Eating Well


Making food work for the entire family

By Bev Bennet

The other evening my spouse took a bite of chicken and pronounced: “This doesn’t work.”

This doesn’t work!!??

That’s what you say, along with a few expletives, when the printer breaks down as you’re about to send in your monthly report. But chicken with olives and tomatoes over polenta? After a minute’s sputtering I took a deep breath. Hey. It’s the dinner hour, not round three. And it’s not my ever-lovin’s fault. As a food and nutrition writer and recipe developer I’m always asking the family to critique the meal. I fuss over recipes the way some people obsess over PC versus Mac computers.

Maybe that’s why Susy Schultz asked me to write a monthly column for Chicago Parent.

However, being passionate about food isn’t enough. I’ve been thinking about this incident recently. I’m questioning what it is about food, beyond the taste, that I’d like to share with you and came up with these thoughts:

• Food is ritual. We define so many events in our lives by the foods we eat. Maybe you cook hamburgers whenever your children’s softball team wins. That’s a ritual they’ll remember long after the event.

• Food is culture. It’s wonderful that America is a culinary melting pot, but it’s just as vital to retain our distinctive food traditions. I regret I’ll never be able to make the dishes my grandmothers cooked for me. Both women died and their recipes with them. I urge you, for the sake of your families, to cook the foods that are a part of your heritage.

• Food is comfort. As a food writer I’ve interviewed dozens of dietitians and know that giving a child food as a comforting device can set that child up for inappropriate eating patterns. Yet, there I am with a pot of chocolate pudding when one of my children faces some disappointment. Food doesn’t replace a desired party invitation, but eating together is fun.

• Food is nurturing, both physically and emotionally. We feed our families vegetables, whole grains, fruits, low-fat dairy products, meats, poultry, fish and seafood to enhance their health.

The time we share at meals allows us to give each other emotional support. Studies indicate children who eat with their families have healthier diets, do better in school and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors than children who eat by themselves.

If we want our children to eat vegetables, listen to each other’s conversations and participate in family life, we have to set examples, and when better to do this than at the dinner table?

• Food is part of nature’s cycle. It saddens me we’re so removed from food production we barely notice that fruits and vegetables have seasons. We see what we want in supermarkets the year round, so we don’t appreciate produce as it comes to market.

I’m going to expand on these themes in upcoming columns and I welcome your input. Send me an e-mail at

Meanwhile, here is the recipe I make whenever I get the urge to bake cookies.

Bev's Kitchen Sink Cookies 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups flour

2 cups quick-cooking oatmeal

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1 cup dried cherries

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place the butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat at medium speed 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and beat 1 more minute or until the butter mixture is light and creamy. Scrape down the bowl. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat 30 seconds.

3. Add the baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1 cup of flour. Beat 30 seconds to form a batter. Scrape down the bowl. Add the remaining flour and oatmeal and beat 30 seconds or until a batter forms. Add the walnuts, dried cherries, chocolate chips and coconut and mix briefly. The mixer should be full.

4. Scoop out the batter by 1/4 cup measures onto a nonstick cookie sheet. Space them 12 to a cookie sheet. Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove the cookies when done. Let sit on the cookie sheet 5 minutes to firm up then remove to wire racks to completely cool. Makes about 3 dozen.

Bev Bennett, the mother of two, is a food and nutrition writer living in Evanston. Her latest book Cooking Out of the Box was released by Prima Publishing in October.

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