The Fueling Challenge: Fixing the Family Dinner Rut
The Strategy: Try a “mash up,” combine your family’s staple dinners with a new sauce, dressing, or condiment.
The Story: I am a big dork about meal planning and organizing and generally—I know, annoyingly—love figuring out what’s for dinner. Except during those occasional brief stints, like the start of the school year, and the end of the school year, and the holidays, which are such busy times that several times a day I find myself thinking: “Do you people really need to eat again? I just fed you.”
A friend once told me that at times like this she feeds her kids strawberries and peanuts. “Oh, yes,” I said. “We do that, too.” Except that it never works. My kids are so active that they EAT. Strawberries and peanuts would lead to cereal and then crackers and then another pantry raid for last year’s Halloween candy. One time when I tried this strawberries-and-peanuts strategy, my son asked if he could crack into the emergency supplies to get a Cliff bar. True story!
The upside here is that my kids are generally happiest eating the same rotation of favorites (coconut chicken, grilled sausages, grilled steak, fish tacos, and that universal kid staple, pasta with butter, sea salt, and grated Parmesan,). The downside is that my my husband and I are so intensely bored with this meal plan that we get a little greedy with dessert. As in, “Did you eat that last cookie from the freezer? I had plans for that.”
Making two different dinners is generally a strategy that leads to my yelling at someone, so I try to avoid it except during times of necessity (see my recent post on back-to-school comfort food). The best solution I’ve found is to cook what I’ve come to think of as a mash up: grilled steak plus Dino kale salad plus carrot ginger dressing.* Or, coconut chicken plus soba noodles plus spicy peanut sesame sauce (I add hot oil to this not-too-sweet version). Last week I combined the kids’ simple noodles with the pan-seared summer squash recipe I got from the owners of Roam, the wholesome burger joint in San Francisco (see recipe below). Then I mixed the pasta and seared zephyr squash (1.5 pounds of squash and half-pound of pasta) with some no-cheese pesto that I made from the last of the basil in our kitchen garden.
Now you try it: Sub in your kids’ favorite simple meal and add a new-to-you sauce or dressing to keep your taste buds from falling asleep at the dinner table. The only rules are to 1) make a lot of everything so you eat it at least two days in a row, if not three, and 2) to pick a sauce or dressing that will keep in the fridge for a few days to keep the party going.
Got a favorite mash up? Please share.
*Every other week I make a double batch of the much-written about version from Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook. Smitten Kitchen posted a version of it, as has GOOP. The yield of the latter is miserly so double or triple the recipe. GP’s is more generous but I still double it since this is one dressing we never get bored eating.
Summer Squash with Cherry Tomatoes, Chives, and Parmigiano-Reggiano
We’ll make Roam’s 10-minute squash dish long after the local harvest disappears. The tangy treatment will liven up the imported zucchini and squash sold at grocery stores in winter—and make a welcome break from kale. —AF
Cut 2 banana-size zucchini or yellow squash into ½-inch pieces. Cook in a frying pan over high heat with 1 teaspoon olive oil (we use an olive oil/rice bran oil blend at Roam), a small pinch of salt, and a grind of black pepper. When the zucchini starts to brown, usually after about 3 to 4 minutes, add a mounded 1/2 cup sliced cherry tomatoes and cook for another 2 minutes, until the tomatoes start to soften. Turn off the heat. Add 1 teaspoon chopped chives and toss around in the pan. Transfer to a serving plate and finish with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and there you have it! —Josh & Lynnowners of Roam, San Francisco