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Meet Bettina Elias Siegel, Food Writer and Advocate

Do you struggle with a picky eater at home? Do you feel like getting them to eat real fruits and vegetables is a kitchen battle you can’t win? Probably most parents in America would answer yes to both of these questions. However, at ChopChop Family, we are strong believers that children don’t have to stay or become picky-eaters and that family cooking and eating time can be more than easy—it can be fun! That’s why the recently released book, “Kid Food,” caught our attention in a big way.

The book is written by Bettina Elias Siegel, a mom of two, former lawyer, and nationally recognized writer and advocate on issues relating to children and food policy. Bettina explores what it really means to try to “raise healthy eaters in a society intent on pushing children in the opposite direction.” Below we’ve interviewed Bettina about her relationship to cooking and her advice to those just learning to cook.

How did you learn to cook?

My mom cooked dinner almost every night and frequently baked breads and desserts. I think I learned a lot just by watching her, asking questions, and helping her with smaller tasks. By the time I was in elementary school, I was able to make simple dishes like scrambled eggs, pancakes, and pasta. When I was in my 20s and living in New York City, I took a weekly cooking class where I learned in a more formal way some basic but important skills like how to properly use a chef’s knife, make a good vinaigrette, and things like that. 

But in the end, I think I really learned to cook just by doing it almost every night for my own family! Over time, you just naturally begin to trust your own judgment and taste buds as you prepare a meal. At this point, I usually don’t even need a recipe when I cook dinner, or I’ll look through several recipes for the same dish and take a little bit from each of them, guided by my past cooking experience. 

Do you have any advice for kids just learning to cook and who may be nervous? Or who haven’t learned but want to?

I’d tell them, “Don’t be nervous! Cooking is really fun—and empowering!” With just a few basic cooking skills, you’ll always be able to prepare exactly what you want to eat and make it taste the way you want it to. That’s so much better than having to rely on restaurants and packaged foods to feed yourself, which can get expensive and isn’t always the healthiest for your body. And once you know how to cook, you’ll be able to offer friends and family food you’ve prepared yourself, which always makes people feel loved and appreciated, no matter how simple the dish.

What has been your proudest moment in cooking? And/or what dish were you most proud to cook?

For the last ten years or so, I’ve been the person in our extended family who cooks Thanksgiving dinner, and I remember feeling so proud (and also totally exhausted!) that first year when I somehow managed to get the entire meal on the table. But now cooking Thanksgiving dinner is easy for me, and it’s one my favorite days of the year. I love how the house is scented with roasting turkey, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce; the enjoyment of setting a pretty table; and of course, gathering around the meal with my family.

What do you love about ChopChop?

There are so many things I love about ChopChop! I love that the magazine offers ethnically diverse recipes that expose kids to new flavors and cultures. I love the interesting and informative side bars and that it never talks down to kids, instead addressing them as capable young chefs. Most of all, I love that the recipes are healthy! Many kids’ cookbooks are focused on desserts, as if kids can only be lured into the kitchen with the promise of sweets—and of course, that isn’t true.

Do you have any advice for people who are just learning how to follow a recipe?

Always be sure to read the entire recipe straight through before you start. Sometimes, for example, you’ll discover later on in a recipe that you were supposed to divide a particular ingredient instead of tossing it all in at once or that something has to be chilled for an hour before you can go on to the next step—but maybe you haven’t budgeted enough time for that extra hour. This is one tip I’ve had to learn the hard way!

Now that you’ve gotten to know Bettina a little bit more, we hope you check out her book. You can order your own copy of “Kid Food” anywhere books are sold. With its sage advice, well-tested tips, and a plethora of useful resources, we’re confident the book will give you the knowledge and tools to guide your kids through our society’s unhealthy food environment and to change your family’s course for the better. 

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