Supermom turned Food Nanny takes on family dinner
How many families do you know that actually sit down for home-cooked meals every day of the week? Five days a week? How about one or two? According to The New York Times, kids who partake in regular family meals are less likely to use drugs or alcohol, less stressed, perform better in school and eat more healthfully. Liz Edmunds, aka the Food Nanny, managed to have her family of nine sitting around the table for nutritious, homemade dinners seven, yes seven, nights per week. How on earth did she do it? you ask. According to Edmunds, it’s all about planning, preparation and consistency.
Edmunds caught the cooking bug at a young age. "My mother was a wonderful example," she says. "She had dinner on the table every single night." When Edmunds became a mother herself, she began to tweak her mother’s recipes and started building the collection of recipes that would eventually be incorporated into her cookbook, The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner, which was published last month.
In 1981, Liz and her husband, Steve, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot, built a cabin in Woodland with the intention of using it as a summer getaway. The family ended up staying for three years, and after a brief stint in Texas, they returned to the cabin and made it their permanent home.
For nearly 30 years, Edmunds was a fulltime homemaker and mother of seven (the oldest is now 36; the youngest, 20). Most days, she had fresh-baked cookies coming out of the oven as the kids arrived home from school. All of her kids knew how to cook by age 12, and oftentimes they helped prepare nightly meals. Getting involved in the kitchen gave them a sense of purpose and responsibility, she says. Edmunds got her kids to look forward to dinners at home by implementing "theme nights." Friday was make-your-own pizza night, Saturday — grill night and Sunday — family traditions. Instead of going out and spending money at pricey restaurants, the kids got excited about enjoying their favorite foods at home.
News of Edmunds’ culinary talent and knack for getting kids to eat dinner at home spread around the neighborhood in no time. Soon she was visiting other families’ homes, counseling parents on the importance of family dinners and reforming meal plans. Her exuberant personality, upbeat attitude and passion for family meals were contagious. Edmunds helped countless relatives, friends and neighbors plan their own theme nights, design menus based on their tastes and budgets, and gain confidence in their cooking skills. Her ideas for theme nights, especially, were a hit.
The barrage of praise and pleas to share her wisdom made Edmunds realize that she was onto something. Her kids helped her come up with themes for the remaining nights of the week: Monday became comfort food night, Tuesday Italian, Wednesday fish and meatless, and Thursday Mexican. Edmunds continued to share her vision with others and vowed to do her part to bring every family home for dinner. "The rest was history," she says.
The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner includes 200 family-friendly recipes divided into categories according to themes. From comfort food classics like Beef Stroganoff and Pepper Jack Potato Soup to healthy favorites like Roast Salmon with Vegetables and Pear Gorgonzola Salad, readers will find something to please even the pickiest eaters. Edmunds’ plan for consistent family dinners includes mapping out a one-to-two week menu plan, making a comprehensive, organized grocery list and choosing theme nights that fit family preferences. With effective planning and a little advance preparation, Edmunds swears that any mom or dad can emulate her example.
In addition to being the go-to girl for meal planning, Edmunds has lots of budget-friendly tips for families that are curbing spending in light of financial troubles. She stresses that no matter what your budget, there’s always a better alternative to fast food. Edmunds recommends going through your recipe collection and picking out dishes featuring in-season produce and less expensive types of meat. If you can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables, stock up on canned and frozen varieties, she says. Buy ingredients for make-your-own pizza in bulk and use them over and over to make delicious pizzas at a fraction of the cost for delivery. Edmunds suggests taking advantage of coupons in the paper and noting which items are on sale before planning menus.
A crusader for family bonding and open communication, Edmunds also provides "table talk" topics and conversation starters throughout the book to promote significant discussions that include the entire family. "Nothing was more meaningful to our family each day than the consistency of having dinnertime together," she writes in her book. "I believe it played the biggest role in keeping the communication between family members wide open."
Edmunds’ oldest son, Dave, who is the Summit County Sheriff, agrees that the stimulating conversations between family members were just as, if not more important than the food. "I always knew that when I came home from school, there would be something good to eat on the table and my mom would be waiting to talk to me about anything," he says. "It was my mom’s personal touch that made each one of us, and in turn the entire family, better." The ability to discuss anything provided a huge comfort and security to all of us, he says.
The quintessential stay-at-home mom turned careerwoman has a lot on her plate these days. Since the cookbook’s publication, she has been on a whirlwind nationwide promotional tour. A Food Nanny show is in the works, and Edmunds plans to resume teaching classes at Sur La Table in Salt Lake in 2009. But don’t assume that her newfound fame will go to her head. The most important thing for Edmunds is spreading the message that anyone can make family dinner a kitchen staple. "Everyone deserves to be able to sit down to a hot meal," she says. "At the end of the day, we all need to be able to sit down, relax and take a load off all it takes is planning."
The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner is available locally at Dolly’s Bookstore. You can also order the book, download menu planners and grocery list templates, and check out sample recipes at http://www.thefoodnanny.com.
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