Ronna Welsh runs Purple Kale Kitchenworks, a studio that offers popular cooking classes for parents and serious home cooks. Her methods place an emphasis on improvisation and advance food preparation, both of which go a long way to ensuring that each night, a healthy dinner is served. Her next parents workshop is November 9, though she has many other themed classes. Here, she shares her secrets to keeping her two girls, Eleanor and Sophie, well fed.
How old are your children and what kinds of eaters are they?
I have two daughters, ages 7 and 5. They like plain pasta and street pizza like every other kid. At the same time, they eat squid and sardines, cabbage and pickles, smelly fish and anything from Dim Sum. One favors proteins; the other, starch.
What kinds of foods did you give them from the start? Do you feel like you influenced the way they eat now?
Thinking back on it, I was timid with their food at first, cooking plain, unseasoned chicken breast for my first daughter’s early meals. One day, I tasted a container of her cold, leftover pieces and let that go the way of cloying kids’ music and loud toys.
What’s a typical breakfast like for you and the kids?
Toast with butter and salt. They don’t eat the crust. I do.
A typical lunch for them?
If only they ate sandwiches! Lunch is an assembly of parts, typically including avocado, tomatoes, mango, or cheese. Sometimes, a small piece of good chocolate.
What are your go-to dinners for the family?
I’ll put together small plates of different things that need to be used up—some cooked, some raw—anchor it with good bread and cheese, or avocado and plain yogurt, and let everyone graze. [Some examples of small plates that she might serve include pieces of cured ham or sausages, a bowl of roasted root vegetables, homemade pickles, salad greens with olive oil and lemon, slices of apple and sharp cheese, and a bowl of pistachios.]
Do you try to eat together or feed them first? If you eat together, how do you manage that?
We’d like to all eat together every night. But at the very least, I insist that a grown up, even a babysitter, eat with my kids for every meal. This way, we are able to model for them what kind of diners/eaters they could be. They won’t know, for example, that mussels are delicious to eat, unless they see a grown up slurping up broth from a bowl.
What do you keep on hand always (in the freezer or pantry) for last-minute meals? I know you keep a lot at the ready!
Stocks. I always have home made stocks on hand. And white rice. Lots of white rice.
How often do you eat out or order in? What are your favorite places for take out or dinners out as a family, and what do you get for her?
I love take-out, and we get it likely once a week. We have Luigi’s fantastic pizza just feet away. When we go out as a family (rare), we go to a diner, get ramen, or eat Salvadorian food.
What’s your policy on sweets and junk food?
I’m strict about junk food (chips, soda, etc.) and kinder about sweets. A Mr. Softie truck, driven by the same Brooklyn family for 15 years, stops in front of our house at 7 pm throughout the summer. The neighborhood kids collect at the foot of our stoop, dollar bills in hand. There’s no saying “no” to that.
What’s your policy on introducing new food or encouraging your children to eat things they’re not interested in?
I introduce new foods all the time, mostly by showing them how much I enjoy cooking and eating them. There are always new ingredients coming in and out of our kitchen. If my kids don’t want to try something new, I don’t make a big deal of it, and will not serve them any. But I don’t make separate “kids” things for them to eat; I always have yogurt and avocado on hand to fill out a meal they’re skeptical about.
Are there any cookbooks you refer to often?
These days, no. My cookbooks have been packed away for over a year and I haven’t missed them much, which surprises me. Occasionally, I’ll hunt for an old school French cookbook, because those are so much fun to read.
Do you have a favorite recipe you’d like to share? Something quick and easy?
Sure. This is what I improvised for dinner last night, while writing answers to the questions above. Measurements might be approximate:
Brussels Sprouts with Raisins and Pistachios
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 small onion, finely chopped
6 cups of loose leaves from about 1 pound of Brussels sprouts (or you could shred them)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Hunza raisins
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
In a medium saute pan, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, first, to color, then turn heat down to cook through, until translucent, about 12 minutes.
Add Brussels sprout leaves and salt and stir together. Turn up heat and add water to steam the Brussels and incorporate the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook until just soft, but still bright green. Taste again for salt, then stir in raisins and pistachios. Let sit 5 minutes before serving.