January 12, 2010

I Met Gale Gand!

One more idol down, probably a hundred more to go!

I met Gale Gand, pastry chef extraordinaire, savvy Chicago businesswoman, amazing artist of the tiny food movement, on Sunday at a talk she gave in Morris, Ill., on feeding families. I've been collecting and cooking from her books for years and was aware she has three children. She gave us  many anecdotes on feeding your family, how to include them in the daily shuffle, and how to make sure they continue connecting the good food dots their whole lives. Here are some tips and tricks she gave us that day:
*Compartment plates help parents ensure there are examples of everything at the meal: veggies or fruit, starch, protein, grain, etc. This way, kids get a variety of everything they essentially need, and you don't have to push "clean plate club" on them. (This notion is actually no longer a popular one in child-rearing, from what I understand; Gale said in their house, "Trying something is better than finishing it.")
*Have a make-your-own-pizza night. This way, everyone in the family gets something they want, and they get to help make it too.
*Keep smoothie kits in the freezer. If you have a banana with a few too many brown spots or a couple of strawberries on the brink of growing fuzz, slice them up and chuck them in single-serving freezer-safe Ziploc bags so they're ready to go into the blender with a dollop of yogurt and/or milk at a moment's' notice. Kids love working appliances (with supervision, of course), so again, this is another tasty treat where they can be the chefs!
*Set a real table. That means dishes, napkins, silverware, and even candles. And have your kids help set it all up each night. If they know dinner truly comes with all the fixin's (no less than they'd see while dining out), then it makes the table a really fun place to come to every night. In Gale's home, each family member gets to make a toast (even with just water glasses) every night, and it's definitely something they all have fun with every time.
*Come sit at the table with your kids. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to hover around the kitchen after the meal is made, doing dishes, loading Tupperware, and so on. If you don't show respect to the work that was put in and to the food that was made by coming and enjoying it with your family when you want them to, then it's hard to expect that same respect from your kids.
*Teach your kids kitchen tasks year by year. One year, they may only be able to pour an egg cracked in a cup into the batter bowl. But the next year, they can probably learn to crack the egg. The year after that, they might be able to count and collect the eggs for the recipe from the carton in the fridge, and maybe after that, read the recipe and get all the ingredients out themselves! If cooking is taught in graduating steps, it makes for less frustration for everyone all around.
*And finally, if you're a loner in the kitchen and would rather not have too many cooks in there with you, take your kids shopping so they can learn to pick out healthful ingredients for themselves, or include them in the menu planning so they can feel a part of it all in some way.

So inspired by Gale was I, that I came right home and made a recipe from Chocolate & Vanilla, one of her best. Cake in a Jar has to be one of the most comforting dessert experiences around. These can easily be made ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve. They're portable too and lunchbox ready, and there are no cake pans or cupcake tins to wash up afterward. Just stick the jars in your dishwasher and make it again soon!

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