We’re big fans of Ellie Krieger, a nutritionist, cookbook author, media star and most importantly, mother who is a big advocate of cooking with kids and regular family meals. In honor of Mother’s Day, we sat down with her to talk all things family meals and hear her top tips for getting your kids excited to cook!
Interview by Sara Nowicki
The Kids Cook Monday: We’d love to hear about your experience cooking with kids and family meals. What’s important to you, and do you have any tips to share for how other busy families can make it happen?
Ellie Krieger: Family dinnertime is literally sacred time for me and my family, whether my daughter Bella realizes it or not. I have purposely cultivated this time when she was really little, family dinner is a time to tune out the chaos and turn all electronics off. We put on music and we all pitch in. We sit down, we eat together, we all check in and sometimes we even argue with our tweenager. I couldn’t emphasize it more on how much I think it makes all of our lives better. I will never forget the moment when my daughter was about five years old and she asked me, “Well mommy, and how was your day?” over dinner. It was like the flower inside me just bloomed because I knew that I taught her not only about nutrition and food but that family dinners go beyond that, it’s about connection.
KCM: Do you have any tips for families with crazy schedules about how they can go about making family dinner a habit? How might you convince kids that are already elementary age to turn off their screens during dinner?
EK: If they are already elementary age, you need to explain, I am changing the rules here and this is why it’s important. We are always needing to assess our priorities and that’s a good thing to teach our children to do. Share with them why this is so important and explain that you feel this is something something you need to work on. Present it to your kids as an opportunity to grow together. If they don’t like the idea, which they might not initially, then you need to say well this is important and here’s why. If it’s important to you and you realize the value in it then you can communicate that value to older kids even if you haven’t done that from the beginning.
KCM: How have you been able to make time to cook with your daughter with your busy schedule? Any advice for parents who haven’t cooked with their kids before?
EK: I will often ask my daughter to pick the night’s recipe. The more they get involved in the process, the more they will become invested in it, and the more excited they will get about doing it. Another thing I love to do is have my daughter pick the vegetable. I remember one time when my daughter was about three or four, she picked out Brussel sprouts on the stalk. The thing was as tall as she was and she wanted it! We carried it home on the train, and down the sidewalk, we were like a parade with a big baton leading the way and she has loved Brussel sprouts ever since. I think letting them take the lead in those ways can be fun for the parent as well. You could do this together on the weekend and then cook it on Monday.
KCM: You work to promote healthy eating at your daughter’s school in New York City. Can you tell us more?
EK: Yes, I am still part of the Wellness Committee at my daughter’s school. Bella is now in 7th grade and graduated two years ago but I still work in her elementary school to expose the students to vegetable tastings quarterly in the lunch room. I think we have a very limited perception of what kids like and I even found myself guilty of this. One time I made this kale salad and on some level I really didn’t think they would like it. I was so surprised with how much they INSANELY loved this kale salad. Editors often ask me if I have any recipes that are kid food. It makes me think, “what is kid food?” As far as I’m concerned that kale salad is kid food. They loved it. Another time I made this grated carrot salad that had honey and raisins in it, thinking this is a no brainer, a home run for these kids. And they were not as into it! I think that we often, maybe inadvertently limit our children’s tastes because of our own preconceived notions of what they will like.
KCM: Our latest initiative is to partner with PTA wellness committees to help schools use The Kids Cook Monday to promote a culture of family meals at the school. How do you see school as a place where wellness can begin?
EK: School is a time when you are establishing what is culturally important to the kids. I started the Wellness Committee at Bella’s school along with the parents, PTA, and principal. Our main mission was to create a culture of wellness at the school. We really looked at all the touch points of how we reach kids with messages about fitness and about what they eat. It is really amazing how many areas you reach these kids. In the lunchroom, you would expect, but also at parties and celebrations. It’s really eye-opening as to how many different levels there are. On one hand, you are teaching kids about nutrition, but then they are getting donuts everyday as a snack! I felt like more than anything there was this inconsistency between all of the groups and that we really needed to come together and decide what we needed to do and make it consistent across the board. I do think that was an essential in making there be a culture of wellness throughout the school.