Nothing says “my needs come last” like eating cold mac n’ cheese for dinner once the kids are asleep. As parents, we’re inundated with rhetoric about taking better care of ourselves; however, by definition our role is to care for our offspring. When it comes to mealtime – caring for ourselves comes second. Here are five ways to give yourself the love and respect you deserve during mealtime.
1. Sit down. Once dinner is served, announce that you will be sitting down for the remainder of the meal. Normally, I’d stand at the kitchen island like a catcher on third base – ready to pounce at every request my kids make. From more water, more food, to making an entirely different meal – it’s endless. Then a dear friend enlightened me. Before she sits down she kindly asks if anyone else needs anything. All needs are met and then family mealtime starts. This approach to family meals is simple and doable. It’s about prioritizing time with family, not your phone, t.v. or the dishes. I promise you’ll have your first hot meal in years. Bonus – you’re modeling the type of table decorum you expect from your kids.
2. Cook what you like. Don’t pander to your kid’s palate. It’s discouraging when kids pick at a nicely prepared meal, but, occasionally, they may try something new and love it. Cultivating your child’s appreciation for different types of food is important. Try something that appeals to you and you may be surprised by your kid’s eagerness to follow suit. Winner of Food Network’s “Chopped” and New York City chef Claire Handleman explains,
I’m such a huge supporter of meal time. My mom never made second meals. We either ate what she made, or we didn’t eat. I think it’s important to teach children to eat what has been made for them and to appreciate the effort that went into the meal that was made. I don’t think it’s the parent’s job to be a short order cook. This is also how you encourage your kids to be tasters as opposed to picky eaters. Meal time is not only taking care of yourself, it’s taking care of your family’s well-being. And to do that, you must participate, not field requests.
3. Enlist your little ones. Encourage autonomy and build household skills by having the kids set and clear the table. Let their creativity flow and encourage them to create a centerpiece or fold the napkins in fun shapes. Meanwhile you can sample that bottle of wine and chat with your partner while the kids are busy helping.
4. Talk about your day. Of course you ask the open-ended questions, eagerly inquiring about your children’s day, but don’t forget to talk about what you’ve been up to. Did you work? Meet an old friend for lunch? Do seven loads of laundry? Whatever it may be, this is an ideal time to share with your kids how you spend your time when they’re not with you.
5. Practice mindful eating. Mindfulness and meditation are all the rage, primarily because they’re actually proven to improve the quality of life. So incorporate mindful eating into your mealtime routines. One way to practice mindful eating is to eat more slowly. Claire Handleman feels strongly about the importance of eating slowly. She contends,
“Inhaling food leads to a fast meal, not to mention over-eating. I love sitting with someone who takes their time to eat, chat, digest, chat and eat. Countless studies show that the most important time of day is dinner time as a family. It decreases the odds of drug abuse, helps kids do better in school, keeps their weight in check, and improves closeness to parents.”
The dishes, the tidying, the emails can all wait. But, your children won’t wait to grow up. Mealtimes are times to capitalize on a captive audience. Set the precedent now. Respect yourself and the sanctity of family meals and your children’s love of food and family will abound.
Salmon with herbs by Claire Handleman
1 ½ lb. salmon fillet
salt and pepper
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
½ cup taggiasca olives, pitted
1 lemon (preferably meyer lemon), zest and juice
3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 small bag small new potatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch mint, leaves
1 bunch cilantro, leaves
1 bunch parsley, leaves
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 scant tsp. salt
1 small meyer lemon, zest and juice
½ cup olive oil
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Line two sheet trays with foil.
Place one sheet tray in the oven while the oven is preheating.
On the other sheet tray lined with foil, drizzle a small amount of olive oil in the center of the sheet tray. Season both sides of the salmon fillet with salt and pepper and then place the salmon on the oiled foil, skin side down. Set aside.
Put the potatoes in a pot and cover with cool water. Place over high heat on the stove. Season the water with salt so the water tastes like the ocean. Let the water come to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook until the potatoes float. A knife should slide easily in and out of a potato when tested. Turn off the heat and let the potatoes sit in the water.
Once the potatoes are on the stove, move on to the cauliflower. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets with 2 tbsp. of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Carefully open the oven door and remove the sheet tray from the oven. Quickly and evenly spread the cauliflower on the sheet tray and return to the oven. Cook for 15 minutes.
While the potatoes and cauliflower are cooking, pulse the taggiasca olives in a food processor until finely chopped. Don’t turn it into a paste. You still want texture. Put the chopped olives in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Rinse the food processor because you will need it for the chermoula sauce.
Make the chermoula sauce. Wash the herbs. A handy trick is to add all the herb leaves to a salad spinner (I just twist the bunches of leaves off the parsley and cilantro stems like you’re giving them an Indian burn). Fill the salad spinner with cold water and agitate the herbs several times. Lift the basket out of the salad spinner, where all the dirt will remain behind, and toss the water. Then spin the herbs dry.
In the food processor (or blender, or mortar and pestle) pulse the cloves of garlic until minced. Add the herbs and again pulse until roughly chopped. Add the salt, cumin, lemon zest and juice and pulse. Add half the olive oil and pulse. Then add the other half and just pulse to combine. You’re looking for a rough chop, not a puree. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Once the cauliflower is cooked, remove it from the oven. Turn the oven off and place the salmon in the oven. Do not open the oven door for 15 minutes. The hot oven will cook the salmon with the residual heat.
Add the cauliflower to the mixing bowl with the chopped olives. Add the zest and juice of one meyer lemon plus 1 tbsp. olive oil. Toss and taste for seasoning. Adjust as needed.
After 15 minutes, remove the salmon from the oven. Serve it with the charmoula sauce, the roasted cauliflower and the boiled potatoes. You will probably want to slather the charmoula sauce all over the potatoes too. It’s too delicious not to!
Claire Handleman has been a chef in New York for 10 years, working at some of the city’s best restaurants. She previously worked on ABC’s Emmy-award winning show The Chew as an assistant producer and participated in Food Network’s Chopped competition…and won. Claire has been traveling the world for the past dozen years but focuses a majority of her time in South-East Asia. She has come to regard Thailand as a second home and spends many months each year learning Thai cuisine. She is currently working on a book with the hopes of sharing the incredible cuisine her Thai friends have shared with her. While she travels and works, she shares stories, recipes and travel tips on her blog Passport to Eat.
Molly England earned her master’s degree in social work at The University of Edinburgh. She currently lives in The Woodlands, Texas with her husband and their three children. She is a devoted blogger, freelance writer and a passionate Certified Bradley Method® Natural Childbirth Educator. In 2015 Molly founded Bluebonnet Babies, a virtual hub providing products and resources based on evidence, research, experience and love to parents making healthy and informed choices. Blogging enables Molly to achieve her goal of empowering families across the globe as they navigate pregnancy to parenthood. Molly’s article on birth plans is featured in Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine’s February Issue. She also contributes to The Mother Magazine, Green Child Magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, Holistic Parenting Magazine and more. Visit www.bluebonnetbabies.com