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Growing Up Gourmet: Make a New Year's Kitchen Resolution!!!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Make a New Year's Kitchen Resolution!!!

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 December 31st was very different. For me, New Year’s Eve meant driving 2 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 six-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 as opposed to baked sweet potatoes is too great for many families. 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.

The solution? 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 wellbeing, and build the foundation for healthy life-long skills. Here are some other great reasons to cook with your kids.

In the spirit of the New Year, there’s no better time to change the way your family eats. This January, resolve to cook dinner with your family one night a week. If families that eat dinner together raise smarter, safer, and more secure kids, we can only imagine what will happen when families start cooking together! Regardless of your culinary prowess, or your tolerance for mess, this shouldn’t be as daunting as it sounds.

Here’s the plan:
Join me in making a New Year’s Kitchen Resolution! 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 (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. Remember, this meal is much more about the process than the product. So take time, have fun, and enjoy your too-crowded kitchen. There are appropriate kitchen tasks for every family member, young and old.

With a happier, healthier family, Family Kitchen is one New Year’s resolution you’ll be grateful for well into spring. And maybe by next January when your kids watch the ball drop, they’ll trade roasted vegetables and baked salmon for those infamous chicken fingers and boxed mac and cheese.

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