Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Strange Experience of Cooking for Kids -- Who Aren't Your Own

Parents reading this will surely snicker at me, but what the heck. I spent last week in Tempe staying with my nieces while their parents were enjoying a little holiday in New York. The girls are amazingly self-sufficient so there was little for me to do but be transportation and security. I, of course, also wanted to be cook.

The challenge was that these pre-teen kids are on the run. They're in school early in the morning and then come afternoon and evening activities (each night the younger one had to leave at 5:30 for soccer practice that wouldn't bring her home until 8:30 and the older one had tennis lessons and other obligations on a couple of nights). And they're not big eaters. They're not fussy so much as disinterested for the most part. Oh, and, they claim to be vegetarians. Sort of. But it's more along the lines of not eating meat as opposed to choosing to eat vegetables. In other words, they like baked potatoes stuffed with cheese.

Night number one was a surrender to frozen dinner: manicotti. But, my older niece made a nice salad to go with it and let's just say we were fed while discussing options for subsequent dinners. They both like pesto, so the following night I made that with pappardelle from Trader Joe's, along with roasted eggplant with garlic-infused olive oil and parmesan cheese melted on top. I liked the eggplant. They weren't so keen on it. Thursday's meal was something I'd started making years and years before when their cousins were little: chicken legs dipped in a mixture of Italian spiced bread crumbs, garlic, olive oil, and grated parmesan cheese. Bake it at 400 for about an hour and you get a nice crisp coating and moist chicken meat inside. That went over pretty well and the younger one got to make her favorite baked potato filled with grated cheddar and jack cheeses.

By Friday, the girls were over home cooking so we picked up dinner at Pei Wei. And that was it. They made their own breakfasts and lunches for school. They had snacks their mom had left for them. No muss, no fuss.

But still. I cook all the time and yet felt I didn't have a clue for these kids who aren't keen on a lot of vegetables and limit their protein to chicken and shrimp.

So, on behalf of childless aunts and uncles who are sometimes asked to cook for their nieces and nephews, I'd love for you to share some of your kids's favorite meals that we could prepare when called on.

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