Short-Order Mom

Make Over My Meal / / What's For Dinner?

January 17, 2007|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,[Sun Reporter]

THE CHALLENGE: Susan Kornick, an exhausted mother of three, needed relief from the nightly routine of making five separate dinners for her family. We helped design one meal with something for everyone.

Robin Spence, the nutritionist for our monthly Make Over My Meal series, wanted to start the new year with a challenge, and we had one for her.

"PLEASE HELP! MOM DESPERATE!" the subject line of the e-mail read.

"I am the food preparer for our family -- me, hubby and 3 kids ages 12, 9 and 6," wrote Susan Kornick of Cockeysville. "I cook EVERY night of the week, and end up making 5 (yes 5) separate dinners for the family. (Yes, I know it's my own fault in part but I just don't want to hear the kids complain and cry). ... Most nights I end up putting 10 to 15 different items on the dinner table (a lot of it ends up being frozen stuff, especially for the kids) and I'm exhausted! I work 5 days a week and am desperate for an easier way to handle dinner that won't have the kids fussing about the food."

"It's not that unusual, unfortunately," said Spence, a registered dietitian at Union Memorial Hospital, when she read the e-mail.

Kornick, a school nurse, is 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 113 pounds. She exercises regularly and describes herself as a "health nut" who tries to eat nutritious, low-fat meals. Her husband, Tom, a painter, is 6 feet 6 inches tall, weighs 240 pounds and works on his feet all day. He needs a substantial meal to fill him up, a meal that includes lots of starch. He will eat vegetables but prefers them with sauces or cheese.

"I don't think a green veggie has crossed the plate of any of my children," said Susan Kornick. "We tried but it just ended up in a crying and fussing disaster."

I asked Kornick to keep track of her dinners for a week and send some typical menus to Spence. Here's what she came up with. Dinner is always followed by dessert, she told us -- cookies, cake, candy or ice cream.

Dinner No. 1: Tom, turkey tetrazzini, pasta salad, yogurt with fruit; Alyssa and Daniel (12 and 9 respectively), frozen waffles, mashed potatoes (from a box), vanilla yogurt; Samantha, known as Sam (6), fries, plain white tortilla filled with cheese; Susan, salad, vegetables, soy burger on whole-wheat English muffin.

Dinner No. 2: Tom, chicken wings, rice from a packet, can of corn; Alyssa, Kraft macaroni and cheese, fries, grapes; Daniel, wings, fries, applesauce; Sam, macaroni, Go-gurt, fries; Susan, South Beach wrap dinner, salad, veggies.

Dinner No. 3: Tom, vegetable lasagna (frozen), garlic bread, rice made from packet; Daniel and Alyssa, chicken nuggets, applesauce, garlic bread; Sam, Oodles of Noodles, Danimals drinkable yogurt; Susan, lasagna, salad, veggies.

"This one's going to be tough," Spence said.

Her first reaction was that most of the food is white; and if dietitians have one catch phrase, it's "Eat the rainbow." Eating a variety of brightly colored foods increases your chances of getting the nutrients you need.

The Kornicks' meals are also low in fiber, vitamins and iron (that last because dairy is their primary source of protein) and probably higher than they should be in sodium (because many of the dishes are frozen or prepared).

Spence's strategy was to start with small steps.

"Personally, I don't think they will eat any of this," she said of her makeover meal, "but the idea is to start presenting food. This family has a long way to go before the children will eat new food."

To keep Kornick from having to make five separate dinners but to retain some elements of the "before" meal preparation, Spence suggested a chicken fajita buffet. Kornick would set out the ingredients on the table and let the family members make their own fajitas.

"Usually by the time I'm ready to sit down," Kornick said, "they are halfway through."

The fajita buffet would, at the very least, mean that the Kornicks would be eating a family dinner together.

Dessert would be fruit kebabs (strawberries, pineapple and melon) with a dipping sauce made of vanilla yogurt flavored with honey and a dash of cinnamon. While the youngest, Sam, wouldn't eat the fruit, Spence suggested she make a kebab for her dad. Again, if children are handling food, they might tempted to try it eventually.

When we arrived at the Kornicks' house, Spence had some reading material for Susan by Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and psychotherapist. (Check out her Web site at ellynsatter.com.) Satter is the author of several books on the psychological aspects of getting kids to eat healthfully, including Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense and Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.

"Stay away from catering and short-order cooking," Satter says on her Web site. And, "Don't try to get food into your child."

Spence had the kids crush a little of the fresh cilantro we had brought between their fingers and smell the herb while she told them a little of its history. (No, none of them ended up putting it on a fajita, but they seemed interested.)

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