We first interviewed Victoria Brown when her debut novel Minding Ben came out last spring (it’s being released in paperback September 4 with a new title, Grace in the City). This time we asked the Prospect Heights mom of Helen, 5, and Mason, 3, to dish all of her mealtime secrets, so you can steal her ideas and see how you strict or lax you are on the junk food front. I was reminded of two things after speaking with her–keep putting out the unfamiliar foods, because chances are they’ll eat it eventually, and there’s nothing wrong with a sugar bribe if it gets the job done.
Are your children adventurous or picky eaters?
My son will try anything. He calls himself a mushroom boy. He told me recently, “I love kale, Mommy.” He’s the kid who eats all the vegetables on his plate first.
He’s never loved eggs, or quite specifically, peas in pods, though. I tell him, “Mason you get a pass because if you call yourself a mushroom boy, you’re doing all right.
Helen, on the other hand…Before the only vegetables she’d eat were carrots and broccoli. Now, she’s gotten more adventurous; might be all the praise her brother gets… I’ve also started putting salad on the table every day. It’s usually lettuce with cucumber and peppers, grape tomatoes, radishes–all liberally sprinkled with salt–and now she’ll eat some salad, too. So I can no longer clasify her as a picky eater. We’ve definitely come a long way.
What’s a typical breakfast like for your kids?
The thing that is typical is fruit. We always try to make sure they have fresh fruit in the morning. I’m Trinidadian, and apparently I still say “mahngo”–and when they say it, it sounds exactly like they’re in my village. “Mom, do we have mahngo?”
So we eat a lot of mangos, bananas, berries, melon.
We eat bagels–buttered bagela or bagels with honey. Mase of course wants smoked salmon.
There are Eggo products in this house, both the pancakes and waffles. They get maple syrup on it, and it’ll be a whole grain Eggo waffle at least.
On weekends, they’ll get croissants with Nutella. I’ll get frozen croissants from Trader Joe’s. Or, I make them french toast with brioche I get from Joyce Bakery on Vanderbilt. They also love steel cut oats. Any morning that I’m up before 6:30, I’ll make oatmeal with raisins, sprinkle brown sugar on top and they’ll each eat a huge bowlful.
What’s a typical lunch? What do you pack?
Helen ate school lunches for a while but we’ve gone back to making lunch for her. She doesn’t like a lot of sandwiches, but she likes my special disgusting pizza sandwich–pizza sauce on bread or pita with shredded mozzarella. More often she’ll get a deconstructed sandwich–rolled up roasted turkey, with crunchy carrots on the side or cherry tomatoes and two pita wedges and Trader Joe’s peripherals–yogurt or fruit sauces. We’ve come to an understanding that If she’s going on a field trip, she can get a Nutella sandwich.
My son gets a hummus sandwich with sliced cucumbers–he’s a little gourmand. Recently he decided he loves feta (this kid’s amazing). Generally for him it’s the hummus sandwich, or a treat is a jelly sandwich.
What are your go-to dinners?
I’ve been using Bitman’s How to Cook Everything ever since my Joy of Cooking got ruined. I’ve started roasting chicken parts instead of a whole chicken. It’s faster, plus for some reason it’s cheaper to buy organic chicken cut up than whole. I roast drumsticks and breasts from Trader Joe’s. (Trader Joe’s has become my default supermarket.) I wash it and season it with salt, pepper, and paprika, or with lemon juice, olive oil and rosemary or whatever herb we have… I’ll roast vegetables with it, cut up an onion or a parsnip. I’ll do rice or pasta and broccoli on the side. That’s a good, weekday evening meal.
I make a lot of chicken stir fry for them, with brocoli and onions, red peppers, or cabbage. Or beef or turkey burgers in my cast iron skillet.
Salmon and lentils we eat once a week. My daughter will squeeze lemon on her salmon. Sometimes I roast it with Soy Vay marinade. I like having more time to cook and making grown-up meals my husband and I want to have with the kids, as opposed to faster “toy food” that’s just plain pasta or rice, something like green beans that was probably previously frozen, and some kind of nugget.
What do you keep on hand (in the freezer or cupboard) for last-minute meals?
I like Trader Joe’s meatballs and pizza dough. I’ll make meatballs with pasta or pizza with meatballs and vegetables.
There are always green peas in the freezer. My son will eat them fried, steamed, frozen, whichever way.
I’ve been trying to get them into couscous but no one’s fallen in love with it yet. There’s always rice in the house and in a pinch I’ll give them warm rice with soy sauce and peas and tofu and call it vegetarian delight.
What are your favorite places for take out?
We usually get take out on Fridays–we get Chinese from Hunan Delight in Park Slope [at 6th Avenue and Union St.] It’s the best Chinese in Brooklyn. I’ve been ordering from them for 15 years. All fresh ingredients, it’s never oily or greasy. The kids love wonton soup. I try not to give them the crackers. They get chicken and brocoli. I get sesame chicken or Happy Family. I’ve never had a bad meal from that restaurant.
We also order from Udom Thai in Prospect Heights. Helen gets chicken satay. They love the sticky rice. And Udom makes a good roasted cumin chicken.
Where do you like to go out as a family?
We go Gen Japanese Restaurant a block away, or down to Zaytoons or Le Gamin on Vanderbilt.
What’s your policy on sweets and junk food?
I have the most ass-backwards policy ever. It’s like, the better you eat, the more junk you can have.
I also started doing something I never did before–keeping M&Ms in the house. I didn’t grow up eating sweets but that’s because I grew up in the Caribbean, and we just tended to have more fruit and salty snacks than candy.
I’ve figured out that M&Ms are the best bribe for getting them to do anything. My husband is terrible–he’ll feed them junk right before dinner, and then it’s all over.
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