On the House is Eater's column that goes behind the scenes of the restaurant business, written by the owners, operators, chefs and others who make our favorite establishments tick. Today, Stephanie Bonin of Duo Restaurant talks about the role that food plays in the upbringing of her two young daughters.
It is the little signs of love that we as mothers hold tight and dear to our hearts. It is the stuff that makes the hard days and long nights disappear from our memory and give us the lens to see our children only as the beautiful beings that they are. In my house, these signs of love are oftentimes shown through food.
I am a mother of two, a restaurateur, a generally food-focused person, and a home cook. That said, like many women, I have gotten pretty good at juggling all four identities and so all are given their due time. Now, as I reflect on my 5th Mother's Day, I smile at how much those identities blend together and have the common theme of food. If I had only one wish on this holiday, it would be to have our culture put food back to a heightened place of importance. All elements should be celebrated - the gathering, preparation, practice, and savoring of food.
Like every mom, I wanted to give my daughters the best start in life. I struggled initially to breastfeed both of my daughters but overcame the obstacles. That sweet bond of breastfeeding set the tone for our many meals to come. We celebrated with photos and smiles the first bites of solid food that the girls ate and with Maisie, my first daughter, I spent endless hours preparing the most superfood-driven purees. No matter how hectic the day got, whether the laundry was done, or whether I had the chance to take a shower, I always knew that in my daughter's belly was the best food. Lily, my youngest, skipped the purees and went straight to gumming the broccoli tree or smushing the bananas in her hands. I am giddy watching this process as she defines her relationship with food in her own time and way.
Our world is upside down in many ways but right now I focus on our lack of connection with food and importance of the role it plays in our well-being. Food is where life begins since the moment of birth when the baby cares not to play or watch the world, but looks for the mother's breast. Food is what sustains us and gives us the energy and power to move and think. It is hard to understand how such an essential part of our existence became such a low priority?
Somewhere along the way, people, whether parents or not, have become comfortable with substituting a nutritious plate of made-from-scratch food with boxed convenience food or drive-thrus. Experts in the food world point to the prevalence of processed food as the root of increased obesity and many health-related problems. We have lost the bond with making food for ourselves and sharing it with loved ones and health issues are just one of the consequences of this contemporary approach to food.
Convenience in food has become our new normal. We see cooking as a burden and perpetually wonder how quickly can we get something on the table or in our stomachs to settle the hunger. Is that really how we want to treat mealtime? You name the excuse: can't cook, no time, picky eaters –we reassure ourselves that cooking from scratch is just not needed. I fundamentally disagree with this attitude and have found myself feeling more strongly about it because of my children.
When cooking for our family and children, we not only provide the needed nourishment for healthy growth, but also set an example and form a perception of normalcy. Children who see their parents cook and eat home-cooked meals, are more likely to try more things. Children who are involved, even minimally, in the cooking process, enjoy their food more and become more adventurous in their food choices. The more they participate, the more likely they are to develop healthy eating habits that will stay with them throughout their lives.
And then there is the sharing part of the meal, the ritual of sitting together and enjoying food- a habit that is less-and-less cherished these days. When a family walks into duo, our Highlands restaurant, for a nice dinner out it is endearing to see the conversations that occur as they wait for the food to arrive. The children, used to dining not just eating with the family, experience ingredients they have never had before. They learn dining manners and begin to understand how to savor food, particularly when electronic toys or other distractions are removed. I will save my commentary on those for another time, but will only say this: trust your children's ability to participate in a nice dinner- practice makes perfect.
I choose to practice good eating and involve my two girls both in the cooking and the custom of dining. At the end of the day, it is said that all our children need is love. If you are anything like me, that love can be expressed in part through the nourishment we give them, the dining traditions we form, and the eating habits we instill in them. It is pure magic and a moment of infinite love when my 5 year old walks into the kitchen where garlic is sautéing and sweet potatoes are baking and proclaims that, "it smells delicious in here!"
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