For many kids, New Year’s Eve means chowing down on pizza and soda while watching movies with the babysitter.
But my childhood tradition on Dec. 31 was very different. For me, New Year’s Eve meant driving two hours into New York City to shop at the specialty market, Zabars. It meant donning my fanciest dress-up clothes, costume jewelry, and experimenting with mom’s make-up. New Year’s Eve had little to do with balls dropping or resolutions, but had everything to do with my favorite, once-a-year gourmet goodies from the Upper Westside “Epicurian Emporium.” We’re talking imported caviar on fancy rye toasts, smoked salmon with dill and marinated mushrooms, pickled herring, cured black olives, and (shhh) a few sips of champagne.
Earlier in the day, I’d carefully prepare a hand-drawn menu of the evenings’ specialties and help my mom polish our proper silver and fine china. For our tiny crew (me, my mom, our dog Penny, and my stuffed animals) this was a very fancy occasion.
Admittedly, I wasn’t the first child with such extravagant tastes (a 6-year old in one of our after-school cooking classes lists escargot as her favorite food). But today we tend to hear more about childhood obesity and picky eaters than kids who gorge on fancy fare.
Most American kids could use a few lessons on expanding their palate (and I don’t mean force feeding sushi to fish-hating first graders). With busy schedules and over-worked parents, the temptation to serve chicken fingers instead of homemade pot-pie and frozen French fries in place of baked sweet potatoes is too great for many families. Perhaps even worse, few families make the effort to sit around the dinner table, sharing stories and passing a salad.
Family mealtime as Norman Rockwell would recognize it has become a long-forgotten American pastime. And in turn we are raising a generation of picky eaters who think peaches come from cans and have little interest in eating a nutritionally-balanced meal.
In the spirit of the new year, there’s no better time to change the way your family eats. And it’s easier than you think. Cook with your kids. It has been proven time and again that kids who help out in the kitchen are much more likely to become adventurous eaters. Kids with culinary instruction not only cultivate a more diverse palate, but also experience increased self-confidence, discover the important role nutrition plays in our physical and emotional well-being, and build the foundation for healthy life-long skills.
Mom and dads are busy trying to stick to their resolutions: Eat healthy, save money, spend more time as a family. But so many times these resolutions fall by the wayside. To make a resolution last, we need an organized plan of action. As such, I urge families to support a kitchen resolution: a simple but powerful commitment to make dinner together as a family one night each week.
Here’s the plan: Join me in making a New Year’s Kitchen Resolution! Make 2009 the “Year of the Family Kitchen!”
Here’s how: Commit to a Family Kitchen one night each week when soccer practice and PTO meetings won’t have you eating in the car. Earlier in the week, decide on a menu theme that will excite your family of chefs, (Greek? Comfort food? No-silverware-required finger foods?) and plan and shop for the meal. On the night of Family Kitchen, make sure each family member lends a hand. From reading recipes and stirring risotto, to tearing bread and grating cheese, there’s a kitchen task that’s perfect for every chef, young or old.
Remember, this meal is much more about the process than the product. So take time, have fun, and enjoy your too-crowded kitchen. What can you expect from this family adventure around the stove? Maybe something you can’t find at the table: An extra bite of middle school gossip; a surprised “mmm” from a 5-year old sneaking broccoli; a covert opportunity to test your fourth grader’s division skills. Plus, with a slimmer waistband, a fatter wallet, and a happier, healthier family who cooks-up fun together, this is one New Year’s resolution you’ll be grateful for well into spring. Perhaps by next January when your kids watch the ball drop, they’ll trade-in those ubiquitous chicken fingers and boxed mac and cheese for roasted vegetables and paper-baked salmon.
Samantha Barnes is the founder of Kitchen Kid, a cooking school for kids (www.KitchenKid.com). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about supporting a Kitchen Resolution, and to sign the petition, visit: www.kitchenkid.com/KitchenResolution.