Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl

Courtesy of Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl

This is the first in an occasional series of interviews with parents involved in the local food scene — a peek into the family kitchen, where the kids need to eat dinner no matter what Mom or Dad does for a day job.

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl knows her way around deep red wines, heaps of exciting greens from the Hmong market, Minnesota’s best blue cheeses, and just about anything food-related her readers at Minnesota Monthly could possibly want to know.

Her four-year-old son, meanwhile, lives mostly on white foods: noodles with butter, string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, apple slices.

And Moskowitz Grumdahl will tell you she’s fine with that.

That, in today’s world, is a brave statement. A healthy appetite has long been a point of pride and a mark of character. Today, however, it’s not about how many corn fritters Johnny polishes off before milking the cows, it’s about Johnny’s appreciation of the finer things in the gastronomic universe. If Johnny can pick out the cultured French butter in a blind taste test, all the better. (Think this is an exaggeration? Witness two recent parenting books: Gastrokid and My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus.)

Last summer, Moskowitz Grumdahl wrote an essay for Minnesota Monthly called “The Doughnut Gatherer,” in which she describes what happens when the ideals of her profession — “Good food is better than bad food” and there exists, somewhere, a “best” worth seeking out — meet the messy realities of parenting.

It had the effect of a confession in front of a 12-step group. Parents reached out to say to her, “You know what, my kid won’t eat either.” Closet doors slammed open around the country and mothers and fathers stepped out, shedding layers of shame, embarrassment, and deeply felt failure. Some brave partisan even tracked down that octopus-eating two-year-old and slipped McNuggets into her bento box.

Well, no.

But Moskowitz Grumdahl says she has, in fact, freed herself of her early worries about her son’s diet. The moment came after a visit to a feeding clinic. “They tried to tell us he was mentally ill and wanted us to come in for all different kinds of therapy,” she says. But she and her husband decided against “medicalizing and pathologizing” eating. “I don’t want anyone telling me what I’m going to eat, so I don’t want to tell him what he’s going to eat.” Simple enough.

So now dinner in the Moskowitz Grumdahl household resembles the nursery dinners of Victorian Britain, as she describes them. Back then, nobody expected kids to have mastered table manners or grown-up food until they were around seven years old.

Around 5 or 6 o’clock, the kids start out with fruit and cheese and then move on to noodles and hard-boiled eggs. Later she and her husband will have a more grown-up dinner and their 2-year-old — Moskowitz Grumdahl describes her as “Jack Sprat’s wife… I can’t think of a thing she won’t eat” — will sometimes join them.

“I want parents to know I’m not existing in some perfect foodie universe where we all sit down to cassoulet,” she says. “Life is unbelievably hectic for all families.”

And here Moskowitz Grumdahl offers permission to step free of yet another layer of parenting shame: You don’t have to be the one to cook it all.

Courtesy of Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl

“We rely on the skills and kindnesses of others,” she says. “We love getting takeout from Lucia’s. We do that more than people know… We got a CSA the year my daughter was born. That was just a disaster for our family. I would come in with all these bags on the counter and the kids needing my attention,” she remembers. “So, I’m going to turn my back on my kid to deal with some kohlrabi? Give me a break. That just didn’t work. What makes more sense for our family is to pay Be’wiched or Lucia’s to do the prep work. The money goes to the farmers eventually.”

Part of the problem, as she sees it, is the “professionalization of everything. You have to set a table like Martha Stewart and live in a house out of Dwell and cook like Nigella — not to mention look like Giada. But look at Nigella. That is her job: to make dinner. If you had your whole day to make dinner, that would be different….

“What your kids most need is time… If you’re present with your kids and you’re helping them, why do they need to eat sushi? Some kids like it. My little girls eats everything. Does that mean she’s a better kid? Does that mean I did a better job?”

Really, what it comes down to is perspective. Every potty-training parent has heard, at least a dozen times, “Nobody ever went to college wearing diapers.” Foodie parents need to be reminded that there was a time before they, even, had heard of broccoli rabe.

As Moskowitz Grumdahl puts it, “I love sushi. I don’t think I really got on board with sushi until I was 14. Did not eating sushi when I was 10 lessen my experience of sushi? I didn’t start drinking wine until I was in my 20s. Did that lessen my experience of wine?”

And, to parents everywhere: “If you have healthy kids and they eat buttered noodles, raise a glass to that.”

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About the Author

Tricia Cornell

Tricia has been called the mother of “world-class veggie eaters” in the Star Tribune (that is patently untrue) and an “industrious home cook” in the New York Times (true, but was it a compliment?). She loves Brussels sprouts, hates squash, and would choose salty and sour flavors over sweet just about any day. She is the author of Eat More Vegetables, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in 2012, and The Minnesota Farmers Market Cookbook, published by Voyageur Press in 2014.

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16 Comments

  1. Jenny 09/26/2010

    Having worked for a weight loss company for several years, one of the most common things clients shared with me was that they didn’t really like vegetables, except they don’t really like vegetables (except potatoes, carrots and corn). If you are only feeding your child “white” foods, YOU are potentially setting them up for an unhealthy diet (and weight struggles) later in life. I work full-time, I cook 1 healthy meal every night, and I still enjoy daily conversations with my kids about what’s going on in their life. My kids would prefer a world of chicken nuggets, fries and pizza, but MY JOB as the parent is to ensure that they learn and develop a healthy diet and understand the importance of an active lifestyle. Where else where they learn these things? Is it easy? no. They will fight you the first time you serve eggplant or brussel sprouts. But does it get easier? yes. Eventually, they learn that they can voice their opinion about a certain meal, but they still need to eat it. My youngest son actually clapped a few nights back because I made eggplant. Would he have done that 5 years ago? no. But with patience and the occasional serving of an overlooked vegie, he’s grown to actually enjoy it!

  2. ElJay 09/26/2010

    Did you read the linked article, Jenny? Her son has medical issues that make eating painful. When they tried not forcing him to eat he went two days without eating anything. It’s a little different situation then just being a picky eater, which I’d think would be obvious from the fact that she says they took him to a feeding clinic.

  3. I love Dara’s perspective on all this. As a parent who loves food, I really want my kids to love food, and I love it when one of my kids tries sushi or tries something exotic. But I mostly love just sitting with them at the dinner table and talking about their days. And there’s nothing wrong with kids eating like kids.

  4. I totally agree that it’s ridiculous to think that every child should like sushi or octopus, but there’s a lot of middle ground between insisting your children eat gourmet “foodie” meals and feeding them chicken nuggets or plain noodles each night. For our family what takes highest priority is that we all sit down and eat our meal together. Eating together as a family is one of the best things you can do to make new foods appealing to your children, as well as support their emotional health. Our child gets served the same thing we’re eating, and perhaps a yogurt or applesauce or something else she’s comfortable with. More times than not she’ll at least try the new food on her plate because she sees we’re eating and enjoying it.

    Jenny – It struck me that you said “need to eat it.” Most child feeding experts would say that children should determine what they “need” to eat, while caregivers should ensure that there are healthy foods served at meals so children have the opportunity to make healthy choices. Meals and food should be enjoyable, not about fighting over how many bites of what a child needs to take.

  5. geoff 09/27/2010

    As a rule, it’s bad practice to tell other parents that they’re lesser or inadequate or that they aren’t DOING THEIR JOB as parents. It will rarely lend itself to a productive (or rational) discourse. Also, RTFA.

  6. I think we working parents try our best, but at the end of the day it’s the kid’s decision what to eat and what not to eat. Our job is just to expose them to as much as possible.

    Like Jason said, the important thing is sitting down to the table as a family and having that regular time to re-connect. Whether it’s over a home-cooked meal or take-out, it’s all good.

    Great idea for an ongoing series, HT! I look forward to reading future installments.

  7. artsy 09/27/2010

    I agree this is a difficult problem and very emotionally loaded on all sides. How about those couple of cookbooks that show you how to sneak pureed squash and other ‘icky’ veggies into the muffins or pasta sauce or whatever, so at least the kids are getting a bit of those nutrients… Jessica Seinfeld wrote one of them , titled ‘Deceptively Delicious’… It has been found that if a child is consuming those beta-carotene-containing foods even unknowingly, that he or she will begin to tolerate and enjoy the flavors over time, that were once repugnant. My nephew has been a very picky eater, mostly wanting only white foods. But the good news is, he likes broccoli now! He just turned 16.

  8. I too am a foodie with a picky kid. I remember reading Dara’s MnMo article and feeling like, oh, wow, I didn’t know I had it so good that my kid is only picky rather than overwhelmed by reflux. I’m a mostly stay at home mom, and I still have trouble feeding my family of four. I make and serve a variety of food, I try to have vegetable based meals, I try to make them appealing in preparation or in name, and in the end its a crap shoot whether the kids will try something or not. Sometimes the older, pickier one will proclaim something’s yucky, and the little one won’t even try it. But as the older one’s gotten older, he is trying more foods, and he is more open to to things that have more flavor and texture. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, at 7, he’s now able to make the connection between healthful food and a healthy body.

    I often feel like crying when some person or book says their kid is eating oysters or has never had mac n cheese. (I try to always have 2 boxes in my pantry as a backup. Ditto sunflower butter and jelly.) As parents, we all do the best we can with the resources we have. Offering help, rather than judgment, is a great gift, I’ve found.

  9. We have two healthy teenagers in our house who not only love food, but love to be involved in making it. I have the holy joy of waking up on Saturday mornings to a 13 year old son baking from-scratch blueberry muffins – by himself. Did this come easy? NO! But we allowed him to start simple (bag muffins “just add milk!” at age 5) and make messes. For family meals both kids HAD to try one bite of whatever we had. But then no battle or pressure to eat the full meal. However – we didn’t kill ourselves to make a special meal for them either (it was “here baby – have some noodles and cheese”). We also made a point not to keep crappy junk food around, for the most part. All this requires a united front from both parents. Now my Teenage daughter has her friends over and COOKS FOR THEM! Son is now interested in different kinds of curries and thai food. How cool is that?

  10. Alexis 10/05/2010

    Wow. They parental judgments here are astonishing. Kudos to Dara for being willing to admit that she isn’t a perfect gourmand mommy. It’s inevitable that the concern trolls will crawl out to admonish those of us who don’t get it right with parenting every day on every point. It’s become quite comical to me to watch middle-class, educated people squabble over “heated issues” like babywearing, breast/bottle, homeschooling/public/private, and on and on. What an insulated little world we find ourselves in.

  11. I love Dara’s honesty and simplistic attitude about raising her children. Yes! Spend time with them..don’t worry about whether or not they want to share your foie gras. I have two children and we are in the same boat. One is branching out when he orders the “buttered noodles with parm” at French Meadow, and one who will gladly tear in to anything we put in front of her. Whatever. They are kids. We keep offering and sometimes they try things and sometimes they don’t, but you know what…they are exposed to it and they are still allowed to be kids. Kids who eat healthy food, but ones they choose, not ones we force on them.

  12. Brittaney Cranney 12/26/2012

    It’s my pleasure Katin! I have done a LOT of research into android, especially when I was stuck with my old one.

  13. Kata 05/23/2013

    She looks like she eats exactly what her son eats. No need for boxed-in close up partially blocked face shots. We know she’s fat.