Spice is Nice
Before I started home cooking in truth, I had three spices: salt, pepper, and an old bottle of taco seasoning I found in a cabinet. Now I have over thirty. If tarragon chicken isn’t well-received, I’ll do a lemon zest or paprika version. I can’t do a lot of sauces because my youngest thinks ketchup is the only topping on the planet, but I can prepare three different fish fillets in a single baking dish for the same meal simply by spicing them differently, so everybody’s happy.
But Variety is the Best Spice
My menu has beef, chicken, pork, seafood, and vegetarian meals on it, and I shuffled them around until they were all evenly distributed throughout the month. Veggies are our biggest sticking point, so we do eat a lot of corn and potatoes and carrots, but I will fix small portions of different kinds of beans or steamed asparagus or broccoli as a side dish, or do a mixed salad, and make the kids eat that, so we’re slowly expanding on that front. I try to prepare dishes from all over the world, too, so they’re learning that Italian doesn’t always mean spaghetti and Mexican doesn’t always mean tacos. I’m not very good at Indian food yet, but I’ll get there eventually.
The Right Tools Make the Difference
You don’t have to take a culinary course to learn how to prepare good meals for your kids, but you do need the right equipment. When my wife moved out, she took a lot of our best cookware, so I had to purchase replacements. Spend the money on the good stuff; it’s worth it. Read consumer reviews on sites such as Amazon and Food Network. In addition to a good chef’s knife, get a few lidded stock pots in various sizes, a large frying pan or wok, baking sheet and baking dish, a cast iron skillet, and a roasting pan. That’ll do for about 99% of what you’ll want to cook. Steamers, double boilers, Dutch ovens, etc. can be useful depending on what you like to eat. I also assembled a collection of larger appliances: crock pot, food processor, stand mixer (I make my own bread), and a small deep fryer.
For Those About to Rock (see feature image above)
You’ll need kitchen gadgets like a meat thermometer, veggie peeler, measuring spoons/cups, but these can be picked up as needed. Oh, and get some scissors exclusively for kitchen use. I am “when did these packages get so hard to open” years old, and don’t relish the idea of lopping off a finger with the chef’s knife while trying to open the brown sugar. Scissors are also awesome at cutting meat, trimming fat, etc.
How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?
Practice, practice, practice. I haven’t created anything totally inedible yet, but some meals just didn’t work. Some were a little scorched (no, it’s Cajun!), some were spiced incorrectly (oh, that’s the difference between ginger and garlic), some literally fell flat (is my yeast dead?). I’m lucky enough to work from home, so I’m able to tinker in the kitchen throughout the day, and I watch a lot of cooking videos on YouTube and various recipe sites for the step-by-step instructions. I let my daughter cook a couple of times a month so she can learn how to plan a meal and time everything correctly, and even my son helps by getting things out of the fridge or pantry. Again, keeping them involved means they’ll enjoy it more.
Sometimes the kids just don’t want the shrimp stir fry or beef stew planned for that day. Sometimes I just don’t want to cook. I do keep a little bit of junk food on hand, hidden at the bottom of the freezer in the garage, and I’ll dig out some corn dogs or pizza bites, but not often. The willingness to do so, however, gets me a lot of leeway, and we can go back to the regular menu the next day without any drama.
The Bottom Line, or TL/DR
It’s not hard to cook healthy meals your kids will eat, but it does take some effort. There’s a lot of planning and time involved, and it’s essential that you make the kids a part of the process. Let them assist with the menu and the preparation and they’ll be more willing to experiment. And make them help with the clean-up, too. It’s important for them to learn how, for one thing, but it also gives them the sense that this is a family effort, that there are no dish-washing fairies or laundry gnomes waiting to swoop in once everyone has gone to bed.
That would be nice, though.
What are some meals you cook? How do you plan out your meals for your family?
Chris Coleman is a professional freelance writer, part-time Disaster Preparedness instructor, and full-time Single Dad. He bakes, sews, chauffeurs, helps with homework, distributes praise and punishment as the situation warrants, separates Legos, heroically kills spiders, and writes Urban Fantasy Noir. He enjoys playing full-contact backgammon, collecting obscure words and bad pickup lines, and making terrible puns. He lives in central North Carolina and plans to get some sleep Real Soon Now.