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How Important is Food in your Family?

Erin Zammett Ruddy

If you’ve ever read this blog or pretty much anything else I’ve written, you know I like food. A lot. I like to eat it, cook it, talk about it, write about it, read about it, watch shows about it and pretty much any other it involving food (when I’m in between books I’ll take a cookbook to bed and just read recipes, even if I never intend to cook them). This passion/obsession/hobby is pretty much part of my DNA and I want to ensure that my kids get those genes as opposed to, say, my cellulite gene.


I grew up listening to my Grandma Ruth tell elaborate stories of the amazing meals she ate in places like China and Russia and Turkey (and New Orleans, her favorite culinary city). She talked with such love and detail about the food that you could almost taste it. We’d watch The Frugal Gourmet together and then we’d host our own cooking show in my parents’ kitchen (she was Mrs. Peach, I was her assistant, Charlotte, and we always made soup). My father (Mrs. Peach’s son) and I cooked big pasta or seafood meals most Sunday nights when I was in junior high and high school. He never read a recipe in his life (despite how many cookbooks I bought him for father’s days over the years) but he loved good food and loved feeding people good food even more.


We don’t have any strong ethnic heritage that informs our food passion (we’re a good chunk Irish but, well, you’ve tasted corned beef and cabbage, right?). We just really like coming around the table and cooking and eating together—a tradition I am already trying to recreate for my children. We recently started an organic vegetable and herb garden in our backyard. This is 100 percent thanks to a friend, Elizabeth Rexer Leonard, who’s been trained in organic farming and is super passionate about helping people grow their own food. She’s part of the “farm to table” movement (or yard to table, in my case) and she’s fantastic. She has been teaching me how to care for the veggies and dropping by to make sure I’m not screwing it all up. As I mentioned last week, having my own garden was on my bucket list so I am beyond thrilled to be living the dream. And pretty soon I’ll be eating the dream—yum! (Alex and I tasted the arugula this morning and it’s amazing). Every day before school Alex and I check on the progress and try to decipher what all the little buds are (Nora took out the popsicles stick labels Elizabeth had made…).


I cannot wait to pick some veggies and cook them up with Al (he likes to pretend he’s on Top Chef, which is the only non-Nick Jr. show I’ve ever let him watch). On Sunday when he woke up from his nap and saw that I was making guacamole (with cilantro from my herb garden!), he said, “Oh, mom, I just have to go pee and then I’ll come help you because I’m an awesome cooker.” Swoon. He’s also becoming an adventurous eater, which makes me so proud. Last night, while waiting for Nick to cook sausages and asparagus for him on the grill, Alex asked to try some of my leftover Indian takeout from the night before (he knows that we sometimes eat after he goes to bed and thinks anything we have must be amazing and magical and delicious, which it usually is). The kid put away a plate full of chana saag, rice, nan and raita and I couldn’t have been happier. I honestly wanted to document it in his baby book. Except I stopped filling that out when he was three months old so it would be weird to go from “He eats 6 ounces of formula five times a day” to “He plowed through sautéed spinach and chick peas with a creamy yogurt sauce.” Of course I had ordered the dish with medium spice so he got a runny nose and freaked out a little at one point saying his lips stung. (OMG, is this some sort of culinary child abuse? Whoops!). But the point is, I liked that he tried it and I liked that he liked it. We went through a hunger strike phase a while back so this is serious progress.


We’re conditioned as parents to be obsessed with what our kids eat, right from the beginning (hello, breast vs. formula debate!). And now that I’m educating myself more about food, I’m even more obsessed. But in a good way. This time last year I worked on a cookbook for Glamour (Engagement Chicken and 99 Other Fabulous Dishes to Get You Everything You Want in Life) and doing all that food writing and recipe testing and 24/7 culinary thinking got me more into food than ever before. What I put in my body is really important to me (both how it tastes and what it will do for me healthwise). And Nick is completely onboard. Most days he and I will email/BBM each other to discuss what we feel like for dinner, who’s going to the store, what the kids have been lacking in their diet, who’s cooking, whether we’re eating with the kids or dining a deux post-bedtime. We live to eat, and lately we’ve been eating really well. The best part: Nick and I are both at the lowest weight we’ve been at in years. (It’s amazing what happens when you start eating big, hearty salads for lunch instead of thick deli sandwiches….)


Do my kids eat chicken nuggets and mac and cheese sometimes? Yes. Are there mornings when Nora has a bite of oatmeal and then clamps her mouth shut for the next hour? Sure. Have we sworn off white flour and sugar? Hardly. At a birthday party over the weekend, Nora ate ice cream cake for dinner after spending half the afternoon draining the leftovers from every other kids’ juice box. And I have been known to devour any orange-colored snack food (cheetohs! Doritos!) in my vicinity if the mood strikes me. But we are trying to move toward more home-cooking, more whole foods, more natural, healthful ingredients and, eventually, more food from our very own backyard. Yay!


How important is food in your family? Is it a big part of who you are or do you—gasp!—eat to live? Do your kids help you in the kitchen? Do any of you have a garden? Any fun foodie rituals or traditions? And if you’ve got some great kid-friendly recipes to share (that don’t involve throwing nuggets in the oven, which I have already mastered!), please do. Let’s discuss today!