Liz Edmunds’ passion for the importance of family dinnertime led a kitchen-store manager to dub her “the food nanny.” The moniker stuck! Today Liz serves as part teacher, part counselor, part coach for families in need of organizational help and cooking instruction so they can implement a weekly dinner plan in their own homes.
When Liz and her husband, Stephen Edmunds, started having children, Liz set a goal to create a consistent dinnertime with the family, despite her husband’s extensive travels as a pilot, first for the U.S. Air Force and then for Delta Airlines. She began implementing her “theme nights” more than 30 years ago and has been developing and tweaking recipes ever since.
Over the years Liz has shared her theme-night plan with people all over the country, and many have encouraged her to write a book. Some of Liz’s four daughters used the plan in college to cook for their roommates and friends; and now that the daughters are married, they are following the plan with their own families. She is the author of The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner.
Friday, 19 September 2008
Diet Detective: Hello Liz, thanks again for the interview. My first question is, how did you become the Food Nanny?
Liz: All my life I have been helping family and friends with their meal planning and food budgeting and recipes for dinnertime. When I was sharing my how-tos and philosophies with a kitchen store manager, she dubbed me “The Food Nanny” and it stuck! I like it because it represents nurturing, family values, good wholesome food, and no nonsense. I have a practical plan that is tried and true. It has worked for me for over 30 years now. I have shared my plan with many others who are living it, and loving it as well. I am somewhat like a nanny who would be taking care of children, only I do it with food, mainly around dinnertime.
Diet Detective: How did you learn to cook?
Liz: I learned by example from my mother, grandmothers, and aunts. And I taught myself through trial and error day after day as soon as I was married. I wanted to try cooking or baking everything. Breads became my specialty.
Diet Detective: Please explain your “theme” nights? What is the benefit of theme nights?
Liz: The most difficult part of cooking dinner is trying to decide what to cook. So I devised a plan for my family and called it “theme nights”:
· Monday: Comfort Food
· Tuesday: Italian Night
· Wednesday: Fish/Meatless
· Thursday: Mexican Night
· Friday: Pizza Night
· Saturday: Grill Night
· Sunday: Tradition Day
When trying to decide what to prepare, I could eliminate thousands of possibilities and zero in on my theme for the night. I never tired of them, and many a day they kept me putting dinner on the table on a consistent basis five nights a week, year after year. Here’s how: Select a recipe from each category as you plan a two-week menu. Think about each night in relation to the others as well. For instance, you may want to avoid eating red meat back to back. Or if one night is a heavy meal, then plan something light for the next night. Eating fish at least once a week is important as well. It is important to think about these kinds of things. We want to keep our families healthy.
My plan liberates you from agonizing about what to cook for dinner in many situations. After returning home from a vacation, for example, you are tired and hungry and the last thing you want to eat is more fast food. You just want to go home and unwind and enjoy something home-cooked! When my family was on the way home from a vacation, I might think to myself, “OK, today is Thursday,” and my mind would automatically go to Mexican night. I would then think of our favorite quick Mexican dishes: beef tacos or cheese enchiladas. Either of these recipes takes little time to prepare. There! Dinner was decided in a couple of minutes. We’d stop at the grocery store and run in and grab the essentials, plus milk, eggs, and bread. If all else failed and I was too tired even for making tacos or enchiladas, I would do buttermilk waffles or pancakes. All I needed to grab at the store were buttermilk and eggs; I knew I would have everything else at home: flour, soda, baking powder, salt, canola oil, syrup. Everyone loved waffles or pancakes for dinner. I might fry up some bacon or sausage to go with it. Another really fast meal would be biscuits and gravy — solid comfort food — or mac & cheese.
My plan never failed me — ever. It made my life easy and my family’s quality of life wonderful and healthy too. The two-week menu plan makes it so easy. Even if you don’t like to plan ahead, the theme nights still make dinnertime much easier because at least you have an idea of what to cook on a given night. The theme nights should include your favorite foods, so every night you’re eating what you love. Your kids work hard at school so you can reward them with their favorite foods as well. Theme nights give them an idea what is going to be served every night, and they will be eager to be home for dinner. Everyone loves the theme nights and my recipes are delicious. You will want to make them over and over again, just like I do! And as you discover new recipes, you can file them under one of your theme nights and expand your collection of favorites. The variety is endless and the memories will last a lifetime!
Diet Detective: Why is family dinnertime so important to you?
Liz: Preparing dinner was the most important thing that I did for my family each day. Dinnertime kept us close. We bonded. It was the most natural setting where we could sort out and talk over the day’s events. I could look my kids in the eye each night and see how they were feeling and see how their life was going. We laughed and cried at the dinner table. We learned table manners. We learned the art of good conversation. We forgave one another. We came together each night in a “celebration” of sorts to have some peace and strength in numbers and of course good hot food to feed our hungry stomachs and souls. Dinnertime was the lifeblood of our family. Nothing was more important.
Diet Detective: If you had to choose the most important factor in getting your kids to eat healthfully what would it be?
Liz: Eating at home at least five nights a week is a big part of eating healthfully. A variety of home-cooked foods on a consistent basis is much more healthful than all the other alternatives. When kids are presented with a variety of foods every night from a young age, they learn to eat a variety of foods, rather than resorting to unhealthful choices because “that’s all there is.” This is the beauty of my theme-night plan. It makes it easier to put good, healthy food on the table night after night after night.
Diet Detective: What makes your methods different than others that have attempted to tackle the “getting your kids to eat more healthful” conundrum?
Liz: I like to serve at least two or three vegetables along with whatever I am making. Give the kids a choice of vegetables, such as corn and green beans, mixed. That was a favorite. Peas, carrots, broccoli is another. They will be sure to like at least one of these. As they see adults and other siblings eating most vegetables, soon they are willing to venture out and try other vegetables. I never make meat the most important part of the meal. Eat less meat and more vegetables, grains, rice, potatoes, pasta, and you’re on your way to eating healthy—all with portion control. I also fix one main course each night, with everyone expected to eat what is on the table. I never had a child say, “Can I make a sandwich or have some cereal; I don’t like this.” My dinners are foods that families will eat and love!
Diet Detective: Should you forbid certain “sin” foods (cookies, cakes, ice cream candy, etc.)? Can it backfire? Should I tell my child that certain foods are “junk” food? Or is that also counterproductive?
Liz: Never forbid “sin” foods, as you call them. Have them in your home to be eaten, but only when it makes sense. Don’t have candy bars lying around and don’t allow kids to sit down with just a bag of chips all to themselves. Each of these foods have their place—some chips with a sandwich; a candy bar occasionally.
It’s easy to control your kids with the so-called “sin” foods when they are little; you can just forbid them. But when they get older, some kids go crazy on them when they are out of sight of the parents. Then they resent that they never get a cookie or piece of cake. Most people like to eat something sweet. It is an enjoyment for most of us. When kids are eating good food on a consistent basis, though, they don’t desire to gorge on “sin” foods; a little taste is enough. We have a tradition in our family of having dessert on Comfort Food Night. In addition, I made homemade cookies almost daily when the kids were growing up. No one ate too many. They were readily available to eat and enjoy, but everyone knew that dinner was around the corner and no one would fill up on cookies. A cookie or two was plenty. A cookie, combined with a glass of milk, would take the sting of hunger away for just enough time, a little minute to relax before getting started on homework. This is quality of life for anyone!
Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy breakfast for kids?
Liz: A piece of wheat or white toast with some scrambled egg on top. Peanut butter wheat toast is also great. These are quick, easy, and delicious, even if you’re running out the door. My kids were not fans of oatmeal like I was, but my homemade pancakes and waffles were very popular and good for you. We also ate all the good cereals.
Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy ingredient?
Liz: Whole wheat flour
Diet Detective: What’s the one kitchen utensil or tool that you can’t live without?
Liz: A whisk
Diet Detective: What do you consider the world’s most perfect food?
Liz: Spaghetti with Bolognese Sauce
Diet Detective: Would you mind sharing a few recipes with us?
Liz: I would love to! I’ve sent you two of my favorite recipes – Arugula Pizza With Fresh Tomatoes and Mozzarella, and Baked Chicken and Potatoes Italiano
Diet Detective: What’s in your refrigerator and pantry right now?
Liz: My refrigerator holds milk, eggs, butter, grape juice, carrots,romaine lettuce, bell peppers, mushrooms, whole wheat flour tortillas, sour cream, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, all the condiments, Yukon gold potatoes, lemons and limes, fresh green beans. As for my pantry, I’m a firm believer in having it well-stocked. I’ve attached a pdf of the page from my book on The Well Stocked Kitchen. In my house, I’ve got it all!
Diet Detective: Your favorite “junk food”?
Liz: Homemade cake, or cookies.
Diet Detective: Your worst summer job?
Liz: Day camp craft director. I wanted to be the cook!
Diet Detective: What’s your motto?
Liz: “See you at dinner”
Diet Detective: As a child you wanted to be:
Liz: Married with a family—something like “The Sound of Music.”