She may be a registered dietician who specializes in cooking up healthy, nutritious meals on her Cooking Channel show, but Ellie Krieger also knows the realities of hectic weeknight cooking and battling picky eating. We caught up with the busy mom (to daughter Isabella, 9) after she emceed a cooking demo at a Barilla pasta event in New York to find out her fave go-to recipes, what she thinks about school lunches and her secret junk food craving.
What are some simple substitutions parents can make when preparing meals to make them healthier?
Ellie Krieger: It can be something as simple as changing up the vegetable you use. If you make broccoli every single night, try cauliflower. Or changing up the spices—if you always use oregano, try basil and thyme. Simple things like that can add variety to your diet.
What is a myth about healthy cooking and eating that you’d like to dispel?
EK: That it takes a lot of time. You can cook a dinner for your family in 15-20 minutes. It’s also good to keep five go-to recipes in your back pocket—that takes the stress out of meal planning.
What ingredients are good to keep on hand for fast weeknight cooking?
EK: Whole grain pasta; canned tomatoes are great; almonds, a very versatile nut; canned beans. Even fresh garlic will last a while.
It's 6 am, and you and your family are running out the door to school and work. What's a good grab-and-go breakfast idea?
EK: For breakfast at the ready, I make ahead and freeze muffins and energy bars. Then you can just grab and go. Smoothies are also easy; it’s just frozen fruit and a little milk. Even if you come home from a vacation and have nothing in your fridge, you’ll probably go out to buy some milk for the next day, so that’s something you can always make.
It’s really about the frame of mind, and not focusing on being perfect. You have to think, “I can’t be perfect, but I can make a quick smoothie for breakfast.”
It's 6 pm, and you come home from a long day, and you and your family are hungry. What's your go-to, throw-it-together-quickly meal?
EK: This is where those five recipes in your arsenal will come in handy. I make a quick pasta dish with a tomato-almond sauce.
(Krieger gave us a 6-minute dinner recipe from her new cookbook So Easy: Luscious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Week. Get the recipe for Garlic Basil Shrimp!)
Does your daughter have any picky eating habits? How do you encourage her to try new foods?
EK: [Isabella] has a pretty good palette. I recently read a study that was about breastfeeding encouraging different tastes, because breast milk tastes different every time, while formula always tastes the same. So I think it started there for me. I also bring my daughter to the farmers’ market with me. I remember, when she was younger, telling her that she could pick one thing for us to cook. She chose a huge stalk of Brussels sprouts! To this day we fight over who gets the last Brussels sprout at dinner.
I used to keep a food mill on the kitchen counter and just mill whatever I was eating and serve it to my daughter. The earlier you start, the better. I don’t make special food for children. There are two choices in my house: take it or leave it! It’s also a control issue. You have to refuse to let it become a battle.
You also have to let your kids come to the table hungry. We focus on giving kids so many snacks throughout the day that they don’t come to the table with an appetite. Hunger truly is the best gravy. While true childhood hunger is an issue I take very seriously, for most well-nourished children, it can be motivating to understand hunger.
Let’s talk about school lunches. What do you think can be done to improve school lunches? (Krieger’s daughter attends public school in New York City).
EK: My daughter’s public school was the first to be awarded a grant in New York for the HealthierUS Schools Challenge. It’s really important to remember to work as a team. Parents don’t always like what they see in schools, but you have to work with the school to understand the school’s parameters and see what they have to work with. Try to approach the principal, and talk to the people who are doing the work with the lunches. Go to a PTA meeting and think about forming a wellness committee with other parents—that’s what I did.
What are some things parents can do to teach kids to appreciate food as more then fuel?
EK: Do it yourself. Be a role model. So many parents fix their kids a sandwich for lunch, and then eat the leftover crusts over the sink. Children watch the way you eat. Show them that you honor your own body. Cooking together is another way to do this and involve kids.
Do you ever crave any “unhealthy” food?
EK: Oh, absolutely! French fries. I love potatoes baked or cooked in any form. But I just try not to eat too many of them.
Plus: Get more of Ellie Krieger's recipes: