I’d like to begin this by saying my daughter is the quintessential “American kid” when it comes to her diet. She’s three years old and on a wholesome diet of mac n’ cheese, pizza bites, peanut butter, french fries, and goldfish crackers. What healthy foods? Corn (not that healthy) and fruits where her preference changes so much I can’t keep up. And that’s about it. The closest thing to green I can sneak in are those snap pea crisps, and that’s only because I’ve sneakily coined them “green french fries.” So when Misha Collins and his wife Vicki, (who are already two of my parenting role models) announced they were writing a cookbook entitled The Adventurous Eaters Club with the outward goal of getting kids to try new (and healthy!) foods, I was listening.
First, I was relieved to see at one point his kids ate just like mine. Let me tell you, despite the fact that the majority of the population takes up the task, parenting can be a lonely and isolating place — especially in this age of social media and high standards that differ from person to person, and somehow you’re supposed to live up to them all. Everyone (myself included) fills their Instagrams and Facebook pages with all these picture perfect moments, strategically leaving out those mid-dinner tantrums because god forbid we aren’t eating graham crackers and M&Ms for dinner. So, when you’re sitting there at the dining room table trying to reason with a completely unreasonable miniature version of yourself about the benefits (and necessity) of … eating, those pretty pictures of your old college roommate’s family at Disney smiling from ear to ear (and somehow they got everyone looking at the camera?) flash through your head and the failure sets in. So when that celebrity you’ve looked up since before your kids, and maybe even your husband, openly speaking about struggling with the same things you do, it’s oddly comforting. Even if that thing is just your toddler’s bad eating habits.
When I took on the task of reviewing this book, at first I wondered, “How do you review a cookbook?” Now, I’m not the greatest in the kitchen. I get by, I have a few signatures, but I’m not adventurous. In fact, I may have a similar palate to my toddler. (I know, now you’re thinking “And you expected your kid to be any different?”) I make the same dishes my family grew up making, and have added one or two of my own, but let’s just say new foods are a bit daunting to me. So, this was going to be a lesson for both of us (and my husband who stood back and played clean up crew) as I decided the best way to give my unbiased opinion, was going to be to test these theories and a few of the recipes. And we did. We (and I mean me, she’s three and still choosing “snacks!”) decided on Leaf Chips and Mix ‘n’ Match “Fried” Chicken. Not too daring, but two things my three year old could safely gets hands on with, and as the book explains (you’ll see soon), start slow.
However, before we began, I knew I had to do something to get her interested. She’s a pretty active kid, she loves doing stuff with the family and being involved, but I wanted her to also feel like this was her own, too. So we went off to Target (did I just want to excuse to go to Target? Maybe …) and got her her own special cooking tool — she chose her own wooden spoon — and a few small bowls for her impending food experimentation (again, you’ll know soon). Thankfully, I had all the ingredients needed for our chosen recipes, so off we went all while I laughed to myself about the futility of this, “Charlotte, eat kale? Preposterous …”
Another great thing about this book is it gives you ideas for what your child can do to help prepare. Turns out, I had a lot less faith in my kid than she deserved. She prepped the kale basically by herself; she washed it, dried it, and tore off the “chips” before stirring them with her shiny new wooden spoon (and her hands) in the oil and salt she added to the mixing bowl. Was too much olive oil used? You betcha. Are our leaf chips extra salted? Yes they are. But hey, they cooked just fine, so I considered it a win. Now, the moment of truth. One of the points the Collins’ try and hammer home in their miracle book is that a child is more interested in eating something they helped prepare, and it was time to test this theory.
Now, remember, my kid has never touched a leafy green, and it wasn’t from lack of trying. So, I put our first batch of leaf chips onto a plate, turned to her (now elbows deep in pumpkin. We started this undertaking the day before Halloween), and offered her one of her chips. “Charlotte, do you want one of your chips?” “Oh yeah!” She leapt up, looked at this pile of crispy green leaves, grabbed one with a huge smile … and ate it. Yeah, she ate it. All of it. And then went back for a second one. No bribing, no trickery, no begging — she ate kale. Then, post-pumpkin de-gutting, she took an entire bowl of them into the living room to eat as her afternoon snack. Project one: a success.
Next was dinner. Like I said above, we decided on Mix ‘n’ Match “Fried” Chicken, which is chicken “breaded” with three different herbs — parsley, paprika, and cinnamon — and then oven-fried. Oh, also, it’s supposed to have flour mixed in too, and we didn’t. Got a little overzealous … Anyway, the book calls for improvisation and creativity, so we’ll say that was the intention (its not, we forgot). Husband and I prepped the dishes and chicken as she eagerly stood behind us, her words a string of incoherent excitement as she watched us getting her next project ready. As we set it up on the table, she donned her apron (that she already has a newfound love for) and got to work with the three trays of herbs before her. At first she was a little taken aback by getting her hands dirty (she’s oddly clean for a toddler) but got over it as she realized that bland, boring chicken was turning green as she rolled it in the parsley. By the time we’d hit round two through the spices, she could barely decide which color she wanted the next chicken strip to be — would it be cinnamon brown or paprika red? We didn’t know, she was in the driver’s seat and let me tell you, it was a real joy to watch. In the end, two red, two brown, and a shocking three green ended up on the baking sheet to be popped into the oven.
So here we were again — dinner. Dinner is a battlefield in this house. She never wants to sit at the table let alone eat, so I told myself not to get my hopes up, but I should have had faith in the texts. Did she eat her whole plate? Not even close. However, this was the most interested I’ve seen her in dinner that wasn’t one of her staples in what feels like forever (in toddler parent language that’s about a month). She ended up eating her entire piece of cinnamon chicken — which is more chicken than I’ve gotten her to even attempt since she become an independent little woman with her own standards and rules (so about two years) — and for the first time in her life tried her baked potato (which she helped wash before cooking).
If you’d asked me last week if I’d ever try chicken breaded in cinnamon I’d have said no way, but the thing with parenting is you gotta put your money where your mouth is. And my mouth had to be on the cinnamon chicken. And you know what? It ended up being my favorite of the three, plus, my house smells amazing now. So whether it’s you, your own child, a family member, or a friend, this book will benefit the sous chef in all of us — adventurous or not. The recipes are easy and quick, and honestly all of them can be adjusted to be something even I would eat (except maybe those “Culinary Frontiers” reminiscent of that classic cooking show “Cooking Fast and Fresh with West” …). Make sure to keep an eye for the informative and insightful “West’s Tips” at the bottom of some recipes, too.
Charlotte is still wearing her apron now hours later, alternating between the kale chips and pumpkin seeds she helped prepare this afternoon as we settled down before bed. And remember, this was the same kid that as of yesterday was firmly set in her ways of goldfish crackers or mac ‘n’ cheese. Not every individual’s journey will be the same, but you can trust me when I say the knowledge, tips, tricks, and recipes in this book are the perfect starting point to bring about a healthier diet and lifestyle for all of us.
There’s still a long way to go in my family, but this a marathon not a race, and this was a great testament to how fun the journey can be.
The Adventurous Eaters Club hits shelves on November 5. You can pre-order the book on Amazon here.