As any parent knows, feeding a family isn’t a picture perfect occasion where you dust off your apron and discuss your day. “Dinner is sometimes stressful,” says Sally Kuzemchak, RD, snacktivist, and author of the upcoming book, Dinnertime Survival Guide. “I just want people to know that I’m a parent, I’m a mom. I’m very much in tune with real life and the realities of being a parent.” We talk to Kuzemchak about her must-read, the virtues of slow cooker food, and life as a kid-wrangling mom.
What’s your biggest hope for Dinnertime Survival Guide?
My hope is that this book can help people who want to make dinner most nights feel like its doable, not dreaded. Dinner does not have to be ‘XYZ,’ it can sort of be whatever you want it to be. It’s about putting your thought and heart into it. It doesn’t have to be this picture perfect meal. You can have it sitting on the living room floor.
What was the best part of your book journey?
I think my favorite part was writing a cookbook that I would want to read myself, and really tackling the problems that I had in bringing dinner to the table every night. I wanted something that was relatable and real and didn’t assume that it was easy to cook every night. Especially when you’re a parent.
How can we make healthy, family meals on a budget?
You can stay on a budget and still feed your family. It can be challenging, but you have to sort of keep some things in mind. You really can’t just wheel your cart into the store willy-nilly. In the book, we give specific tips for grocery shopping and tips for staying on a budget. Do chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts, or flank steak for a delicious but less expensive cut. You just sort of have to learn these tricks and utilize them. We also have some great legume recipes: a curried carrots and lentils dish; a black bean hummus. You could easily serve hummus as dinner with lots of pita and veggies.
Are there any recurring ingredients?
Definitely a lot of whole grains. There are several pasta recipes that are nice and easy and quick, and kids tend to really enjoy that. There are some family favorites like made-over crunchy chicken nuggets and fish tacos. I tried to really get a balance of different kinds of protein sources, and definitely meatless dishes for families. One great way to save money is going meatless.
Which challenges do you address?
Chapter 8 is called ‘My Kids Take All My Attention!’ It’s chapter on having high-maintenance kids at dinnertime. I’m not going to paint this rosy picture of cooking with your kids, but one solution is getting them involved. There are definitely little jobs that you can give them. Toddlers can sprinkle nuts on salads or snap green beans. Older kids can turn on the processor, set the table, and peel potatoes. It may be more work at first, but it can actually help you and lighten your load!
You were once a picky eater. Can you offer tips for parents with finicky kids?
Having been a picky eater helps me relate to my children when they do turn their nose up at something. It took me a super long time, so I have empathy for that! I say in the book: Give your kids a break, put yourself in their shoes, have patience and be calm at the dinner table. You don’t want to make it a negative place of punishing with ‘no dessert.’ As a dietitian and a mom: My rule is offer, but don’t push. It may take many, many exposures and having a food in their presence.
Do you focus on any cuisines in particular?
When we were putting this lineup together, we definitely tried to have a broad range of cuisines. It’s a really nice balance, and it’s written for everybody. I’m the cook in my house. My husband does all of the cleanup. That’s how we conquer and divide. Some moms clean and some dads cook. It’s a team effort; it’s got to be.
We’re all busy! How can we stay creative in the kitchen?
There’s a chapter in the book about breaking out of a rut. So many people have their seven or eight dishes that they make practically with their hands behind their back. It doesn’t teach you or your kids to branch out. We put a left of center twist on familiar recipes. They’re not things you’ve never seen, and I think that’s really important. Before this cookbook I had never poached fish! Which is so easy and healthy and quick. It’s about discovery.
What’s your favorite recipe from the book?
I love my slow cooker. It’s such an amazing feeling to come through the door and smell the food. All I have to do is put salad and bowls and we’re done, it’s done. So, there’s a Crock-Pot lasagna that was made for this book. I had tried Crock-Pot pasta in the past—the test kitchen came up with this recipe for slow cooker lasagna where the noodles don’t get mushy. We have some [recipes] from my own playbook. A roast chicken in the Crock-Pot. Slow cooker applesauce. There’s a maple-mustard glazed chicken that we all love. And garlic fries. They taste super decadent and my kids love them.
Dinnertime Survival Guide: Feed Your Family. Save Your Sanity! is available for pre-order, and wherever books are sold on April 22, 2014.
Photos: Lauryn Byrdy