In this New York Times article, one of my culinary heroes, Tom Colicchio, talks about cooking for his teenage son. This resonates with me because I have experienced some of the same things. My kids will eat junk, given the chance (as will I, frankly, though junk food is far less attractive to me now than it used to be), especially if it is convenient. LB and I really make an effort to have the right things in the house, so that is at least as easy to grab an apple or a banana as it is to dig into a bag of tortilla chips or cookies. And every day, I try to get home in time to make a respectable dinner with real food - some kind of meat, poultry, or fish and lots of vegetables (real vegetables, not the canned and soggy things that used to be vegetables, or the reconstituted Hamburger Helper-style morsels that expand like sponges when they cook).
Using real food - not counting calories - is what I consider to be healthy eating. Colicchio says, “You can buy a box of low-fat macaroni and cheese made with powdered nonsense. I’m not worried if I’m using four different cheeses and it’s high in fat. It’s real food. That’s what’s more important.” I completely agree with that.
I cook with butter and olive oil. I season with salt. I occasionally render the fat from bacon and fry my eggs in it. When I cut up a chicken, I do not throw out the organs; I saute the livers in butter and use the rest of the giblets and bones to make stock. I drink skim milk, but when I cook, I use heavy cream and crème fraiche. I cook poultry with the skin on. In virtually every dish I make, I end up making some sort of pan sauce. I know a lot of these practices would be frowned upon by health-food enthusiasts (and I acknowledge that it could be unhealthful for people with special health issues), but I stand by them.
My hypothesis is that as long as I am making real food taste good, it will never be a chore to eat it. My meals probably have a few more calories than say, a tofu “burger” or wheat-germ pancakes, but so what? My family and I will simply have more energy to use for thinking and moving, and we won’t be laden with all the stuff that is put into processed foods. Also, I think my cooking has made junk food binges less tempting; I can’t even imagine eating a McDonald’s hamburger, which seems about as appealing to me as a rice cake. If someone in the family starts to have weight problems, we can consider changing the quantities or balance of certain foods, but until then we’ll enjoy our well-prepared proteins and vegetables.
I still get occasional grumbles, of course, but I think my kids have really come to appreciate good food. And they are all the better for it.
1. The New York Times, “Even Top Chefs Have Picky Kids,” 19 Feb 2009.