New mom Catherine McCord didn't set out to become a food blogger. But after her son was born she had a hard time finding healthy homemade baby food recipes. So she started doing research and recipe testing and began posting her own creations on the web. Fast forward five years and McCord is the voice behind the popular site weelicious, which focuses on family-friendly dishes that are quick and easy to prepare, nutritious, and packed with flavor too.
"Even though I'd been to culinary school, worked in restaurants in New York, and cooked for myself and friends from a young age, when I had my son I wasn't sure where to start," says the Institute of Culinary Education graduate who has a crew of in-home taste testers: son Kenya, 5, daughter Chloe, 3, and husband Jon. McCord, who recently taught a "picky eater" cooking class for Sur La Table in Palo Alto, plans on returning to the Bay Area in early 2013.
McCord's food philosophy is simple: She favors recipes that use just a few wholesome, fresh ingredients and can appeal to a range of ages -- from toddlers to teenagers -- and adults as well. "As a parent you don't have to be a short-order cook preparing four different meals for four different family members," says McCord, 39, who lives in Los Angeles and is the author of the new cookbook Weelicious: One Family. One Meal.
McCord, a contributing editor at Parenting magazine, advises that one of the best ways to raise an adventurous eater is to involve children in all aspects of the meal-making process. Go food shopping with your kids. Farmers' markets are a great place to take young ones to learn about smart food choices, she says, and there are plenty of healthy, free samples to savor.
Talk with your children, McCord says, about what food you're buying: "What should we do with this sweet potato? Could we mash it?" And invite them into the kitchen to help. "My son loves peeling bananas and pouring frozen fruit and rice milk into the blender to make his own smoothies," she says.
The former model, actress, and athlete credits her own family background for her healthy attitude towards cooking and eating. She grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where her mom taught her the importance of eating nourishing food for well being. "I also learned from my grandparents about gardening, composting, and canning, and these are traditions I'm passing along to my own children," says McCord who also contributes to Babble, which named her one of the top 100 food mom blogs of 2011.
And there's one more: Eat together as a family. "I know it's tough with everyone's hectic schedules but if your kids see you eating and enjoying broccoli, then there's a good chance they'll learn to like it too," she says.
Case in point: McCord recounts a story from a frustrated mother whose daughter wouldn't eat much besides plain noodles with butter -- except for something she calls "Nana juice" -- a breakfast drink she makes with her grandmother that includes kale, fruit, and flax. A little girl who hates almost everything drinks raw green smoothies? "The fact that that drink is her favorite breakfast tells me that kids take their cues about food from their family."
Catherine McCord shares her Quinoa Pudding recipe families can make together, below. Oh, and just a heads up: This is the sort of dish a toddler may enjoy but, in this writer's experience, it's also a hit with teens and makes a nice change from porridge for breakfast for any age.
Recipe: Banana Quinoa Pudding
This light, creamy concoction is a play on a rice pudding, with quinoa -- a grain-like seed rich in protein -- taking the place of rice. Makes a flavorful and filling after-school snack, dessert, or special breakfast treat. Can be served warm or cold.
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hours, 20 minutes *(One hour for chilling pudding)
1 cup quinoa
1 14 oz can light coconut milk
1 cup milk (2 percent fat or higher)
2 ripe bananas, mashed
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse with water.
Put quinoa, coconut milk and milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
Stir in the remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes stirring continuously until thickened.
Pour into individual ramekins and chill for at least one hour.*
* The pudding can also be served warm.
Kids Turn: There's lots of opportunity in this recipe for a child to lend a hand, says McCord. Young children can rinse quinoa in a strainer under running water, shake the coconut milk can (the fat and milk content sometimes separate on the shelf), and peel and mash bananas. Small children can also measure ingredients and pour them into the pot -- and can stir the saucepan while cooking, with adult supervision. Older elementary age children may be comfortable making the whole dish -- with some encouragement and under the watchful eye of a grown up. "Cooking in the kitchen with your child is an opportunity to talk about where food comes from, what's in it, why it's good for you, and what happens when you add heat, spice, fat, or liquid," says McCord. "It's also a chance to work in concepts like math, science, and geography. And it's fun to taste test together, admire the fruits of your combined labor, and eat them too."