Melissa’s first book is chock full of beautiful photos of her food and family, a range of simple and tempting recipes, and dozens of practical tips for feeding your family very well on a budget. I also love her focus on reducing food waste and making healthy family meals a priority.
Melissa and I talked recently about how she made the transition from high-powered business executive, to stay-at-home mom, to busy travelling professional cook, and how she still manages to make time to bring her family together in the kitchen and at the dinner table.
Aviva: How do you make family meals a tradition with your busy schedule?
Melissa: As women we can be too hard on ourselves. I give myself room to do something imperfectly. On a busy night we’ll sometimes do sandwich night. I cut the sandwiches into 6 small pieces (which we call soldiers), and put them out on a tray. I focus on the fact that we’re sitting down together as a family.
If I had to choose between serving my kids a homemade meal every night that had every vegetable and nutrient, but I wouldn’t be there to sit down with them, I would choose sandwiches and sitting down with them every time.
Have 3 or 4 recipes up your sleeve that don’t take a lot of time, like my 4-step chicken (in her book) or an omelet. Fast food truly isn’t more convenient than making a homemade meal if you have a few recipes up your sleeve.
Aviva: What do you do to make your family meals special?
Melissa: One of the things that we do is to have one child present the dinner every night to the family (actually, we have one do it in English and one in French because their father speaks to them in French and we have a bilingual home). What that means is that they tell everybody what is on the table and describe a little bit about it.
I’m a big believer in raising young women who have positive relationships with food. That’s a bigger goal for me than them eating enough vegetables today. It’s important for them to feel good about what food is, what it does for them, how it nourishes their bodies and to understand the connection between how they feel and what they are eating.
I also don’t want to raise people pleasers. If they don’t like broccoli, then that’s allowed. Otherwise they might get the message that their opinion doesn’t count, they can’t speak up, that they can’t say no and express their opinions. I want them to know that home is a place where their opinions matter.
Aviva: How do you get your girls interested in cooking and eating well?
Melissa: Once a week, each girl gets to pick one full menu with a main dish, vegetable and a dessert. Mommy gets to approve the menu (and add up to 2 dishes) so I can help them understand what makes a balanced meal. Cooking with them when I’m not rushed is the best strategy. You have no idea how many special moments have come out of us cooking together.
Aviva: What are your top tips for reduce your family’s food budget, while wasting less food and still eating delicious meals?
Melissa: Shop in the produce aisle first. Some very compelling studies show that all grocery stores have to do to get you to buy more, is to provide bigger carts. We can’t stand the idea of empty space. Take the smallest cart you think you can get away with and start in the produce aisle so you can make your cart feel fuller before you head into the processed food aisles.
When it comes to produce, what is cheapest is also what is best because it’s likely to be in season. We are used to paying more money for higher quality. But when there is an overstock at the factory, the prices get slashed, even when the factory is Mother Nature.
There’s a lot of money to be saved in how you manage your “inventory” or ingredients. Do the five-minute menu plan before you go grocery shopping. Check your cupboard, fridge and freezer, pull anything forward that needs to be used up and start there with the menu. Jot down approximately what you are going to make before going to the store. If it takes any more than five minutes, you probably are not going to do it.
Melissa shares her recipe for a Classic Apple Tart with Kitchen Explorers. She says, “Apple tart is my family’s favorite dessert. I love it because it makes the house smell amazing and the tart looks so polished and beautiful (taking a few extra minutes to fan out the apples makes it look like it came from a bakery!). This is a French-style apple tart, not an apple pie, meaning a wedge of the tart is thinner and neater than a slice of all-American apple pie. Try it topped with ice cream for that delicious à la mode taste. Rolling the dough for the tart makes for a finer-textured crust, but on many occasions I have simply pressed the crust into place with great results.”
To be eligible to win one of 3 copies of Melissa d’Arabian’s new cookbook, Ten Dollar Dinners, please leave a comment below telling us how you save money on food for your family. Please leave your comment by 11:59 PM PST on Friday, September 14th, 2012. Only one entry per person, please. Winner will be chosen by Random.org on September 17th.