What Do I Serve for Dinner?
Katie Workman’s new cookbook offers 100 creative answers to the perennial question that stumps harried moms struggling to give families wholesome and interesting meals.
By Sue Tomchin
While a mom may run a company or argue a court case by day, by evening, she has to come up with something that her children will eat for dinner. We all know that’s easier said than done since kids can be notoriously finicky.
Katie Workman knows this from experience and decided to do something to help. The mother of two boys and founding editor-in-chief of Cookstr.com, she has written The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket (Workman Publishing, $16.95). Workman’s wry sense of humor and conversational writing style coupled with a reader-friendly design and lots of gorgeous photos make this a book that you’ll love to dig into, like her recipes for One-Pot Arroz con Pollo (yes, children do like it), Vegetable Bin Stone Soup, and Mexican Tortilla Casserole.
“Trying to figure out something to make for dinner that our kids will eat can bring even the most competent of us to our knees,” Workman said in a phone interview with Jewish Woman. “It’s really hard to keep on top of what your kids are eating one day versus the next.”
She counters the urge to surrender to take-out pizza every night with imaginative recipes that deliver solutions to some of the common cooking dilemmas that moms face. As an alternative to frozen chicken nuggets loaded with chemicals and little actual chicken, for example, she proposes recipes for easy-to-prepare roast chicken with a choice of 5 different rubs; barbequed chicken; a delectable lemon chicken served with rice or comforting mashed potatoes; tacos that can be made with ground turkey or beef, and even homemade chicken tenders (or nuggets or fingers whatever you call them) that can be made either simply or in three other ways. She also offers kid-friendly vegetarian mains such as Tofu-Veggie Stir-Fry (for when your child becomes an overnight vegetarian); snacks that don’t come in crinkly bags; creative carbs for “white food only” kids; simple weeknight desserts (did you know that elegant chocolate-dipped strawberries and pretzels take almost no time to make?); and kid-tested baked goods that moms can whip up quickly for bake sales and school parties.
Incredibly, she manages to come up with fish recipes that kids like, among them Asian Salmon and Broiled Miso Cod Fingers. She admits, however, that fish is a tough sell even to her own kids. “Just when I think they’ve turned a corner,” she said, “I’ll ask my son Jack why he’s not eating his fish and he’ll say ‘I don’t feel like it.’ You have to know that feeding kids is not a science but an ever-evolving process. If you take every little defeat to heart, you’re going to be on the ground pretty quick.”
One strategy that she has found to help broaden children’s food choices is to involve them in preparing food. While this may not work on a rushed weeknight, it will work on a weekend afternoon when you have more time. For each recipe, she offers tips about what kids can do to help.
The kitchen can become a place of discovery and experimentation, she believes. “Kids are way more likely to give a new dish a try if they’ve had a hand in preparing it.” Say to the kids, she advised: “Let’s scramble some eggs. Open the fridge and see what you’d like to add to them. Look in the spice drawer, open the jars and smell some of the spices. What smells interesting to you? Should we try a new spice on the roasted potatoes?”
Yet, inevitably, some children are by nature pickier eaters. So that moms can avoid becoming short order cooks making different dishes for the entire family, she introduces “Fork in the Road” recipes A recipe is made, “fairly simply, up to a certain point. Then, some of the dish is removed and set aside for the kids or for those with milder palates. Then you continue on with the rest of the dish, adding some additional ingredients and flavors for those with more adventurous plates. The result is that you get to make one dish for the whole family.”
Workman includes three essential recipes for Jewish families: brisket, chicken soup and potato pancakes. She calls her chicken soup, “Halfway Homemade Chicken Noodle Matzoh Ball Soup,” because she starts with canned chicken broth. “By cooking the chicken in the broth, the broth flavors the chicken and the chicken flavors the broth,” she said. She makes her matzoh balls from a mix. “When my husband and I were engaged, his Aunt Lois gave me a mix and told me it was a family secret recipe and that’s how I’ve been doing it ever since. If I only made chicken noodle matzoh ball soup when I had time to make soup from scratch, we would have it a lot less frequently and that would be a grave disappointment to my children, because it’s their favorite dish in the whole book!”
Currently on tour to publicize her book, Workman has been gratified with the response. “To have some stranger come up to you in Milwaukee, hug you and tell you that she’s already made six recipes in the book feels amazing.”