Any parent not vexed by the amount of time, worry and finesse required to feed a child well these days is either the inventor of the food pyramid or is rich enough to employ a nanny/nutritionist/professional chef/circus clown.
Which is to say, almost everyone needs help, whether they know it or not.
So, when we get invited to serve on President-elect Barack Obama's Really Great Idea Committee, we'll suggest issuing all parents a copy of Tracey Seaman and Tanya Wenman Steel's Real Food for Healthy Kids (William Morrow, $29.95), a terrific primer on how to cook for and feed their offspring, from toddlerhood to teendom.
Seaman is the test kitchen director for Everyday With Rachael Ray magazine, and Steel is editor in chief of the invaluable Web site Epicurious.com. Each woman has kids (including a picky eater and a special-needs son on a strict gluten-free, casein-free diet). That blend of experience and expertise makes the book seem less bossy than simply caring and helpful.
"One of our strongest beliefs is that just as you don't talk down to a child, you don't cater to an inexperienced palate by constantly making a child his or her own dumbed-down, bland food," they write in the introduction. They also want to dispel the notion that you have to trick children to get them to eat right. And help readers avoid falling back on processed foods - the notorious "microwave hot dog and frozen pizza" cycle.
Which sounds easier said than done, of course. But the point of the book is to help you get into the cooking cycle, by understanding daily nutritional requirements, ingredient labels, portion sizes and food psychology for picky eaters. There's also great help on stocking your larder, creating a kid-friendly kitchen, and setting useful rules/suggestions regarding kids' table and kitchen behavior, as well as your own (including "Don't feed kids something you wouldn't eat yourself" and "Don't use food as a punishment or a bribe").
The authors' warm tone makes it all seem quite doable, even if you're not exactly a cook. They include lists of "store-bought" (aka processed) foods that they're willing to recommend, such as Nature Valley cereals, Amy's cheese enchiladas and R.W. Knudsen's juice concentrates, which are posted helpfully at their Web site, realfoodforhealthykids.com.
(makes 2 to 4 servings)
8 slices ( 1/3 -inch thick) from a long Italian bread loaf
8 teaspoons Mexican Adobo Dressing (see recipe)
2 ounces imported Swiss cheese, shredded (divided use)
1/2 cup (packed) thinly sliced or pulled roast pork
4 thin slices boiled or baked ham
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat (or heat a panini grill or waffle iron). Meanwhile, lay the bread in 4 pairs on a work surface. Spread about 1 teaspoon of the dressing on each slice of bread; place pickles on 4 of the slices, then top with half of the cheese. Divide the pork among the 4 bread slices with cheese; place the ham and remaining cheese on top. Cover with the remaining bread slices.
Place the sandwiches in the hot, dry skillet; place another skillet on top of the sandwiches to compress them. Cook until the sandwiches are golden underneath, about 3 minutes. Flip; place skillet on top again. Cook until sandwiches are nicely golden and cheese is melted, about 2 minutes.
Note: The authors suggest using leftover pork shoulder or buying thinly sliced roast pork from the deli. You could use cooking spray in the skillet and on the outside of the sandwiches to enhance browning.
Adapted from "Real Food for Healthy Kids," by Tracey Seaman and Tanya Wenman Steel.
Per sandwich: : 236 calories, 13 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 51 milligrams cholesterol, 11 grams carbohydrate, 17 grams protein, 585 milligrams sodium, 1 gram fiber
Recipe analysis courtesy of the Chicago Tribune
MEXICAN ADOBO DRESSING
(makes about 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon each: distilled white vinegar, yellow or Dijon mustard, chopped chipotle chile (plus more chile to taste, optional)
Combine ingredients in a small bowl; stir to blend. Add more chipotle to taste, if you like. The unused portion will keep tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.