In the era of hard-driving adults and over-programmed kids, weeknight dinners are often an afterthought. We explore strategies for putting a tasty, healthy, child-friendly meal on the table Monday through Friday.


  • Nancy Tringali Piho Author, "My Two Year Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children who Love to Eat Everything" (Bull Publishing, Boulder); President of Nancy Tringali Associates, a Washington-based communications agency that specializes in the food industry
  • J.M. Hirsch Food Editor for the Associated Press; author, High Flavor Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking (Ballantine)

Video of J.M. Hirsch Cooking

Associated Press food editor J.M. Hirsch cooks at home and talks about his new book on healthy, home-made weeknight dinners:


  • 13:06:43

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. In an era of high powered parents and over programmed kids, home cooked meals can become an afterthought. By the time the whole family gets home, it's well into the evening and everyone's tired and hungry. So what happens in your house? Do you pick up the phone and order take-out? Do you throw another pack of spaghetti in a pot or do you put together a quick but tasty and well balanced meal with a mix of fresh ingredients and pantry staples?

  • 13:07:29

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBecause of the popularity of the food network and celebrity chefs, cooking today often seems to be more spectator sport than daily routine. But with the right approach, you can put a home cooked meal on the table at the end of the day. Joining us in studio is Nancy Tringali Piho, author of, "My Two Year Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children who Love to East Everything." She's president of the Nancy Tringali Associates, a Washington-based communications agency specializing in the food industry. Nancy, great to see you again.

  • 13:08:04

    MS. NANCY TRINGALI PIHOThank you, Kojo. It's good to be here.

  • 13:08:06

    NNAMDIJoining us by telephone from Concord, N.H. is J.M. Hirsch. He is food editor for the Associated Press and author of "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." J.M., thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:20

    MR. J.M. HIRSCHThank you so much.

  • 13:08:22

    NNAMDIJ.M., you are a journalist, not...

  • 13:08:24

    HIRSCHI am.

  • 13:08:24

    NNAMDI...a chef.

  • 13:08:25

    HIRSCHYes. And I'm -- I've, you know, I've never been to culinary school. I've never worked in a restaurant. I just like great food. And at the end of the day, I don't have a whole lot of time. I don't have a whole a lot of skills. Some days I don't have a lot of food, but it doesn't mean I don't want a great dinner. It doesn't mean my six-year-old son is going to be demanding it.

  • 13:08:42

    NNAMDIHow did your assignment as food editor for the Associate Press lead to your interest in weeknight cooking?

  • 13:08:50

    HIRSCHWell, you know, it's -- a lot of people assume that because my day job is working with food on some level, you know, that I have this great advantage at, you know, when I get home and start thinking about dinner. But the reality is I work with words and photos more than anything. And I have cooks who work for me. And they're the ones who do the hands-on cooking so I don't have a whole lot of advantage. And I come home at the end of the day and I face the same challenge as everybody else.

  • 13:09:15

    HIRSCHAnd one of the things I've tried to do with the Associated Press is kind of bring us in, you know, the recipes that we produce for newspapers and websites around the country is sort of bring us more into the main stream and provide the sorts of recipes that people like me need at the end of a crazy Wednesday. You know, and that we can help people get dinner on the table fast and easily.

  • 13:09:39

    NNAMDISpeaking of...

  • 13:09:40

    HIRSCHAnd that's where the interest came from.

  • 13:09:41

    NNAMDI...speaking of getting dinner on the table fast and easy, let me ask our listeners. What's your favorite quick and easy, but also nutritious, homemade meal. You can call us at 800-433-8850. What's your favorite quick and easy, but also nutritious, homemade meal? You can go to our website and tell us there at Send us a tweet at kojoshow or you can send an e-mail to Nancy, your children are six and three.

  • 13:10:07

    PIHOYes, they are.

  • 13:10:07

    NNAMDIWhat's dinnertime like at your house and how do you put together family friendly meals?

  • 13:10:12

    NNAMDIWell, it can be tough, as J.M. just said. I work, my husband works and the kids are off doing their activities. And just to get everybody sitting around the table at one time is a big -- is a big feat. Sometimes, we don't eat 'til eight o'clock at night and that's not always a good thing. But I do try, as J.M. said, to always have something that we can sit down and enjoy together. And I think that's the big focus. I think that children need to start from a young age, eating with their parents and eating together as a family and enjoying a good meal together.

  • 13:10:41

    NNAMDIHow important is it to have the kids help you cook and prepare?

  • 13:10:44

    PIHOWell, in my house, it helps a lot. My six-year-old is actually getting to be to the point where he's pretty helpful. My three-year-old likes to turn on the light in the oven and maybe take the groceries out of the bag and do a few other little simple tasks. But I think just exposing them to the world of cooking and the kitchen and going to the grocery store and everything that's involved in preparing a meal is a good thing.

  • 13:11:04

    NNAMDIJ.M. tell us about what you call your blunt force approach to cooking weeknight dinners using high flavor and ingredients?

  • 13:11:11

    HIRSCHWell, you know, for me, again, lacking both skill and time, but desiring a great dinner, you know, I need a trick. I need something that I can do at the end of the day that's going to make my food great, but not ask a lot of me. And so I use these kind of high flavor ingredients, things like feta cheese and parmesan cheese and jalapeno peppers, balsamic vinegar. Things like that add a ton of flavor without me having to do any extra effort and I use those to spike the foods that I otherwise might be making. And it just adds a tremendous amount of flavor. It may change the entire profile of the meal. And I don't have to work as hard.

  • 13:11:48

    HIRSCHI'd rather be on the floor playing Legos with my son while dinner cooks than actually slaving. And I don't have the time or the skill, frankly, to make a more nuance meal so I go for big bold flavors that are going to kind of knock me around.

  • 13:11:59

    NNAMDIThat was my technique when I was a single parent. Nancy, give us some examples of some high flavor foods. Well, let me start with you, J.M., since you talked about flavors. Give me some examples of some high flavor foods you like to cook at this time of year or like to cook with at this time of year.

  • 13:12:16

    HIRSCHYeah, well, you know, I like -- I start with a base, you know, whether it be boneless skinless chicken breast or butternut squash or a pasta or something that I can use as kind of a blank canvas. And then, I just start adding, you know, some produce and some big flavor ingredients. So if I'm doing pasta, maybe I'll sauté some chicken and I will throw in some cumin and some smoked paprika and maybe a little bit of crumbled feta cheese or something, you know, something -- maybe an acid like some lemon zest or some lemon juice because all of these ingredients just add a tremendous amount of flavor for the effort of, you know, opening up a spice jar. Or grating some lemon zest over your dinner.

  • 13:12:57

    HIRSCHAnd it just really transforms it. It makes my work much easier and it makes the meal much more satisfying. You know, I will, for example, make a macaroni and cheese. I'll make a whole wheat macaroni and cheese and I will throw a splash of hot sauce into the cheese. And, you know, of course, I'm making this for my son as well and everybody thinks, oh, my God, you're giving your kid hot sauce and he must be an adventurous eater. But the reality is, I only add a little splash and it doesn't add a whole lot of heat. But just that little bit of hot sauce heightens the flavors of all the other ingredients in the dish.

  • 13:13:28

    HIRSCHAnd when you start playing with high flavor ingredients in that way, you can add a lot, again, without really doing a whole lot. And it really transforms the dish.

  • 13:13:38

    NNAMDINancy, what are some of the high flavor foods you like to cook with at this time of year?

  • 13:13:41

    PIHOWell, I agree completely with what J.M. just said. And I'll just point out my two go-to base dishes that I always keep on hand. I always have a package of chicken tenders in the freezer and a bag of tuna on the pantry shelf. And I think with those two things, you can make just about anything, whether it's -- you mix them with pasta or you mix them with brown rice or whatever else. But then, as J.M. said, you start adding your high end flavors and I think that's where it gets a lot of fun. And there's so many different directions you can go with items like chicken tenders and tuna.

  • 13:14:10

    PIHOAnd I think that's the fun of it. You can -- you know, there's the Asian route. You can do the soy sauces and the rice vinegars or the Italian route with oreganos and rosemary and can of tomatoes. Or there's just a lot of different directions you can take such a base product.

  • 13:14:24


  • 13:14:25

    HIRSCH(unintelligible) .

  • 13:14:25

    NNAMDI...Nancy Tringali Piho is author of "My Two Year Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything." She's president of Nancy Tringali Associates, a Washington-based communications agency specializing in the food industry. She's joins us in studio. J.M. Hirsch joins us from -- by telephone from Concord, N.H. He's food editor for the Associated Press and author of "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." I interrupted you, J.M. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:14:52

    HIRSCHOh, well, you know, I was just going to say, building on what Nancy said, you know, it's easy to do these sorts of experiments on your own without any real trouble. You take a grilled cheese, for example. And this is, you know, it's of course, a favorite of kids and it's easy to punch up the flavor. You know, take -- get some fig jam, for example, spread that on some cheddar and make a grilled cheese like you would any other grilled cheese. The flavor is going to be tremendous. And it's not going to be too sweet. The sweet and the savory-ness and the saltiness of the cheese, it's just going to be a wonderful combination.

  • 13:15:22

    HIRSCHOr you could put some prosciutto in there as well and you're still going to get that -- it's kind of savory bacony-ness, but you're not getting all the fat of regular bacon. Or you could throw some strawberry jam in there. And there's just so many different ways that you can dress up the foods that we already make, that we're already comfortable with and that, more importantly, your kids are already comfortable with. But to make them more satisfying and in kind of -- it's a good opportunity to introduce different flavors 'cause, you know, and one of the things we're all concerned about is getting our kids beyond chicken nuggets.

  • 13:15:52

    HIRSCHYou know, and everybody wants their kids to eat a healthy well-rounded diet. And those of us who live for adventurous eating want our kids embrace lots of different flavors and foods and ethnicities and so this is a good way of doing that. You know, you introduce different flavors into the foods that they already like and it's a great way of kind of expanding their pallets.

  • 13:16:12

    NNAMDIThe line between chicken nuggets and octopus, we'll have Nancy tell us that one in a second. But first, here is Peggy in Woodsboro, Md. Peggy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please?

  • 13:16:22

    PEGGYHi, you asked for a quick meal that most close families can put together after a day's work.

  • 13:16:28


  • 13:16:28

    PEGGYWe love to have that Saturday, Sunday big breakfast that you sometimes have at nighttime. And just scrambled eggs, make some chipped beef gravy for pancakes, toast, sausage gravy, maybe fry up some potatoes. Or if you have mashed potatoes left over from the night before, you could fry those up into potato patties. And you can make them a little spicier, like you're saying. Add in a bit of flavor without the labor.

  • 13:16:59

    PEGGYAdd in some more cheese that you might not add as a breakfast meal or stewed tomatoes along with those eggs or put your bell peppers in with the potatoes. So we enjoy that. The kids, when they were little, always like those big Saturday, Sunday morning meals. So we have it on a Sunday or a Wednesday night or a Monday night out of the blue and it tastes real good.

  • 13:17:19

    NNAMDIAnd they still want it on Sunday morning?

  • 13:17:23

    PEGGYAre they still what?

  • 13:17:23

    NNAMDIDo they still want it on Sunday morning?

  • 13:17:26

    PEGGYYes, they do. It tastes different in the morning, tastes different in the evening. The kids also said, wouldn't it be nice if McDonald's, every now and then, would have breakfast all day long?

  • 13:17:38

    NNAMDIPeggy, thank you very much for your call.

  • 13:17:39

    PEGGYThank you.

  • 13:17:40

    NNAMDIJ.M. you have written a cookbook, but in your own kitchen, you don't usually follow a recipe. You do more improvising than advanced planning, why?

  • 13:17:50

    HIRSCHThat's true. You know, because I really admire folks who can plan their meals for the week. And, you know, they sit there on Sunday, they figure out, okay, on Tuesday, we're going to have this, on Wednesday, we're going to have this, and they plan out and they shop accordingly. And I think that's excellent. I have never been able to make that system work in my life. It's just kind of too crazy for me. And the ability to think beyond the moment, in terms of what we're going to eat, is a little bit too taxing for me so.

  • 13:18:13

    NNAMDISo you wander the aisles in the supermarket?

  • 13:18:15

    HIRSCHI do.

  • 13:18:15

    NNAMDIAnd just pick stuff out.

  • 13:18:16

    HIRSCHAnd then, I bring home whatever looks good, whatever season or whatever's on sale and I bring that home. And I buy my basics, you know, my pastas and my chicken and so forth. And I always have lots of, obviously, high flavor ingredients on hand. And then, every day at around 5:00, 5:30 depending on, you know, my son, we -- I do what I call the dinner scrounge. I open up the refrigerator, I see what I have. I look at how much time I have and I do what I can with what I have in the time that I have. And, you know, I've very rarely been disappointed. And one of the reasons for that is, I think, thanks to the food culture, you know, where we see all sorts of glossy cookbooks and magazines and television.

  • 13:18:51

    HIRSCHSome of us have raised the bar a little too high. We expect perfection at the end of every day, you know, this wonderful three-course meal and I think that intimidates a lot of people out of cooking. And the reality is, dinner doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be good. And it has to be healthy and satisfying and bring everybody to the table. And that's more important that having the perfect roast chicken. And so I just look at what I have and I do what I can with it in the time that I have. And I very rarely, like I say, am I disappointed.

  • 13:19:20

    HIRSCHAnd it's again, it's not because I have any special skills or training. I just come at it with a sense of adventure and a willingness to try things. And usually it works. And I think most people, if they were -- if they do that, most people will find that it works.

  • 13:19:33

    NNAMDINancy, what ingredients are always on hand at your house for a quick and easy home cooked meal?

  • 13:19:39

    PIHOWell, as I mentioned, my chicken tenders and my tuna.

  • 13:19:41

    NNAMDISure did.

  • 13:19:41

    PIHOBut beyond that, I love things like frozen vegetables. I always have bags of -- a big ole bag of frozen corn and frozen lima beans and things like that. Because I think that's easy to throw in and make a meal more nutritious and taste better. Things like canned tomatoes and then a lot of things like just condiments that are easy to add. Things like Dijon mustard or capers, soy sauce.

  • 13:20:03

    PIHOA little chicken broth, I think, can go a long way and add a -- as chefs call it, layering flavors, but it adds a little punch to things when you're making rice or couscous. So I just try to keep some of these basics on hand. And as J.M. said, sometimes it works better than others, but it's always an adventure and it's a lot of fun to try to put things together in a little bit different combination.

  • 13:20:24

    NNAMDIIt's food Wednesdays here on the show and we're talking weeknight dinners made simple, inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. What staples do you always have on-hand for making dinner? Call us at 800-433-8850. Here is Beatrice in Silver Spring, Md. Beatrice, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:20:45

    BEATRICEYes. Hello. Well, I have a four-year-old and she's from -- originally from Kenya. But I'm Italian and we're both American.

  • 13:20:51

    BEATRICESo she likes pasta. She likes n'yama or, like, what in Kenya is called meat. So we always have chicken. She also likes fish. So one thing that I like to do for her, and she likes it -- it's easy. You take shredded cabbage and you fry it. You stir-fry it with sesame oil and turmeric and a little bit of soy sauce and that's really quick and really easy. It's a nice side dish. You can put pieces of chicken in there or you can put tofu, different things, as well as also some tilapia so that's an easy dish to make. And, of course, pasta in any single way, you know. And olive oil. In my house, olive oil always.

  • 13:21:34

    NNAMDIOh, yeah. Got to have olive oil for everything.

  • 13:21:36

    PIHOYeah, Beatrice, I think that's an excellent example of how easy it is to introduce children to new flavors and new foods. And you can quickly find some favorites like that that they will really enjoy and talk about to their friends. And I mean, there's a four-year-old that's eating a pretty advanced meal and I think that's a wonderful thing.

  • 13:21:54

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Beatrice. We're going to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line, we'll get to your call. If you haven't yet, the number's 800-433-8850. Where do you get your inspiration for weeknight dinners, from your grandmother, Rachel Ray, Trader Joe's, Iron Chef? 800-433-8850 or go to our website,, join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:24:02

    NNAMDIIt's food and drink Wednesday. We're discussing weeknight dinners made simple with Nancy Tringali Piho. She is author of the book "My Two Year Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love To Eat Everything." She's president of Nancy Tringali Associates, a Washington-based communications agency, specializing in the food industry. Also joining us is J.M. Hirsch, he is food editor for the Associated Press and author of the book "High Flavor Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." J.M., your six-year-old son makes spice rubs for you. Tell us about his box of spices.

  • 13:24:38

    HIRSCHYou know, it's a great way -- it's my secret for getting him involved in the kitchen with -- and kind of getting him out of my way, frankly. It started one day, I was cleaning out my spice cabinet and he started playing with some stuff. And he ended up making a great combination of spices and I ended up using it in the meal that night. And that's where I got the idea that, you know, if I give him a box of spices, things that you get at the dollar store, cast offs from my own cabinet, whatever, I'm not spending a fortune on this thing.

  • 13:25:06

    HIRSCHAnd I give him bowl and a spoon and he mixes things up. I decide what goes into the bowl so I know he's going to come up with a good combination, whatever he ends up doing. And I just let him play with it. And then, I try to use whatever mixture he comes up with in the meal. And I mean, I actually even have recipes in the book that stemmed from his creations this way. They've been so good. It's a great way of letting kids -- giving kids the freedom and the responsibility of participating in the meal while keeping them busy and letting you do what you need to do. And I'm...

  • 13:25:37


  • 13:25:39

    HIRSCH...big believer in that.

  • 13:25:40 of your favorite recipes, it is my understanding, is a wet spice rub for chicken on the grille.

  • 13:25:46

    HIRSCHAbsolutely. It's...

  • 13:25:46

    NNAMDIAnd the first time you and your son made it, you made it by mistake.

  • 13:25:53

    HIRSCHWe did. We opened up the cabinet. And we started dumping spices into a plastic bag that we then dumped some chicken tenders in and some olive oil. Smushed it around, threw the thing on the grille and we ended up -- between the two of us, we ate a pound and a half of chicken that night. It was so good. It took us 12 attempts to recreate the mixture that we had done and -- but it was delicious. And, you know, it's that kind of willingness to just explore and experiment and try things and get the kids involved.

  • 13:26:18

    HIRSCHAnd, you know, he was a part of that meal. And he was so eager to try it because he had had a hand in choosing the spices we were dumping into the bag. And I'm just a big believer in getting kids involved early and often. And, you know, one of the things I always say is that getting kids involved in the shopping and the cooking is not always fun and easy, by any stretch of the imagination. But nothing about raising kids is always fun and easy. We do it because it's important.

  • 13:26:45

    HIRSCHAnd, you know, and one of my other tricks that I have for getting him involved and excited about food, is we try to try something new every week. So when I take him shopping, our goal is find something we've never tried, whether it's produce or juice or a condiment, something out of the ethnic aisle, anything. I don't care what it is. We bring it home and we make a moment out of trying this and deciding whether we like it and what we would do with it. We've had some losers, but we've also had some great things that we've tried to incorporate into our repertoire.

  • 13:27:15

    NNAMDIAnd as Nancy pointed out earlier, it's important to have kids help you cook and prepare. You let them take things out of bags, you let them turn on the oven light. You like the idea that they smell the smell, set the table. How does that prepare them for eating things that are not, well, bland?

  • 13:27:29

    PIHOWell, it just -- it teaches them that food and dinner and eating together and the family, it's all part of a big -- a bigger picture. And I think that, as J.M. is saying, it's not just about fueling up and because you're hungry, everybody is getting dinner. It really is about enjoying who you are as a family and time together. And I think all of this is great to incorporate the kids.

  • 13:27:52

    NNAMDIYes, Fran, on the Beltway in Maryland. Hi, Fran.

  • 13:27:57

    FRANHello, Kojo.

  • 13:27:59

    NNAMDIGo right ahead, Fran, you're on the air.

  • 13:28:01

    FRANYeah. My suggestion is for those busy weeknights when I've worked full-time and my children were in school, we were always running, was to use the crock pot. You can make healthy meals just with a little organization in the morning. And when they come home, the house smells so good they'll eat whatever you put in it.

  • 13:28:19

    NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you brought that up because we got an e-mail from someone else who said, "I use a crock pot to make most meals. Throw in some chicken, potatoes, carrots and broth and turn on low. It's ready when I get home from work. Or put in pork and pour on some Coke and cook on low." What do you...

  • 13:28:34

    PIHODoesn't that sound good? I'm hungry right now. Especially this time of year, you know, it's a little bit of fall crispness in the air. It's just -- a crock pot is a wonderful solution to busy working families.

  • 13:28:42

    NNAMDIThank you very much for that suggestion, Fran.

  • 13:28:47

    FRANYou're welcome.

  • 13:28:47

    NNAMDIWe move on to Alicia in Washington, D.C. Alicia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Alicia.

  • 13:28:54

    ALICIAHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I'm enjoying this topic and it's very timely. Just last week, I launched a blog that I'm calling "Weekly Greens." its I'm a full-time working mom in D.C. I've got sons that are five and two. And each week, I'm posting a full week of menus and a shopping list to allow people to shop once and make the recipes each week. All the recipes are on the site and each of them can be made in about 30 minutes or less. And they're all healthy. I'm centering around produce and using things like meat and things like that, as a side dish.

  • 13:29:29

    NNAMDIYou know, it's funny, I just -- it just occurred to me that my niece is doing the exact same thing in New York with a blog. And I omitted to call her and tell her about this show. If you know her, please make sure she doesn't hear about this, Alicia. Alicia, but that is an excellent idea.

  • 13:29:44

    ALICIAIt's been fun. It's been sort of a combination of my love of photography and my love of cooking. And I -- it's funny. I'm enjoying hearing Nancy and J.M.'s comments because I'm in -- you know, involving my children in cooking the food. And I've got a whole section on about pantry staples, a lot of the things Nancy mentioned. You know, couscous and pasta and rice and sauces and things like that that make it very easy. So your show is just timed perfectly and thanks for taking my call.

  • 13:30:11

    NNAMDIAlicia, thank you very much for your call. You know, there's a culinary paradox we all struggle with. Cooking shows are popular and top chefs are now rock stars, but many of us still feel intimidated by the idea of cooking. Why do we have such angst about making dinner, Nancy?

  • 13:30:28

    PIHOWell, I think as J.M. mentioned earlier, it -- we've just raised the bar so high that so many of us think it has to be perfect when, in fact, good and tasty enough and healthy is fine. And I think it's nice to know that families really are cooking together like this and are doing okay. But I think the cooking show phenomenon has been, actually, a very good thing because it certainly has put food back in the forefront of our lives.

  • 13:30:56

    PIHOIn general, it's been a good thing, but I'm -- I hope people aren't too intimidated to realize that on an average Wednesday night, like tonight, you're not expected to turn out at a full-scale meal. I don't know anyone who's home making pasta now for...

  • 13:31:09


  • 13:31:09

    PIHO...homemade pasta for dinner tonight.

  • 13:31:11

    NNAMDIWell, there's intimidation on the one hand, but J.M., with the popularity of those TV shows like Iron Chef and Top Chef, have we, in some regard, made cooking into a competitive sport?

  • 13:31:19

    HIRSCHOh, absolutely. And, you know, we've changed it from something you do with your family to something that's part of the entertainment world. And, I mean, it's a double-edged sword. I mean, on one hand, I'm so thrilled that food media has become so huge because it has broadened and deepened the national conversation about food. And never before have we talked about local food and organic foods and quality of school food at the level that we are now. And I think that's wonderful. And I do think that that is a direct offshoot from this, the popularity of food shows and food magazines and cook books and so forth.

  • 13:31:59

    HIRSCHOn the other hand, like we've been saying, it has raised the bar and, I think, falsely so. I think it has created this notion that we should all be next Food Network stars or we should all be Iron Chefs. And, you know, our six-year-olds don't need that. They don't want that. They just want a good dinner with their family and that's, frankly, more important than what they need -- I mean, what they want. That's what they need. They need time with their family.

  • 13:32:23

    HIRSCHThey need to be involved with the family, both in the kitchen and in the grocery store. I mean, it is -- it does sound, on some levels, a little precious to be talking about the importance of involving our kids in the cooking and stuff. It's very easy to be sidelined as, you know, an elitist food-y when you talk about these things when there are so many families who are struggling to just simply put food on their tables.

  • 13:32:44

    HIRSCHBut the reality is we are -- we're teaching something very important about community, about food and its place in our community, about coming together as family. And we're giving them the skills they need to be healthy and independent adults. So while it's easy to kind of discard a lot of this conversation as kind of, you know, food-y elitism, the reality is we are teaching very basic skills and important cultural mores that we use to get automatically, you know, 50 or 60 years ago when families did do this just as a natural part of the day.

  • 13:33:15

    NNAMDIWell, every -- even simple cooking takes some amount of time. We seem to prioritize our work and the kid's homework and lessons and sports. And, Nancy, dinner is all too often an afterthought, isn't it?

  • 13:33:28

    PIHOI know, isn't that a shame? And I talk about that a lot in my book, in "My Two Year Old Eats Octopus," is just how we've gotten to the point that we do give our kids so much, as far as the education and the travel and so many things we do for them that is good, but, you know, I think we need to think about it, what cost that has come in some levels. And it's just -- it's -- is it the cost of time together and teaching them, as J.M. said, about these adult skills that they're going to need the rest of their lives, about nutrition and shopping and food preparation?

  • 13:33:56

    NNAMDIAnd particularly in homes where parents work two or three jobs, J.M., and they're not shopping at whole foods, how can they manage to cook healthy meals?

  • 13:34:04

    HIRSCHWell, you know, it does take -- as we've heard, it does take a commitment of time. And it doesn't mean it has to be a lot of time, but cooking does require more time than nuking something. I mean, that -- we have to put that on the table. And so there has to be a willingness to commit some of that time. I will tell you, I do it every night in about 30 minutes 'cause that's all the time I can manage and -- because after is that, you know, it's time to start getting ready for -- the kids ready for bed and you've got stuff to do and the kids have homework and so forth. So you just need to carve out a little bit of time.

  • 13:34:45

    HIRSCHNow, as the kids get older, especially for working families, you could involve the kids in that prep. You know, if you have teenagers or, you know, even 10, 12-year-olds, you can leave them instructions that, okay, mom and dad will be home at 6:00. At 5:30, start getting out the ingredients that we need. Here's the recipe we're going to make for dinner tonight. We're going to make it together. Start in on it. You know, you get out the carrots, you get out onions and so forth. If you trust them with a knife, get out, you know, start chopping things up. And you can leave them instructions to get the ball rolling so that when you walk in, you're walking into a meal in progress.

  • 13:35:08

    NNAMDIOnto the telephones, here is Allison in Garrett Park, Md. Allison, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:35:13

    ALLISONHi. Thank you, Kojo. I actually am home cooking right now so you know one person. My toddler's sleeping and I'm chopping Brussels sprouts and cooking bacon.

  • 13:35:25

    NNAMDIAt 1:35 in the afternoon?

  • 13:35:26

    ALLISONWell, once he wakes up, it's all over. So...

  • 13:35:30

    NNAMDIYou got to do it while you can.

  • 13:35:32

    ALLISONYeah. But I had just a couple of book recommendations. I'm excited to try your guests' books, but "I Found Time for Dinner," which is by the editors of "Cookie" magazine, that I used to love before it went away, is great for people with kids. And then...

  • 13:35:49

    HIRSCHThat's a beautiful book.

  • 13:35:50

    ALLISONYeah, I love that book. And it's funny, too, which is nice. The other one I like a lot is "Great Food Fast," by Martha Stewart.

  • 13:35:59

    NNAMDI"Great Food Fast." Yes.

  • 13:36:00

    ALLISONUm-hum. I...

  • 13:36:01

    NNAMDIThank you very much, Allison, for those book recommendations.

  • 13:36:03

    ALLISONThank you.

  • 13:36:05

    NNAMDIOnto Thomas in Odenton, Md. Thomas, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:36:08

    THOMASHi. Thank you for hosting this talk. This is pretty important to me and my wife. We're both (word?) grads and we actually -- she's a stay-at-home mom, which I'm very fortunate to have. But you -- she plans meals out on a weekly basis and it's really important for us to teach our son about where our food comes from and how it's made. And I think that we live right now in a culture that people kind of don't have the time for it or, you know, just totally refuse to pay attention to it.

  • 13:36:36

    THOMASJust a quick thing is that she actually teaches cooking classes and she's got a website, but I'm not going to talk about it on the air. But, you know, it's just -- I'm really glad. I just want to say thank you that you have this topic on the air.

  • 13:36:50

    NNAMDINow, you -- your wife does this on a full-time basis?

  • 13:36:55

    THOMASShe's a stay-at-home mom and we both graduated from Culinary Institute of America. I work in D.C. and -- at a place, that's all I'm going to say. She used to professionally cook in the kitchen, as well, and so we both kind of know. We have an extensive background on food. For example, we take our son to farms. We visit orchards. And we just went to an orchard, actually, in Westminster a couple of days ago on my day off because, you know, again, it's just something that we're engrained with.

  • 13:37:24

    NNAMDII'm glad you...

  • 13:37:25


  • 13:37:26

    NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Thomas.

  • 13:37:26

    THOMASOh, no. I just -- and, you know, again, I just want to say that I'm really impressed that you have this program on your show because, you know, I think that, right now, the time of -- either can be great change or it could go back to the way it was in the '50s where we're eating canned peas and, you know, vegetables are no longer -- that are a staple anymore. And a lot of people that go into grocery stores now, they buy prepared foods. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, but, you know, it's not really healthy for them either, considering the level of sodium, levels of preservatives that are in the food. And, you know, and I get...

  • 13:37:56

    NNAMDINot to mention sugar.

  • 13:37:58

    THOMASOh, yes. And then, there's sugars, absolutely. And, you know, and I can understand that people don't have time to do this, but, you know, with a few basic skills that they can get taught, you know, they can expand their culinary process at home much, much more than they think they can. And the topic of cooking being very intimidating, you know, yeah, of course when you watch it on TV, it's going to be intimidating when you're seeing chefs doing, you know, molecular astronomy and all sorts of crazy things. Nobody needs to do that, you know, at home. It...

  • 13:38:27

    NNAMDIIt's really not that hard.

  • 13:38:28

    THOMASNo, no, no. It's really not that hard. And with a few basic skills, you can be taught everything you need and finish a complete meal for you and your family within 30 minutes.

  • 13:38:33

    NNAMDIThomas, thank you very much for your call. I'm glad he brought up kids, Nancy, because it seems like there's a widening gap between what adults like to eat and what kids like to eat. Is that because of the proliferation of kiddy foods on the market today?

  • 13:38:46

    PIHOWell, in my view it is, Kojo. And, again, I write about that a lot in my book because I think that's something that's changed a lot, certainly since you and I were children or were raising children. But even in the last 10 to 15 years, you can see a huge difference in just the amount of food products that are coming out on the market marketed directly to kids. And they're kiddy foods. They're the juices and the snacks and the cereals and children menus in restaurants and everything is just these certain foods designed for kids. And for some reason, so many of us have kind of fallen into the mindset that this is the way children should eat.

  • 13:39:44

    PIHOAnd that's why, you know, books like J.M. has written, my book talks about this a lot. I think there's an awareness that's growing that it's like, wait a minute, what have we done here? We're really raising a generation of kids that, you know, they don't understand food from a young age and then we wonder why they're 15 years old and they're picky eaters because they've never had the opportunity to experience food and textures and flavors and the variety that they need.

  • 13:39:44

    HIRSCHAnd, you know, and if we don't challenge kids and ask them to eat adult foods -- and I hate to even classify it as adult foods. But unfortunately, in our culture, that's kind of what it's become. If we don't challenge them to eat real food, and at the table with adults, then, of course, they're going to be picky eaters and, of course, they're going to prefer the chicken nugget, which has been, you know, professionally created to, you know, to make them want it.

  • 13:40:09

    HIRSCHAnd, you know, I have a rule that I am only going to cook one meal at the end of the day and my son is going to eat that dinner or not. But I am not going to then turn around, if he doesn't like it, and make mac and cheese or make chicken nuggets or anything else like that. You know, I try to bear his preferences in mind when I'm making dinner because, even though they're kids and can be picky, the reality is they can also have honest to goodness preferences.

  • 13:40:31

    HIRSCHMy son does not like tomatoes in any form and I can respect that. I'm not going to give him a plateful of tomatoes, but when I'm making dinner, I may put something new on the plate that I will ask him to try. He doesn't have to eat it, but he does have to try it. But I will also make sure that there are things on the plate for all of us that I do know he will enjoy. And that's part of incorporating their preferences into a meal as you would any other member of the family.

  • 13:40:56

    HIRSCHBut at the same time, I'm not going to make multiple dishes, you know, just to cater to the child. I think that's where we set the bar too low.

  • 13:41:03

    NNAMDIJ.M., a lot of what we think of as kid foods are fairly bland in both taste and in texture.

  • 13:41:10


  • 13:41:10

    NNAMDIIs that why some kids shy away from strong flavors?

  • 13:41:13

    HIRSCHI think so. And, you know, when my son was -- when we were introducing my son to solid food -- and, you know, the prevailing wisdom is that you introduce them to this very bland mushy rice cereal. And I looked at it and I said, well, that -- surely that can't be the norm around the world. Kids in India don't start life with this bland, flavorless, you know, mush. And so I actually called the pediatric nutritional experts around the country.

  • 13:41:40

    HIRSCHAnd I said, you know, I'm starting to introduce my son to solid foods. Is there any reason I can't give him super strong garlic hummus or curry or anything like that? And they all came back and definitively said you can feed your child anything you want, as long as it's not a choking hazard. And so because -- and I do think that the -- as you say, that this kind of predominance of bland foods is a creating a generation of picky eaters of kids who aren't willing to explore new flavors and things.

  • 13:42:14

    HIRSCHAnd so from the very beginning, I insisted that even if I was giving my kid mushed up squash, I was going to throw some cinnamon and some cumin and some turmeric in it and whatever else struck me because I wanted him to have a palate for those of sorts of flavors and later on be willing to explore different flavors. And I will tell you that it has worked.

  • 13:42:32

    NNAMDINancy says we actually have a fear of giving young children spicy, crunchy, textured foods.

  • 13:42:38

    PIHOWell, we do. And I found out, too, in researching my book, J.M., and it was very interesting. I talked to maybe these same pediatric advisors, but they said the same thing. And I think the interesting thing that I write about, too, in my book is that we go from the bland foods to what I refer to as the big three. And that's that kiddie foods that are basically fat, sodium, sugar. And that's the problem that so many kiddie foods have, is that they're all the same thing.

  • 13:43:02


  • 13:43:02

    PIHOThere are a lot of children's cereals on the market. They are packaged differently, they are branded differently, but they all taste the same. They all taste sweet. And, uh, the same thing with the children's menus when you've got the fried foods or you've got, you know, the salty foods. There's basically no flavor variation beyond those three basic, most basest of flavors. So what about the bitter? What about the sour? What about crunchy? What about combinations?

  • 13:43:26

    PIHOThese are just important things that I think kids need to be introduced to at a very young age. Because if they're not, you know, what ten-year-old is going to just willingly adopt something new that he hasn’t seen before?

  • 13:43:35

    NNAMDIWe've got callers lined up waiting to join this conversation, but first, we’ve got to take a short break. So hang on, we will get to your call or you can go to our site,, or just send us a tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:45:42

    NNAMDIIt's food and drink Wednesdays and we're talking about weeknight dinners and how you can make them simple. Our guest, J.M. Hirsch, food editor for the Associated Press and author of "High Flavor Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." And Nancy Tringali Piho is author of, "My Two Year Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything." She is president of Nancy Tringali Associates, a Washington-based communications agency specializing in the food industry.

  • 13:46:11

    NNAMDIAnd we've got a lot of people lined up waiting to talk with Nancy and J.M. Here's Jimmy in Sterling, Va. Jimmy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:46:20

    JIMMYHey Kojo, big fan of the show. I just thought I'd call in real quick with a couple recipes. I cook them all the time. They're real great for impressing chicks, like on a first date or whatever. Well, one -- I got a whole notebook of them in my closet at home, but one I picked up recently is a recipe for some cider that's really easy to make. In a pot, you bring to a boil about a couple cups of apple juice, a splash of orange juice, throw in two, three dashes of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, a couple cloves.

  • 13:46:58

    JIMMYAnd then, you slice some apples. So after it's all boiled up, the apples get real soft. They're like a nice little candy after you finish your cider. But the main recipe I called in for, I know people were talking about, like, really making a real quickie dinner and there was some talk about crock pots earlier. One family recipe that's a favorite of mine, which is a big hit with the ladies, like I was saying, is a pot roast.

  • 13:47:26

    JIMMYYou basically get a roast with a pretty big ribbon on top. And what you do is cover the entire roast with Canadian steak seasoning and then you position the roast so that the fat is on top so when it's cooking, it seeps down through the meat. And then, you chop up a whole bunch of vegetables, like celery, carrots, quarter, like, a white onion, a couple garlic cloves. It gives a nice sweet -- but it's also --

  • 13:47:58

    NNAMDIExactly how many ladies are you entertaining, Jimmy?

  • 13:48:04

    JIMMYI'd rather not say. Anyway, so you put -- you come home, make this at lunch. It's real easy to do. You could do it in 15 minutes and then you -- the secret is you got to do it in a roasting pan and then you put maybe, like, a quarter inch or two inches of water it. And then you set your oven for about six to eight hours on about 250 so it's hotter than the 212 boiling point of water. So it's, like, for about eight hours, you're having this steam convection inside the pot.

  • 13:48:37

    JIMMYIt's really getting the meat -- it's cooking it all the way through and making it...

  • 13:48:40

    NNAMDIAnd when it's all over, you got a great dinner.

  • 13:48:45

    JIMMYAnd then, that fat is coming down, it's delicious and it's real -- and the...

  • 13:48:49

    NNAMDII know, but I'm running out of time, Jimmy, and you're making me real, real hungry. But we got it. We got it. But I got to move on. Jimmy, thank you very much for your call. Here is Ben in Rockville, Md. Ben, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:49:04

    BENHi. I had a bunch of friends of mine and I and a young child who all met up at Penzeys on Rockville Pike. And I got to say, the kid was fascinated by smelling everything and wanted to get his dad a curry because his dad likes curry and that kind of experience. And I think that stores like Penzeys just couldn't have been possible 15 years ago and I think it's this food culture that encourages that. And I wanted to know what the host thought about stores like Penzeys that just cater (word?) spices and herbs.

  • 13:49:30

    HIRSCHI love Penzeys. I shop their catalog all the time. We don't have a store where I live, but about an hour or so away. And I'll occasionally make the big trip down there. They have wonderful stuff. And you know, and your -- the child you were talking about, it's absolutely right. Kids love to explore that stuff. And I think we have a habit, because we don't like the mess or we don't have the time, we try to keep kids out of the kitchen.

  • 13:49:51

    HIRSCHBut I think it's better to embrace the mess because those are things we're going to remember, you know, 20 years from now. And those are things that kids are going to remember 20 years from now, much more so than the mess. You know, when I brought my son home from the hospital, I think he was about a day old, two days old. I walked him around the kitchen on a smelling tour of the kitchen where I opened up all the spices and everything and let him sniff it.

  • 13:50:12

    HIRSCHAnd it -- you know it's a game you can play with older kids, obviously. And I think it's great. And stores like that, you're absolutely right, that, you know, ten, fifteen years ago, you know, they wouldn't, at least, have been nearly as popular as they are now and especially not outside of the major cities. And I think it's a wonderful sign of the way we're changing and the way we're embracing new flavors as a culture.

  • 13:50:34

    NNAMDIBen, thank you very much for your call. We got this e-mail from Erin. "I have 14-month-old twin boys who, in my opinion, are very picky eaters. Coming up with things that they can and will eat is becoming quite a chore. They'll eat yogurt and mac and cheese all day long, but they'll spit out things like peas and beans, no matter how they're prepared. When they were little babies, they would eat just about everything I offered them. How can I get them back on the right track to eat better?"

  • 13:51:00

    PIHOOh, Erin, how many times have I heard that? You know, for a while, they'll eat everything. And then, all of a sudden, in 14 months, there you go, you know, we're hitting the terrible two's a little bit early. But I think the thing you've got to remember is some of these things, it's a long race. It's not a one-time shot. So the most important thing, I think, you can do is just to keep at it. And it's very hard, it's very discouraging and J.M. mentioned earlier, you know, as many points of parenting are.

  • 13:51:27

    PIHOAnd there are research studies, again, that I talk about in my book that show that some children require up to 15 exposures of a certain food before they'll accept it. And as I often say when I'm making presentations and talks, what parent wants to give a child, 14 times being rejected and then go back for the 15th time? So it's not our natural tendency to just keep giving it to them, but you have to do that. And I think that's the trick and it's just -- it goes on and on and on.

  • 13:51:54

    PIHOYou don't want to fall off the cliff. You don’t want to just start giving them the yogurt and mac and cheese because that's all they'll eat, but start getting into the mindset of this is dinner, you're going to try. And then, you know, if today's not the day, we're going to try it again next time.

  • 13:52:07

    NNAMDIAnd J.M. talks about -- a little bit about slightly older kids. And that is, you know, most parents try to avoid the catering service approach to family dinner where everyone eats something different. But that can be a challenge if you have children who are picky eaters and family members with dietary restrictions, like teenagers who might be vegetarians. How do you make one meal everyone will eat?

  • 13:52:29

    HIRSCHWell, I think the first step there is to involve those kids, and frankly, those picky family members in the meal preparation. Because, you know, rather than you trying to sit there by yourself and figure out that one perfect meal that's going to satisfy everyone, get them involved and find ways to make a meal that everyone can enjoy. And, you know, and while I won't cook two different meals, you know, I try to be aware, like I said, of my son's preferences. And a family can take that same lesson and very easily adapt it.

  • 13:52:58

    HIRSCHSo if you're going to do a pasta dish with a meat sauce, for example, well, if you're working together as a family with the people with different preferences -- so you make the pasta together. You make the sides dishes together, and you start the sauce together, but you only add meat to half of the sauce, and the other sauce is just vegetarian. You know, you can do that with all sorts of things.

  • 13:53:20

    HIRSCHIf you're going to grill chicken, okay, so you grill some veggies with the same seasonings that you seasoned the chicken with. And, you know, I mean, vegetarianism is a little bit different, because I think, you know, that's more than just being -- that's certainly being a picky eater. That's a dietary preference of a different order and I think there is a need to respect that. On the other hand, I don't think that because a teenage son or daughter decides to be vegetarian, that mom and dad suddenly have to become short order cooks.

  • 13:53:46

    HIRSCHI think, especially with teenagers, they're certainly at an age where if they choose to go down that path, great, but get in the kitchen and help, you know? I think -- and, you know, I mean, look, I gave my son a five-inch chef's knife when he was two. And so if he can handle chopping up some onions, so can a teenager.

  • 13:54:04

    NNAMDICare to comment, Nancy?

  • 13:54:05

    PIHOI think that sounds great and I just -- I embrace the motto, J.M., that, you know, it's dinner. It's not a diner. And I think moms everywhere can just repeat that over and over. Of course, you do take into account people's preferences, but basically, you know, it's one meal and that's what we're having tonight.

  • 13:54:22

    NNAMDIIt's dinner. It's not a diner. I like that.

  • 13:54:24

    PIHOThat's it. At my house, anyway.

  • 13:54:26

    NNAMDIHere is Chris in Reston, Va. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:54:30

    CHRISHow you doing, Kojo? I love your show.

  • 13:54:32

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 13:54:34

    CHRISI think a pressure cooker is an underutilized piece of equipment that should be in the home of busy folks.

  • 13:54:37

    NNAMDIMy wife loves you.

  • 13:54:40

    CHRISI enjoy making lamb shanks and I can make lamb shanks in maybe 35 to 45 minutes. And that's pretty much the whole meal, just kind of like the pot roast recipe the gentleman talked about before. Kind of the same deal. And one other item is a sharp knife. It's amazing how fast a sharp, properly handled knife can create a meal.

  • 13:54:56

    NNAMDIChris, my mother used to claim that she was born with a pressure cooker in her hand. She loved it that much. Thank you very much for your call. We got this e-mail from Karen, who says, "I keep organic baby spinach on hand. It has a mild taste. I buy the big bin every seven to ten days. We put into or next to everything. It gets pulled apart and put into spaghetti sauce, taco meat mix, chicken soup, scrambled eggs, whatever.

  • 13:55:20

    NNAMDIOne morning two years ago, my daughter said, hey, let's put spinach in the pancakes. So we put the mix into the pan and ripped a few leaves and dropped them on top. We've been eating it ever since. Okay. We're African-American and extended family expects us to only eat collards and kale. Spinach is easier." Thank you very much for sharing that with us, Karen. Here is Sushmita. Sushmita in Arlington, Va. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:55:46

    SUSHMITAHi. I'm calling -- as I've been on hold, I've got so many more comments and questions. Most of all, getting kids involved in cooking, I have some ideas. I have a son and a daughter. I let my son get the basil from the garden to put in our cooking and my daughter gets to pull out chives. And I let them use craft scissors to garnish my dishes with. I also -- you know, when there's nothing going on on TV, I let them watch cooking shows so the kids at least get to watch other people cooking and it's not just mom.

  • 13:56:28

    SUSHMITAAnd I think that is a problem where they don't see anybody cooking and maybe, you know, they don't know that it can be cooked, it has to be bought. But those were some of my comments.

  • 13:56:42

    NNAMDIGetting her kids involved in watching the process. Something both of our guests advocate. And this we got from somebody on our website. "I'm a vegetarian so I cook a lot. One of my favorite easy meals is rice and lentils. It's pretty simple and my non-vegetarian friends like it. I cook equal parts rice and lentils in a rice cooker with some spices. Meanwhile, I sauté some onions in olive oil, then I combine them when the rice and lentils are done. I have a programmable rice cooker so I can program rice and lentils to be cooked by the time I come home from work." The lentil is an amazing thing, isn't it?

  • 13:57:16

    PIHOI love lentils. That sounds like a great idea for dinner tonight.

  • 13:57:19

    HIRSCHIt sounds delicious.

  • 13:57:20

    PIHOYeah. Top it with a little Greek yogurt. A little spice there, yum.

  • 13:57:24

    HIRSCH(unintelligible) sesame oil, a little bit of soy sauce in there.

  • 13:57:27

    NNAMDIYes. When we had Chef Jose Andres on the show and he talked about one chicken that he could use for a family of four for three nights in a row, there was a lot of lentils involved in that recipe.

  • 13:57:37


  • 13:57:39

    NNAMDIJ.M. Hirsch, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 13:57:40

    HIRSCHThank you so much.

  • 13:57:41

    NNAMDIJ.M. Hirsch is food editor for the Associated Press and author of "High Flavor Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Nancy Tringali Piho, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:57:50

    PIHOIt was a pleasure.

  • 13:57:52

    NNAMDINancy is author of "My Two Year Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything." She is president of Nancy Tringali Associates, a Washington-based communications agency specializing in the food industry. "The Kojo Nnamdi" show is produced by Diane Vogel, Brendan Sweeney, Tara Boyle, Michael Martinez, and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff. Diane Vogel is the managing producer. The engineer today, Timmy Olmstead. Dorie Anisman has been on the phones. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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