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The Dinner Diaries and Feeding the Whole Family

Great Cookbooks for Families
Reviewed by Katy Killilea

Dinnerdiaries-Algonquin BooksThe cover of The Dinner Diaries lets you know it’s about “Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World.” This is a cover I can relate to! Even worse than being bombarded with junk food at school and parties, my kids are dealing with a mother who’s sliding down the slippery slope of “everything in moderation” to “two desserts a day is normal, right?” and “It’s not really a day at the beach without some Chex Mix.” The Dinner Diaries is Betsy Block’s record of her family’s food makeover. She confronts the food issues that today’s parents are dealing with: nutrition, environmental impact, cost, availability, and–perhaps most challenging–whether or not a kid will eat it.

Refreshingly, the author is not a nutrition expert. Instead, she’s smart and funny, and a seasoned writer who knows how to get answers from the experts. She untangles the omega-3 issue, and meets and eats a delicious pig. Her writing makes her instantly likeable and familiar. Instead of pert helpful hints offering stale advice, she describes what really happens as new foods are introduced and milk chocolate is taken away. I love it that she also often pauses to wonder, “Does this even really matter?” and includes ugly domestic scenes (one sibling screaming at another, “I’m going to pee on your butt.”)

She ends the book with a handful of recipes that she found to be surprise hits with her picky eaters. The Dinner Diaries is an entertaining way to get the boiled-down information we need to determine foods that are: safe, nutritious, ecologically sound, affordable, available, and that everyone in a family will eat. No small feat. If you care about these issues and would like a break from translating the conflicting information you read, this is the book you’ll want to read next.

Feeding Whole Family Sasquatch BooksRecently updated and reissued, Cynthia Lair’s Feeding the Whole Family is a comprehensive book for home cooks who want nutrition-packed meals. This is not ordinary kid fare–obscure grains (teff, spelt) and sea vegetables (nori, dulse) make regular appearances. In other words, it’s the kind of stuff the adults I know love , but anything beyond brown rice, whole wheat bread, and steel-cut oats is a stretch for my kids. A book’s worth of kid-oriented recipes that use super-food ingredients is a treasure. For families that include babies, each recipe includes ideas for feeding the baby from the same meal. (For example, reserve some beans or peaches before they are added to the main recipe, and then puree them for the baby.)

This is a no-nonsense paperback, free of illustrations except for a line drawing of a lemon here and there. Every recipe sounds good to me, and I love that they are all ostensibly geared toward kids, not just their crunchy parents. I chose the recipe below because it seemed like something my particular kids would eat (they like sports metaphors, avocados, and sea veggies) and because it gave me a chance to use so many condiments at once.

Triple “A” Salad
(Avocado, Arame, and Almonds)
from Feeding the Whole Family


¼ cup raw almonds
4 cups salad greens, washed and dried
1/8 cup arame, soaked in 1 cup water
1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted

1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 350 F. Roast the almonds on a dry cookie sheet for 7 to 10 minutes, or until aromatic. Coarsely chop and set aside.

Drain the arame and add to the salad greens.
Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a large salad bowl and whisk to incorporate. Add greens and arame. Toss to combine just before serving. Slice the avocado in long strips and gently fold into the salad. Garnish with almonds.

Serves 4

The Dinner Diaries by Besty Block
2008 Algonquin Books

Feeding the Whole Family: Cooking with Whole Foods by Cynthia Lair
2008 Sasquatch Books

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  • Besty Block is going to be interviewed on Jennifer Huntley-Corbin’s radio show soon. I think she will post the date & time here.

  • The only reason chex mix tastes so good at the beach is because you can’t taste the sand! Can’t wait to get The Dinner Diaries. Somehow I think the stories will sound vaguely familiar!!

  • the whole book is full of funny and true moments like that. It is such a pleasure to read. You feel such kinship with this woman.

  • I’m sorry, I cannot stop laughing over the “I”m going to pee on your butt!” comment.

    Between 4 year old twins and a 2 year old, I can totally relate.

    So funny.

  • Thanks so much for this, Katy.

    Even though we “completed” our meal makeover about a year ago, the food battles continue to this day. However, I can say that thanks to the research I did all four of us are eating better. And we’re even still talking to each other!

    I know serving better food isn’t easy, but I really believe it’s worth the effort. Good luck to all who embark on the makeover journey; please keep me posted on your progress (and pitfalls)!

  • Wow—-so glad it’s not just me this summer. Both look like great books, especially the first one.

    Great reviews, Katy—except that while helping me tackle one fall resolution (getting the kids’ food back on track), you’re sending me to hell in a handcart with another—-quit buying so many books!

  • thanks for posting this. When we get home from this ice cream for lunch vacation we’re on, I’ll be getting back into books like these. I sort of lost my way for a while! Thanks Anisa!