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Thanks for the overwhelming response I received from the “Healthy Body Image” post and for all your questions and concerns.

A lot of you battle with getting your kids to eat certain foods, or you struggle to make one dinner that satisfies everyone’s tastes. This one doesn’t eat salad, that one wants mac ‘n cheese, this one hates garlic and that one wants cereal.

And you find yourself feeling like a hotel, getting a myriad of different room service requests every time you eat. Sound familiar? And being the amazing parent you are, you try and fill each order and find yourself exhausted and dreading mealtime.

I am by no means an expert, so all I can do is offer my 2 cents worth. I grew up in South Africa. Our housekeeper would make dinner each night. It was usually a salad, some protein and 2 to 3 veggies followed by a fruit for dessert.

There were no special requests or substitutions and we all sat down at the table and ate the same meal. The funny things is that it was these dinners I
missed the most when I moved to LA.

So I began recreating them and so my love affair with cooking began. I married a South African who had also grown up eating balanced meals and dinnertime became a sacred ritual in our home. Saul would rush back from work and walk in excited to eat. And this appreciation fueled me to create delicious food.

When Jade arrived, nothing much changed. Aside from the first few months where she drank milk, I pretty much fed her whatever we ate. I would cut the food into smaller pieces and she would eat what she was given. She was never fed takeout food and unlike her American friends who ate a lot of chicken nuggets, Jade developed a taste for olives and smoked salmon.

When she was around 5 she asked to try a Mc Donalds happy meal. A few bites into it she decided she had eaten enough. Her taste buds were used to real food and I quickly realized that it was the toy she coveted. So I made a habit of getting her a toy and soft serve ice-cream when we were in the mall.

I know as a parent it is hard to find time to cook for your family. And then throw into the mix everyone’s likes and dislikes and it becomes impossible. Who wants to cook 5 separate dinners for your family?

Saul was instrumental in solving this dilemma. Like my father he believed one meal was sufficient. If Jade didn’t like it, tough luck. The dinner would be left on the table, and when she came to me later on telling me she was hungry, he would direct her to the very same plate we’d left out.

She detests fish, but she eats it on the nights I make it. Otherwise she’ll starve. And she hates tomatoes, so she picks them out of the salad. And if she doesn’t eat, then there is no treat after dinner. And she loves her treat. I mean who doesn’t like to end a meal with something sweet.

And that brings me to my next point. Growing up my mom had a sweet cupboard packed with cookies, chocolate and chips. I remember watching kids that were not allowed sugar in their own home, come over and gorge themselves to the point of popping. So treats and candy have always been something Jade has been allowed to enjoy.

I banned soda and this was a mistake. I quickly realized my error. If something is forbidden to a child it is the first thing they crave. To this day, soda is Jade’s treat of choice. And I let her have the occasional soda and on vacation she is allowed to go crazy. But water and milk is still my first choice for her. Juice just rots the teeth.

I know this is a hard line to take but as far as I am concerned it is the only way to remain sane. I am not a restaurant that takes orders. I have work, laundry, cooking, cleaning, carpool, grocery shopping and tons of other things on my daily to do list.

I am one person…a mother and wife trying to feed my family healthy food. And so they eat what I put on the table. There is not a spice or ingredient I don’t cook with and they have expanded their taste buds and are willing to try new and different things. And I am inspired to create yummy and delicious food for them.

I would encourage you to involve your kids in the cooking process. Let them chop, mix, measure and help set the table at dinner time. Ask them to taste what the dish needs and make the changes they suggest. In other words start cultivating the master chefs of the next generation.

They will thank you later and the tradition of dinnertime with family will be one they carry forward into their own homes. It’s a time to bond with the family over stories of the day and shared laughs. And when they move out and have families of their own they will make dinnertime a sacred ritual to treasure.

xxx Chef MM

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I'm Melissa, your host & tour guide.

A Food Network chef, author, mamma, eternal optimist, wannabe-mermaid, spice mixologist, and “dough therapist” (yep, it’s a thing)—

I'm also the founder of Susina Cucina, the gorgeous, Italian cooking school I manifested into my reality. I’m obsessed with Aperol spritzes, travel, and mouthwatering food… especially pizza and pasta.

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