Natick-based nutritionist, cookbook author (and mom!) Mona Dolgov spent years developing nutritional content for health and wellness companies and celebrity chefs. Now, she writes her own books, such as the new “Perfect Portion Cookbook,” all about portion control; a spring 2020 book, “Satisfy,” focuses on meals with 500 or fewer calories. She also hosts at-home cooking classes to help people feel less intimidated by food.
“I ask, ‘What are you scared about? What do you really want to know what to do?'” she says.
Speaking for myself (and probably millions of other parents), the answer is: how to get my children to actually eat something besides chicken nuggets.
“If I could write a healthy recipe and give it to someone, and they could make it in their house, and that becomes one of their staples, then I just feel like I’ve made a million bucks,” Dolgov says.
OK, Mona, here’s a million dollars: Share!
Cook with your kids.
“My kids are in their 20s now, and I feel I’m in the minority,” she says. “But I taught both my kids how to cook at a very young age. It became a part of their life, just like taking a flute lesson or taking a saxophone lesson or playing tennis. I think that’s one of the things that can make kids less fearful of food, to enjoy the preparation and not really feel that it’s a stressful experience.”
No need to ask them to prepare a roast: Dolgov started small, asking them to use measuring cups and relating it to what they were learning in math. What’s one-third? What’s one-quarter? She calls it “meal math,” which sounds a lot better than regular math.
Let kids use their own gadgets.
Her kids had their own mini scoopers, measuring spoons and cups, which made them actually want to cook. This served them well later on. “My son was a chick magnet in college because he could make meals for people. Very few college kids really knew how to cook!” she laughs. “And it becomes a good habit for life.”
Prepare foods that have an element of creativity. Dolgov likes yogurt bowls with funny faces.
Most children will grunt at large hunks of unknown vegetables in a sauce. She prefers to mince, mince, mince in sauces, which kids are less likely to fish out. She suggests starting with pasta sauce, and mincing onions, carrots or red peppers.
Focus on DIY meals.
Think pizza nights, taco bowls and other dishes where kids can use their favorite ingredients. “They feel empowered, and you can create and select your own toppings and use and introduce them to vegetables in that way,” Dolgov says. “For pizza night, it can be introducing them to a whole bunch of different herbs, or a whole bunch of different vegetables. You can even add fruit to pizzas. They can be the masters of their own dinner.” Fruit skewers are a big hit, too.
Dip, dip, dip.
Kids love dips. (Check out her book for ideas.)
Practice (subtle) portion control.
Her children also had their own personal mug for snacks, sized for kids, which they served using their own kid-sized scoopers. “You’re teaching them portion control in a very non-controlling way,” Dolgov says. “You’re saying, ‘This is your snack mug, and here’s your scooper.’ They feel empowered and they can see, growing up, what their portions are. Then, when they’re going off to college or they’re going off to high school, they have portion sizes that they’re used to eating.”