Gaming the System – Cooking for a Kid Crew


I blew it, I’ll admit that up front. I was planning on visiting my grandkids who are sequestered with my daughter’s BFF kids. They are all ‘bubbling’ staying away from everyone but each other. As I am doing the same, I offered to bring lunch.

Big mistake.

We are talking about six kids minimum if you include 8-month-old ‘Handsome’ who has already decided baby food is for the birds. I thought, pasta salad and my homemade sourdough bread, how easy is that? No problem.

But it turned out, even though I thought I was being careful with everyone’s varied taste buds, big problem. I forgot the two oldest, Clea and April, were finicky about mayo. That tiny green beans would make Claudia suspicious. That Scarlett is going through a phase where pretty much everything food wise is not to her liking unless she fixes it up herself. That left Brandon, my daughter’s BFF’s middle child and the baby of the group, aka, Handsome.

The boys loved it, everyone else not so much and this when I really thought I had a handle on everyone’s likes and dislikes. My daughter and her BFF, two intrepid and innovative moms if there ever were two, pivoted and doctored up the pasta salad so that everyone ate it but I was glum. How could I have missed so badly?

Because I was trying to accommodate six very different set of taste buds that’s why. Ages eight months to 12 years no less. As Handsome and bless his heart, young Brandon continue to consume more pasta than their respective body weights, the moms and I brain stormed and decided that a good old fashioned bar was in order. Not a liquor bar but a pasta bar. Similar to a taco bar, next time I bring lunch it will be simply cooked pasta with all the fixings on the side; sauces, tiny meatballs, cheeses, veggies, etc. I wash and store all the safe plastic containers from condiments, dairy and such so transport would be no problem.

As Handsome munched down (at eight months he already has a mouthful of teeth) and Brandon went in for thirds (I can’t wait until that kid turns 13 so I can really feed him), we strategized about how to feed the finicky four. These kids were all going to be all each has for some time to come so they had better get used to a lot of meals together was our thought. Making sure they all ate the ‘same thing’ was a challenge but the pasta bar sounded like a really good solution.

The sourdough bread, slathered in butter went over just fine. As Claudia is wont to say, the world could always use more butter.

I could not agree more.

Next week is Claudia’s tenth birthday, yes, tenth. She is proud to be entering as she says, her double digit years though we continue to debate whether turning ten makes her an official ‘tween’. The moms are planning pizza and a sheet cake, keeping it simple in these turbulent times. I offered to bring something and, aside from my caramelized onion dip, recipe below, we decided that a fruit parfait bar would be a great way to get the kids to eat something approaching healthy. Today I went out and bought three kinds of berries, bananas, nectarines (they are sturdier than peaches), nuts and other toppings. I then doused the berries in a quick bath of cool water and a tablespoon of white vinegar to make sure they last the week. Berries are fragile and don’t last very long but the simple trick of rinsing them in a water-vinegar bath will extend their shelf life greatly. The other perk to berries is that you only need cut up strawberries, other berries are fine as is. With some low fat fruity yogurt and whipped cream, plus granola and nuts, you have yourself the makings of a side dish that might even approach healthy. And in the peak of summer, fruit is cheap, making it an ideal choice for a frugal get together dish.

This strategy not only addresses picky, diverse kid eaters but takes advantage of eating in season, a tried and true frugal savings strategy if there ever was one. Try it with tacos, individual pizzas, salads and more.

Caramelized Onion Dip


2-3 large white onions, thinly sliced

8 ounces light sour cream

8 ounces cream cheese

4 ounces mayo

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon sugar

Olive oil


Caramelize the onions in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. This is going to take upwards of 45 minutes to an hour so be prepared to babysit those onions. Sprinkle the sugar over the onions about five minutes into the cooking process to hasten the caramelization. Once the onions are a deep brown in color, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and pat in a nest of paper towels to remove more of the oil.

Blend the rest of the ingredients with the cooled onions in a food processor until smooth. Keep covered in the refrigerator for a week. Can also be frozen. Serve with a platter of fresh vegetables in season of course.




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