook meals from cook books. You go girl!

Erin said...

I have a child with a sensory disorder. When he was young we tried a lot of strategies for getting him to eat, and had a lot of tension around food. The one that worked for us was that we told him he had to try things, but if he didn't like them he didn't have to eat them. We coupled this with serving salad ingredients on platters, as he really didn't like any salad or fruit. For example, tacos and nachos ingredients would be on a large platter. He started by having to have one thing from the platter. After a while we increased it to 2, 3, etc.
He is now 10, and is the most adventurous of our two boys when it comes to food, which says a lot because our other son has always liked most foods. He still doesn't enjoy much fruit, but he eats nearly every salad ingredient. He is happy to try anything, and his attitude is positive, because this is how he has discovered many, many foods he enjoys. It removed the tension from meal times, and meant that we can enjoy most foods as a family.

Deb said...

@Jean: Oh! You give me hope for the future!!! Bring on the herbs and spices (and not the Colonel's secret recipe ones).

Deb said...

@ Erin: That sounds like a brilliant strategy. I have noticed my kids are much happier if the ingredients are separate and not all mixed in together. Salad has never won any friends at our far anyway. We're plugging away at it.