III How to Cook Prologue Part

How to Cook
In previous parts I encouraged you to celebrate
eating and take good care of yourself and your
child with food. Now we move on to extending
and supporting that celebration and caring with
food management. Our task is to translate the
positive principles of eating and feeding into
food preparation. Unless you have unlimited
resources, in order to celebrate eating and take
good care of yourself with food, you have to
cook—and keep on cooking. In order for you to
keep it up, it has to be rewarding, and you need
to feel successful at it. As we found in our
research, feeling comfortable with cooking, and
even enjoying it, can increase your overall eating competence.1
This part is a food-management primer—an
instructional manual about planning and preparing family meals as well as including children in the kitchen and at the table. Secrets is
written to convey the message, “You can do
this,” and to help you begin to learn your way
in the kitchen.
Secrets Teaches Food
I chose every one of the recipes in this book to
teach you something about food, nutrition, or
cooking. More importantly, I chose every recipe
because I like to eat it, and most other people
do, too. I used many of the recipes when I was
raising my own family, and my children still
make them. They are easy, they use familiar
foods, and they can be assembled and cooked
SecretsBook.indb 89
in 20 to 30 minutes. Because some are cooked in
the oven, others in the slow cooker, and still
others simmered on the stove, they may take
longer to cook in some cases, but your actual
production time is low. To help you with longerterm planning, the recipes in all three chapters
have been combined into a cycle menu in the
planning chapter.
In chapter 8, “How to Get Cooking,” and
chapter 9, “How to Keep Cooking,” I plan every
main-dish recipe into a meal. Then I go on to
give you fast tips about the recipe, list jobs you
can do the night before, and give suggestions
for presenting the food to make it attractive.
Then I address the children—both in the
kitchen and at the table—with suggestions for
involving your children in food preparation
and adapting the meal for children.
Chapter 10, “Enjoy Vegetables and Fruits,”
reminds you that enjoyment is a far better reason than nutritional obligation for eating your
broccoli or zucchini. Chapter 11, “Planning to
Get You Cooking,” emphasizes using planning
as its own reward in making cooking and eating enjoyable. Chapter 12, “Shopping to Get You
Cooking,” shows you how to streamline, as
much as you can, your efforts to keep groceries
in the house.
I have chosen recipes to help you learn food
skills and strategies so you can be successful
with the everyday challenge—and reward—of
getting meals on the table. Many of the recipes
have figures that give more detail about the
food—how to purchase, how to handle, how
not to worry. I find food fascinating and the
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Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family
science of food even more so. Knowing the
basic principles of cooking and why certain
things work and others don’t can give you the
satisfaction of knowing what to do and, more
than that, why you’re doing it.
At the end of many of the recipes, I suggest
variations. Check those out, because the simple
changes will vastly expand your recipe repertoire without complicating your cooking life. To
remind you that they are there, the variations
are bolded, indexed, and listed in the recipe list.
I also hope that the variations spark some ideas
and that you’ll feel comfortable expanding on
Increase Your Efficiency
To help manage daily time constraints and
competing priorities, think before you cook.
Read through the recipes, make up your mind
about your menu, do the night-before jobs, and
plan your sequence of cooking times.
Think about cleanliness. Keep an orderly
space by cleaning up as you go along. Keep a
bowl of hot sudsy water handy to wash your
Think about putting other people to work.
Coordinate and supervise while they cook.
Think about PPMs—pre-prepared meals—by
using extras from dinner for lunch the next day
and by doubling recipes and freezing half.
Think about the future. Letting your young
child play in the kitchen and admiring oddlooking food prepared by awkward little fingers will produce an older child who is hooked
on cooking and can make a real contribution.
Think about food safety. Wash your hands
thoroughly and often, and teach your children
to do the same. Keep hot food hot (above 140
degrees F—simmering or hot eating temperature) and cold food cold (40 degrees F or
below—refrigerator temperature). Discard food
held at room temperature for 2 hours or more.
The Mother Principle
Figure PIII.1 on the next page outlines the
Mother Principle of meal planning. I planned
the recipes and menus in these chapters with
these principles in mind. I am using the term
“mother” as an honorary title to denote the person who takes primary responsibility for nurturing with food. That person could be a father
SecretsBook.indb 90
or a grandparent as well as a mother. The
Mother Principle combines nutrition principles
with feeding dynamics and eating competence
principles. The Mother Principle gives you the
same guidance as in figure 5.1, “Being Considerate without Catering,” on page 48, but in more
Applying the Mother Principle
I realize the list adds up, but settle down, we
can do this. Let’s start by planning a meal that
includes all the food groups as well as includes
four or five foods or more. Consider our first
menu: tuna noodle casserole, poppy seed coleslaw, celery sticks and dill pickles, bread, butter,
and milk. Now let’s do the count: protein
(tuna), two starches (noodles and bread), two
vegetables (cabbage, celery, and cucumbers),
and milk. That’s six. I counted celery and
cucumbers together as one because you usually
don’t eat that much of the crudités. Oh, and butter. That’s seven. Then if you count the cream
cheese, that’s eight, and why not count the jam?
That’s nine.
If someone in your family is skeptical about
the tuna and you feel like going to the trouble,
flake the tuna, heat it up with the mushroom
soup and milk to make a sauce, and serve the
sauce in one dish and the noodles in another. If
you don’t feel like it, don’t worry. There are
plenty of other foods to eat. Sometimes one person gets lucky, sometimes another.
The Mother Principle also says, “to give your
child the fat he needs without overloading your
menus with fat, include high-, moderate-, and
low-fat foods.” Let’s again examine our menu.
The tuna noodle casserole and coleslaw are
moderate in fat; the celery sticks, dill pickles,
and bread are low in fat; and the butter and
cream cheese are high in fat. If you offer whole
milk, you will have three high-fat foods. That’s
just fine. Trust your child to eat as much or a
little fat as he needs. Chapter 13, “Choosing
Food,” discusses nutrition and food composition in more detail.
Put pleasure first. The Mother Principle
incorporates pleasure, but the element of planning might spook you into forgetting it. You
might eat dreary food in order to satisfy your
nutritional requirements, but your child won’t,
even if you tell him it is good for him. You will
tire of foisting dreary food on your child, and
you just might give up on family meals
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Part III Prologue
Figure PIII.1 ​The Mother Principle of
Meal Planning
Plan meals that include all the food groups: meat
or other protein, grains, fruits and vegetables, and
dairy. Round out your meals with spreads and
sauces and with dessert, if you wish. Offer four or
five foods. Let your child (and yourself) choose
what and how much to eat from what is on the
table. Here are the kinds of foods to put on the table:
•• Protein source. Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans,
eggs, or nuts. If you have cereal and milk for
breakfast, milk can be the protein. Cheese, like
milk, gives protein and also calcium so it can
do double duty.
protein, so there you get a threefer. However,
the fewer choices you put on the table, the
greater the likelihood the meal will defeat
inexperienced eaters.
•• Dairy. Use whole milk for children under age
2 years. After that, only switch to lower fat
milk if everyone likes it, drinks it well, and has
another reliable fat source. You depend on milk
for calcium and vitamin D, so if you substitute
a soy or rice milk, compare the label to be sure
it gives the same amount of protein, calcium,
and vitamin D as cow’s milk and keep in mind
the product is likely to be low in fat. Milk and
other dairy products are a twofer because they
give protein and calcium. At breakfast, milk
can do double duty as both a protein and a
calcium source and the fruit/vegetable can be
orange juice.
•• Two grains or starchy foods. Include two
foods from this list. Every culture has a certain
starchy food that has to show up on the table,
such as rice, spaghetti, grits, potatoes, or plantain. Children and other people can generally
eat bread and other starchy foods if all else
fails. Potatoes aren’t a grain, but they are
starchy and easy to like. Make the second
starchy food bread, and put it on the table with
every meal. Your bread can be anything made
with grain, such as regular sliced bread, tortillas, biscuits, cornbread, oatmeal bread, chapattis, fry-bread, or bagels.
•• Butter, margarine, dressings, sauces. Offer
regular (not diet, low-calorie or fat-free) salad
dressing, vegetable dip, or gravy. These fatty
foods make foods taste better. Children depend
on fat with the meal to get the calories they
need. Let children eat as much or as little fat as
they want. To give your child the fat he needs
without overloading your menus with fat,
include high-, moderate-, and low-fat foods.
•• Fruit or vegetable or both. Canned, frozen, or
fresh fruits and vegetables are all okay. Try raw
vegetables with a dip, put a dab of butter or
some cheese sauce on vegetables to perk them
up, or toss frozen vegetables into the soup.
Corn, potatoes, and lima beans are starchy, so
you get a twofer—they count as a choice from
two lists. In fact, lima beans also have a lot of
You offer the food, your child eats—or doesn’t.
Help him be successful by matching familiar with
unfamiliar food, favorite with not-so-favorite.
Don’t make more or different food. Don’t make
him eat some of everything on the table. He may
just drink milk and eat bread. That is all right. At
another meal he will eat more or different food
Children in the Kitchen
Your child will grow up enjoying cooking, and
it will hold no terrors for him when he is
grown, if you let him share cooking chores with
you. Many of the recipes in this book have suggestions for involving children. When your
child is young, your task is to find chores for
him that are safe and interesting and that don’t
slow you down too much. A toddler can happily play in water in the sink, with mixing cups
and spoons, or he can more or less wash durable vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and celery.
A pan of rice for measuring and pouring is
good for a few minutes of entertainment.
As your child gets older, he will become more
and more helpful. An older child can assemble
simple recipes, if you help with the hot dishes
SecretsBook.indb 91
and sharp knives. I have written the recipes
simply, but you might want to simplify them
further for a child by making note of which pan
or bowls to use. For a child who does not read,
adapt written directions by drawing pictures of
the ingredients. To get an idea of how to do this,
see Mollie Katzen’s book Pretend Soup and Other
Real Recipes or use some recipes from Katzen’s
book. Older children can do most of the tasks
for simple recipes and you can be the assistant.
Of course, a child can set the table. At age 16
months, Sebastian, our office toddler, is most
territorial about his job of putting the glasses on
the table. Your child might enjoy setting the
table, and it is helpful, but don’t get in a rut. To
keep cooking interesting to your child, share the
cooking jobs. Even when your child becomes
adept in the kitchen, however, don’t wander off.
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Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family
For children, the main attraction of cooking is
being with you. If you run out of jobs to do for
tonight’s dinner, keep yourself in the kitchen by
starting on the next day’s meal. Read the suggestions for the night before and work ahead.
Make sure you have equipment that will
make your child’s participation in meal preparation safe and fun. Children need sturdy stools
to stand on. I like the little two-step folding ladders that have the waist-high, overarching handles because they give children something to
hang on to. Sebastian drags a chair into the
kitchen to join his parents with cooking. Children need aprons. Consider cutting the arms
out of a big old shirt, then button it on backward. Or check out the hardware store for the
little full-length carpenter aprons. If you tie a
knot in the string that goes behind the neck, it
converts easily to child size.
Children at the Table
With most of the recipes, and the menus accompanying them, I have made suggestions for
adapting meals for children. Being considerate
in the ways I suggest is not short-order cooking.
It is just setting up the menu to help your child
to be successful. If the dish seems a little
strange, like Mostaccioli with Spinach and Feta,
it will help your child to have something familiar on the table that he knows he can manage,
like corn. Remember, your child doesn’t have to
eat everything that is served; he can pick and
choose from what you have made available. If a
dish is complex, like Marinated Chicken StirFry, I suggest making some minor modifications to serve some of the parts separately. After
a child masters the parts, he will be ready to
start learning to like the whole.
For the learning eater at the table, we have to
be careful about the shape and texture of food
and about detecting food sensitivities and allergies. A young child could choke on whole, raw
vegetables like carrots or celery, or on some
crisp-tender cooked vegetables, such as carrots
again, or broccoli. You might cook a few vege­
tables a little longer for your youngest eater, or
give him the more tender ones, like zucchini.
Before you give the beginning eater a mixed
dish, try to introduce him to all the components
separately. That way, if he has an allergic
response, you won’t have to guess about what
caused the reaction.
SecretsBook.indb 92
Sometimes I suggest dessert, and sometimes I
don’t. You don’t have to have dessert; you don’t
have to avoid it. I have used dessert to make a
meal more enjoyable and filling and to make a
nutritional contribution. Many desserts have
fruit; many have milk as well. When serving
dessert to a young child, it works best to put a
single helping of dessert at each plate and let
him eat it when he wants to—first, last, or during. Don’t give seconds on dessert. Putting dessert on the table keeps it from being something
that you hold out to reward your child for eating his vegetables. When your child is older and
has mastered his food acceptance skills, you
can go back to the traditional method of offering dessert at the end of the meal.
Taste Comes First
I hope that dealing with food and cooking so
concretely will help you settle down and stop
worrying so much about fat, nutrition, food
safety, the environment, and who-knows-whatelse that you can’t get a meal on the table. To
help you relax about those worries, I will help
you find the middle ground. In order for food
to taste good, you have to use some salt and fat
in preparing it. You don’t, however, have to
throw away all controls and let the sky be the
limit. You will discover an in-between, where
you use fat and salt but don’t overload your
food—or yourself—with it. Be moderate, but do
not filter out the essence of good taste by strictly
limiting fat and salt. These recipes will help you
know what is moderate—not too much and not
too little.
My menus contribute to an average sodium
intake of 3,000–4,000 milligrams per day—a
moderate amount. My standard is 1/4 teaspoon
of salt (525 milligrams of sodium) per cup of
food (or broth, or water for cooking pasta or
vegetables). To reduce sodium to the 2,300milligram therapeutic level recommended by
the Dietary Guidelines, leave out the salt in the
recipes, choose salt-free soups, avoid cured
meats, and use frozen or fresh vegetables instead
of canned. And see a registered dietitian.
My recipes have about 1 to 2 teaspoons of fat
per helping. I follow my own advice about
including low-, moderate-, and high-fat foods in
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Part III Prologue
meals and varying fat sources. I use butter,
olive oil, and a variety of vegetable oils. I
­recommend olive oil when a recipe benefits
from the flavor. Use the better-tasting virgin
olive oil for dressings and sautéing and the
more heat-resistant “refined” or “pure” olive oil
for frying. To find the virgin olive oil that is
right for you, have a tasting party.
I have said this before—more than once—but
it is worth repeating: If you are going to go to
all the trouble of keeping up the day-to-day
routine of family meals, those meals have to be
richly rewarding for you to plan, prepare, and
SecretsBook.indb 93
eat. The juice absolutely and positively has got
to be worth the squeeze. Otherwise, your
energy will run out, you will drift away from
your best intentions, and you will go back to
grabbing, eating on the run, and feeling dissatisfied and guilty. When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.
1.Lohse B, Satter E, Horacek T, Gebreselassie T,
Oakland MJ. Measuring Eating Competence:
psychometric properties and validity of the
ecSatter Inventory. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2007;39
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