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Feeding a Family: Sarah Waldman Has a Plan

By SultanaBun Published on May 10, 2017

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This article was updated on May 24, 2017
‘Everyone wants to know how to make dinner work because when it works it is a source of pride, connection, and light at the end of a long day.’

Sarah Waldman is a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and she is a Mom on a mission. She wants to help you reclaim dinner for your family. The aim of her bookFeeding a Family, is to provide you with the inspiration and information you need to steer your family away from processed foods, without provoking a riot, even if you are on a tight budget and don’t happen to live near a fancy grocery store.

Waldman is quietly passionate about empowering parents to take control over what their family eats, and how their family behaves, at dinner time. Waldman is determined to convince us that we don’t need to check our emails while we spoon up our soup and we shouldn’t resort to lap trays in front of the television.

‘Our modern culture is trying to convince us that time spent on dinner preparation is wasted time, and that we need to multi-task during mealtimes to keep up. Not true. What we need is to find ways to make cooking food and eating together fit into our busy lives. It is not a lost cause, but it does require a unified effort.’

In her well-researched and informative introduction, Waldman stresses the vital role played by the family dinner in raising children. She lists some very convincing facts: research has shown, for example, that children who participate in regular family meals do better nutritionally, academically, socially and emotionally. Teenagers who eat dinner with their families are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol and do drugs. The logical conclusion is that a little extra effort in the kitchen will pay dividends beyond measure.

‘We shouldn’t add cooking guilt to our already full plate of parental self-blame.’

Without even a hint of reproach or preaching, Waldman presents a fresh approach, a clean slate as it were, to finding healthy, wholesome dishes your family will love. Her advice on nutrition is refreshingly clear cut:

‘My advice is to simply focus on eating and serving a variety of whole foods –that’s it.’

The book takes a seasonal approach: there are ten complete dinner menus per season. More than half of the daily menus are composed of a wholesome main dish followed by a healthy, sweet treat. Many also include interesting side dishes and salads. There isn’t a dessert with every meal, nor should there be. Recipes range from weekday winners to relaxed party fare. 

Slurpee Noodles Bowls - crunchy, super-tasty and just as spicy as you like.
Slurpee Noodles Bowls - crunchy, super-tasty and just as spicy as you like.

The dishes are sophisticated enough to satisfy adults while being perfectly suitable for children. 

Gado gado salad - my kids were crying out for extra helpings of raw veggies!
Gado gado salad - my kids were crying out for extra helpings of raw veggies!

Many recipes include tips on how small kids can help out with the cooking, perhaps by peeling Brussels sprouts, rolling dough or crushing cookies.

Feeding a Family: Sarah Waldman Has a Plan - Image 3

 I loved seeing these tips because this, surely, is how we empower our children to take care of themselves.

Chickpea Stew - whizzed up veggies added to the sauce add extra depth of flavour and, of course, nutrition.
Chickpea Stew - whizzed up veggies added to the sauce add extra depth of flavour and, of course, nutrition.
Indian Butter Chicken - a mildly spiced curry suitable even for babies.
Indian Butter Chicken - a mildly spiced curry suitable even for babies.

I was also hugely impressed to see guidelines on how elements of a dish may be used to make dinner for the littlest baby at the table. It has always been my belief that everyone at the table should eat essentially the same meal. If babies are eating the same dinner from the get go, it seems to me they are far less likely to be picky eaters later on. In one example she suggests chopping, or blitzing (as appropriate to age) the ricotta, sausage and kale toppings from a family pizza. This isn’t rocket science but then, neither is feeding a baby.

I also loved that Waldman admits that her kids don’t always eat the food she puts in front of them.

‘other times one of them ends up eating a couple of eggs for dinner. Such is life.’

The point is – with family dinners, as with so many other aspects of parenting, you’ve just got to keep trying. Stating the blindingly brilliant obvious, Waldman reminds parents that, ‘if it’s not on their plates, they can’t eat it.’

The book has clearly been very well tested. Waldman had four guest families, ‘busy, hard-working, down-to-earth food lovers,’ try out a selection of the seasonal recipes in their own kitchens. To be honest, I didn’t find that this element added significantly to the book other than providing heart-warming, real-life photographs of happy, healthy families enjoying good food.

Date and Chocolate Truffles - no added sugar and completely delicious.
Date and Chocolate Truffles - no added sugar and completely delicious.

Sarah Waldman has created a real no-nonsense family cookbook that rolls in the functions of a ‘kids can cook’ book and a ‘feeding baby’ book.

Herby Pasta with Mussels - took me right back to an Italian beach side shack.
Herby Pasta with Mussels - took me right back to an Italian beach side shack.
German Apple Cake - cheese and apple for dinner? Yes, please.
German Apple Cake - cheese and apple for dinner? Yes, please.

 I love it. I really do. I have quite the selection of ‘family’ cookbooks on my shelves and this is, honestly, my new favourite. Waldman is a rock of common sense without being at all boring. Her recipes have genuinely delighted my children, who range from 5 to 18, and we have been happily eating from this book since the day it landed on my doorstep.

Chocolate Mint Milkshakes - mine lacks froth but still tasted great.
Chocolate Mint Milkshakes - mine lacks froth but still tasted great.
Rhubarb Cake - with the toothsome bite of wholewheat flour and caramel hit of dark brown sugar. This is my kind of cake.
Rhubarb Cake - with the toothsome bite of wholewheat flour and caramel hit of dark brown sugar. This is my kind of cake.
Frozen Peaches 'N' Cream Cake - my daughter made this as my birthday cake. Now, that is what I call a plan coming together.
Frozen Peaches 'N' Cream Cake - my daughter made this as my birthday cake. Now, that is what I call a plan coming together.

The book is not labelled as a vegetarian cookbook but there are plenty of meat-free meals. Nor is it labelled as allergy-friendly but there are plenty of suggestions of alternative ingredients for those avoiding nuts, dairy or gluten. It’s not even labelled as healthy but the meals are wholesome and nutritious and desserts lean towards the virtuous. The subtitle actually reads, ‘A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work’ and that is precisely what you get.

I had every intention of giving this book to my younger sister who is expecting her first baby but my family have informed me that they can’t live without Slurpee Noodle Bowls so I may have to purchase another copy. This is one cookbook that won't stay on the shelf getting dusty.


Buy your copy of Feeding a Family here.

Irish blogger and book reviewer. Official contributor to Bookwitty.com and author of Bookwitty's monthly 'Cooking the Books' feature. Erstwhile microbiologist with an MSc in Food Science, she ... Show More

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