Everyone has an alter ego they have crafted and sometimes allow to lead. My alter ego is French and she has been developed from reading multiple self improvement books based on the chic-ness of French ladies.
The first French lifestyle book I ever read was actually a parenting book and that led me to the genre. The book "Bringing Up Bebe" by Pamela Druckerman was a life line when I was struggling with parenting. Chef often works nights and I work days so there can be a heavy responsibility on me to make sure the children are home, healthy, happy, educated, well-mannered, adjusted, on and on and on it can go. In short, I wanted to be a better mom and how could I do that? Enter the French way.
In short, this book is ideal for mothers of young children - I gave this book to many expectant mothers during the family's baby boom of 2018 when everyone around me was having babies. I needed Pamela's view and I thought I could share it with the women around me. The book explains things, in a broader sense, by giving children a framework and within the framework kids are allowed freedom. This seems very simple however, Americans tend to consider mothering an Olympic sport so this thought changed something for me. The best example of the structure and simple guiding that the "Bringing Up Bebe" taught me was a coursed dinner as an everyday standard.
This sounds ridiculous and stuffy and like so much work when you first hear me say it. I know guys - give me a chance.
My daughter was a picky eater - only eating meat for days and then only bread. She hated pasta of any kind and loved fruit. But in this coursed way of eating, I separated my dinners into courses instead of landing everything on the table at once. The courses follow this general outline:
First serve: a vegetable (or egg dish if the main course is meatless),
Second Serve: a main dish often with a starch (rice, potato, etc)
Dessert: something sweet to end the meal.
First Serve is Important!
The fastest way to change my kids eating habits, and to encourage already varied eating, was to put the vegetables on the fully set table first. Everyone has to partake of some of the "first serve" (as it has been named) before we can move on to the main dish.
When presented with the vegetable first, my hungry picky eater usually went for it and after a few days of "first serving" her a vegetable, she at least tried everything, eventually starting to develop favorites out of various vegetables.
Sometimes I am really good at first serve - a baked Ratatouille or pan fried eggplant with some cheese on top. Sometimes I forget about "first serve" and make a carrot salad because I can slice down a spare carrot and toss it in dressing and voila! We are back in business. My kids love carrot salad and I have served when I need to bulk up courses when we have an unexpected dinner guest. In situations when I need to stretch dinner I will make an extra vegetable and serve them together as a first serve. Maybe I only had a half bag of frozen peas - cook that up with a bit of pork fat and add a sliced tomato with balsamic on another plate for two colorful vitamin rich options. Points for looking like a domestic goddess when you're really just juggling like everyone else.
Then we have the second course or "serve" and these are standard fare: chicken and potatoes, pasta in meat sauce, stew with carrots. Depending on the time of year I may get a soup on the menu and eat the leftovers for lunch but it's all pretty standard.
However, the third course is what managed to drive home the whole performance for my family and really encouraged everyone to participate in dinner. Like a video game, if you can't beat the level you're on you don't advance. Same with coursed dinner, refuse the carrot salad or stew and the sweet finish is off limits.
Since I was a pastry chef in a previous life it would be assumed that I made cakes and cookies every night for the sweet course. While I will occasionally make a cake or cookie on the weekend and stretch it into the week, most dinners end in fruit or yogurt. A fan favorite in our family is a baked apple - sometimes with a crumble of oats/brownsugar/cinnamon and butter on and most often just sprinkled with cinnamon and baked until soft. The baked fruit has been the easiest way to get the kids to finish a meal. When I have a small bit of leftover baked fruit from the night before I make it a topping on a scoop of yogurt. The key to the dessert is that it is usually not very sweet, it typically has fiber built in and its a small portion, 1/2 c or less. This is enough incentive to work through the meal, a surprise finish (since they don't see it hit the table until second serve is over), and a last moment together as a family where the hangry kids have morphed into chatty children telling me about their recess games and math tests.
Since I have walked you through this outrageous idea with the promise it's easy, here are some of the courses I put on my regular rotation:
Carrot Salad ~ Cucumber Salad ~ Tomato/Cucumber/Olive Salad ~ Spanish Tortilla ~ Asparagus with Mozzarella ~ Steamed Broccoli with Butter ~ Roasted Cauliflower ~ Peas and Bacon ~Ratatouille
Pasta Carbonara ~ Beef Stew ~ Chicken and Rice ~ Mustard Pork and Herbed Potatoes ~ Ribs and Baked Potatoes ~ Lentils and Rice with Egg ~ Red Sauce Pasta ~ Sausage Stuffed Peppers ~ Chicken Soup ~ Tofu Stir Fry
Baked Apples ~ Poached Pears ~ Berries and Whipped Cream ~ Vanilla Yogurt and Fruit ~ Slice of Tart, Cake or Mini Cookie (homemade) ~ Pumpkin Muffins ~ Rice Pudding ~ Cinnamon Toast and Peppermint Tea
None of these things require special equipment or strange shopping trips. Almost everything has the same base of ingredients and you can turn one component of a meal into another rendition the following day. Try it out and see how your meal times can be more rewarding.