Renee Burns makes shrimp and scallop kebabs
Your children eat avocados, right? And zucchini, garlic, green peppers and fennel?
How about salmon, calamari, shrimp and scallops?
Renee Burns' children do, well, not the 10-month-old, but her 6- and 4-year-old daughters have palates more developed than some adults.
"If you just introduce things early and keep trying, eventually they will like it," says Renee, who has developed a variety of sneaky strategies for convincing her kids to eat healthy food.
An Arlington Heights native, Renee owns Reading Enriches All Dimensions, Inc., a reading clinic in Inverness, and sometimes works into the evening. But she always plans ahead so the family doesn't "fall into the trap of going to the drive-through when I'm not there" or opening a can of ravioli.
"There's always a leftover," she says.
As for introducing new foods, Renee lets her kids "own it" by bringing them to the grocery store and letting them select vegetables.
"They really like eggplant parmesan, but I don't think it would be that way if they didn't accompany me to the store and select the eggplant" and then help sprinkle cheese on the dish at home.
"I like to involve them as much as I can in the process; they feel like they have ownership."
That hands-on approach extends to the backyard garden, too. "The kids get so excited about planting something and watching it grow," she says. "They didn't like cucumbers, but they ate them be cause they were proud of their creation."
Another trick: she serves raw vegetables with from-scratch Italian dressing made with olive oil.
"They dip in broccoli or cucumbers or zucchini," she says. "They'll eat anything."
Renee learned to cook post-college when she shared an apartment and cooking chores with two girlfriends. Now, her favorite home furnishing is her GE range with convection oven, five burners and a griddle attachment that gets heavy use for eggs, pancakes, French toast, quesadillas and grilled cheese.
Her favorite cookbook is "Joy of Cooking," an old-school classic "with step-by-step directions for anything you want to cook."
But you won't need help with this week's recipes. Renee gives us a trio of easy, busy-life dishes that have dinner on the table lickety-split, even on a weeknight.
Healthy eating is a way of life for Renee and her family, but she's not tyrannical about it. Dessert is routine, served in moderation. It plays into her last-ditch, vegetable-eating strategy, one that we all recognize: "If they want that sweet treat, they have to eat their vegetables," she says. "But to tell you the truth, I've not had a problem."
- Laura Bianchi