Cupboard Love and the Cooking Challenge

Among the goals I set for myself in January was one regarding cooking.  I set myself the challenge to cook at least one new recipe per week.  I was tired of cooking the same couple of dozen meals over and over just to try and appease my kids and quell the meal time whines and rebellions.  I operate an “eat it or starve” policy and tell my kids that I am no short order chef prepared to cook to their requests.  But regardless the griping and groaning can become quite grating.  After school hours are frenetic and frazzling as I oversee four kids doing homework while making the evening meal so to place said meal in front of kids and find a proportion of them protesting it is pretty dispiriting.  As such, I had fallen into the trap of not challenging them too much with food.  I was cooking from a repertoire of meals that satisfied the majority, knowing not all four would be satisfied each meal time.  I enjoy cooking.  I enjoy eating even more.  I wanted more variety.  The solution to my stuck-in-a-rut boredom was the challenge.

So far, with the exception of a couple of far too busy weeks, I have fulfilled the challenge.  Most weeks I have tried and tested two new recipes.  I pick friend’s brains, flick through recipe books, pin interesting looking options on Pinterest and pluck two possibilities (three if I have time to bake something sweet) to try out on my pack of little taste testers.

I am not going to lie about my rate of success.  Many of my attempts have bombed with the kids.  Meals Mr Pict and I have found delicious, the kids have complained about.  There have been a few melodramatic gagging performances and a smattering of going to bed hungry but mainly just moaning.  If more than 50% of the kids declare the meal to be horrid then those meals do not make it into my recipe file.  I dust myself off and try a different recipe the following week.  There have also been recipes I have tried that even I found too mediocre to be palatable.  Some I have adapted to give them a stronger flavour punch and others have just been deleted from my memory.  However, there have been enough comments along the lines of “You can make this again” to encourage me to keep trying and month on month my recipe file is getting chunkier.  A few recipes – and not just the sweet ones – have become family favourites.

A side benefit is that the kids have become a little more sensitive to my feelings when responding to the new recipes.  Dialogue about the success and failings of new recipes, suggestions as to how they might be tweaked to be improved, discussion as to precisely what makes them enjoy or reject a meal, has led to less yelps of “Why are you making us eat food this gross?” to the much more respectful and tolerable “I don’t think you should make this again” and “I would eat this again if it had more spice” and such like.  Meal times, as a result, are generally becoming gradually more pleasant affairs.  I still have to say “eat it or starve” too much for my liking but I accept it is all a process.  I will keep ploughing onwards with my recipe testing challenge.

24 thoughts on “Cupboard Love and the Cooking Challenge

  1. I can totally relate to this, as my kid is getting older it seems that the repertoire of foods he is willing to eat is shrinking fast and I do find it disheartening to cook from scratch and have everything I make being met with a disgusted face 😦
    Could you share the top 5 dishes in your house?

    • Yes. There’s nothing worse than spending hours making a meal that you then scrape into the bin.

      Top 5 meals I would say are definitely Kashmiri butter chicken curry in first place. Everyone loves that and I get zero complaints. A layered Mexican spiced vegetarian dish that has green chilies and tomatillos in it. Chicken, cheese and bean quesadillas. Chicken satay with peanut sauce. Then sadly it’s probably something like pancakes, bacon and eggs or spaghetti and meatballs that require minimum effort.

      • What about Baked beans on toast? 😀

        Here I make soups. Loads and they usually get eaten as long as they come with a decent amount of bread to dip in it 😦

        But my kid goes off stuff now. He didn’t use to…

        He doesn’t like things mixed up together. He wants ingredients to stay separated. Although he does have Dahl if not spicy.

        Im amazed that your kids would eat such complicated dishes, with spices!! 🙂

      • My kids actually prefer grown up food to kid type food. I even have one who detests pizza. They like Indian spices and Mexican flavours. My oldest frequently adds hot sauce to foods he isn’t enjoying so that all he can taste is the pepper kick of the hot sauce.

        I love beans on toast, especially with a good splash of Worcester sauce, but 50% of my kids hate beans and another 25% isn’t that enthused. Only my 10 year old likes soup. I make soup frequently in winter regardless though as I often eat that if I’m making them a meal containing meat – such as meatballs or sausages. I also have to chop onions to being tiny (I use a food processor) as my oldest claims he despises onions despite the fact he secretly eats them all the time. His favourite food contains two whole onions. It’s definitely a challenge.

      • It must be very challenging to try to please four kids when cooking a meal! 🙂 well done! I’m always amazed at mums. They are so creative, resourceful, talented and selfless… 🙂

  2. You know I won’t be able to relate but I relate to your kids. My cousin who is a great cook often send me new dishes to try. I give her my honest opinion, no sugar coating. But I find it does not encourage her more. So I changed my style and told her that maybe this or that or maybe if we use this meat instead of this or this may be much tastier paired with this. Our relationship is never better. Now we go on dates to try different restaurants and she would replicate their recipes and put in her special touch. 🙂 I can just imagine my cousin in you. You delight in creating food out of scratch and seeing it appreciated by everyone and being a staple in the home choices.

    • I’m very lucky in that I have a husband who will eat just about anything I put in front of him without complaint (he’s not fond of savory foods that are fruity) but I know enough fussy adults to be aware this isn’t just a parent-child dynamic.

      I actually don’t think you sound like you’ve been too tricky for your cousin at all as a taste tester because you’ve happily tried everything and are providing constructive feedback. That’s been my big thing with the kids is encouraging them to try things without already mentally writing them off, properly trying and not just one fork full. Sometimes they even come to the table blind folded because I know they won’t like the look of something but should like the taste of it.

      Anyway, it sounds like you and your cousin are having a great time being foodies. That’s one of the lovely things about tasty food is how it can augment a social situation and help people bond. That’s why so many traditions involve food after all.

      • I think you’re right. I’ve tried a lot and yes I think they are constructive criticisms. Maybe its just how I say it sometimes. Considering we are cousins I disregard feelings most of the time. 🙂 But yes, your kids should try and not only a fork full. I remember my grandmother telling us when we were kids…not everyone has food on the table so eat or sleep starving. Like what you are doing too.

  3. Don’t give up on those recipes, Laura. Your children’s’ palate will change as they grow. Your frustration might be the reason so many families stick to the same meals, repeated ad nauseam. I never became that short order cook either. As they got older, they sometimes would fix their own favorites. I often changed up the menu, just to suit myself. My husband is happy with anything, I’m a bit more discriminating. ☺

    • My Dad grew up knowing exactly what he would be served on a Monday, the same thing every Tuesday etc. I could just never stand the thought of that. I would get so utterly bored. I’m glad I haven’t given into the temptation to just serve the same couple of dozen dishes over and over because I am incrementally adding to my recipe book and the kids are finding new means they enjoy.

      • That seems to be the reaction to your Dad’s kind of meal program. I had a friend who kept a calendar, so that she’d never repeat a meal in any given month. Her husband grew up on days of leftovers. She could never cook a big roast or even a Thanksgiving meal, he hated leftovers of any kind. ☺ I’m proud of how far I can stretch a main course, reinventing it the next day… came from my grandmother’s Depression era ethics.

  4. How well I know all of this Laura – the gagging performances especially!! Our son from birth to the age of 2 was such an easy child to feed, then he stopped eating and the fussiness lasted for years. I have a policy of cooking something at the weekend that is new or different and he has to try it – like you say there have been some melodramatic episodes but I’ve noticed that he is far more receptive to far more things now and it’s all so much easier!

    • I’m so glad this approach is working for you too. It’s encouraging to me to know it might work long term to get them trying new foods and being more adventurous about combinations of ingredients.

  5. isn;t it so frustrating when you cook something new and you get the ‘I don’t like it’ carry on? I also operate an ‘eat it or go hungry’ policy. Miss 10 will eat rather than stare, but miss8 is happy to get to bed with an empty tummy…

  6. Have you seen the cookbook “Good and Cheap” by Leanne Brown? I’ve gotten some really good food without a lot of extra fuss out of this book – and if anyone didn’t like the dish the ingredients were fairly low-cost so if a plate had to be scrapped into the bin it didn’t hurt too bad! Most all of the recipes are easily re-heated when somebody decides they’ll eat it after all 😉
    I applaud your resourcefulness!!

      • Here’s hoping your library has it – or will be willing to get it if you ask nicely! 😉 Some of my favorite meals have come from this accurately named “Good and Cheap” book! All the best to you!

  7. Congratulations on keeping your new year’s resolution going this long! It sounds like your determination is paying off, too. And if it helps, food fussiness isn’t permanent… I was the world’s pickiest eater for years, and now I’ll eat pretty much anything! I think it was a combination of “eat it or starve” and getting the chance to help prepare my own meals that fixed me 😀

    • That’s very encouraging to know. I’m actually very lucky in that my kids have pretty mature palates and are not into standard kid food. When we have their friends over for meals, I get to experience what most kids are like with food and I realize mine aren’t too bad. It’s just with four of them the chances of all of them being content with a meal are slim to nil. Except for curry. That gets 100% approval.

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