Our lives consist of so many stages, and our cooking needs change and evolve through these stages. Our latest “Heroes in the Kitchen” post features Carla Graves, mom to 2 year old Will, who has been through a lot of recent transitions. Carla shows us that an early foundation in family dinners has helped her prioritize cooking regardless of what stage of life she’s in. Below she shares how her cooking has evolved over the years and how this latest stage with her son has been the most fun.
CS: Did you grow up cooking?
I grew up in an Italian household and we rarely went out to eat. Family dinners were mandatory growing up. You pretty much didn’t miss it unless you had a really good excuse. Dinner time was an opportunity for everyone to catch up on the day. My mom was always cooking meals from scratch and although I didn’t necessarily get involved in the kitchen too much as a kid, it was all I knew. We had a big family and entertained a lot, so I usually ended up helping out preparing for parties and celebrations. I may not have cooked too much at a young age, but I was definitely surrounded by it and the importance of home cooked meals was stressed.
CS: You’ve had a lot of transitions in your life from college to the military to becoming a mom and now getting a masters! How has your cooking experience grown through these big life transition?
Cooking healthy and delicious food has always been important to me. Even in college I usually cooked at least once a week for my roommates or friends. I taught myself how to make homemade spaghetti sauce, since it is a sin for an Italian to buy Ragu or Prego.
Once I graduated, I learned the importance of meal planning and I usually liked to figure out what I was going to eat for the entire week so that I could go grocery shopping only once. In the military, life can get pretty busy, so you don’t have a lot of extra time. I also learned that if I planned ahead and had the ingredients in my house, I was usually a lot more successful at cooking dinner after a long day at work.
Once I had a kid, I learned the importance of figuring out meals that didn’t take long or require a lot of attention. Stuff that can be easily prepped and then thrown into a pot, oven, or crock pot to cook are great when you can’t give cooking your undivided attention. You also learn to take use your child’s nap time to get a head start on dinner.
Since I am currently pursuing my Masters in Nutrition so that I can be a Registered Dietitian, I am always looking for ways to lighten up classic meals that are tasty but traditionally packed with calories.
CS: What are some of your favorite things to cook for your son?
I love trying out new meals for Will (age 2+ now). He has a pretty adventurous palate so it’s fun to see him try something new and like it. I like cooking meals inspired from my childhood as well as trying out new cultural dishes with him. Stir fries are always good. Will loves everything from Asian cuisine to Indian food so I love getting inspiration from the Cook Smarts meal plans.
CS: Has he had any picky food issues? If yes, how have you handled them?
I’ve been really lucky with Will that he’s a really good eater. He will try anything once and usually ends up liking it. It’s pretty common for kids his age to be picky or afraid of trying new foods. Trying something new usually looks something like this in our house:
Will: Mommy, I don’t like it.
Me: Will you’ve never tried it. You only have to eat one bite, and if you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it. But I bet you’ll like it.
Will: Mommy, you’re right. I DO like it.
Will doesn’t really like pasta, so he won’t eat Macaroni and Cheese (which for most moms is a tragedy). I think it’s a texture thing. It doesn’t mean I won’t offer it to him, but I have to be ready with a backup plan.
We’ll be sharing a recipe for Carla’s Chicken Cordon Bleau, one of Will’s favorites in a later post. Stay tuned! Below are some very cute photos of Will being a very good kitchen assistant making our panko-blackened fish with sweet potato wedges (part of this meal plan) and then happily enjoying them.