Meet Debbie Koenig of Words to Eat By

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Name: Debbie Koenig
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Children: Harry (4.5)
Online Home: Words to Eat By

Debbie started blogging more than 6 years ago, posting on a range of parental-foodie topics such as one handed meals, advice for picky eaters, and making baby food from adult meals. Blogging started out being a welcome distraction for her as she and her husband were having some difficulty having children. Now they are blessed with a beautiful boy. A boy, as it turns out, who is, shall we say "discerning" about food. Let's face it, feeding yourself and your family well is one of the most challenging, rewarding and important things you do in life. It's always nice to get a little help; Debbie has kindly answered a few of our questions touching on the challenges involved in feeding her son, Harry and much more.

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What is your philosophy about food and families?
You can do it. You can work and have kids and deal with the demands of an infant, and you can feed yourself. Really well. It probably won't be perfect, but so what? It'll taste mighty good, and it'll be healthier (and cheaper) than takeout.

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I teach a cooking class for new moms called Parents Need to Eat Too, techniques for getting dinner on the table when there's a baby in the house — breaking up recipes to cook in chunks during naptime, using the slow cooker, making dinner with only pantry ingredients, stuff like that. Next year HarperCollins is publishing my cookbook, inspired by the class. While writing the cookbook, I've been testing recipes with more than one hundred new moms all over the country — it's been fascinating to see how universal the issues are.

Everything I post has parents in mind — I just introduced a new feature called Make Baby Food, so each recipe now ends with instructions for turning it into food for new eaters. They're grownup, even sophisticated, recipes, but they all work for families. Everybody just wants reassurance that life will resume some sense of normalcy. Simply being able to cook dinner is a huge part of that.

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What advice do you have for parents of picky eaters?
That's easy: Don't stress about it. Unless your kid isn't growing, he's most likely getting the nutrients he needs over the course of a week. If I could take a do-over with Harry's eating, I wouldn't try so hard. It's pretty clear for us it's a control issue; once he caught on that I cared about what he ate, my little evil genius began to refuse his old favorites. So long, pesto; hello cream cheese sandwiches.

I also should've made sure we had more family meals — when Harry was just learning to eat solids my husband was working late a lot, so we'd have dinner after Harry was in bed. He never really saw us enjoying food — he'd just get our leftovers the next day. So I guess I'm not surprised that he started to balk, and once I pushed back the food refusal just snowballed. It's only been in the last month or so that he's begun to taste more things, and that's after a solid year of family dinners.

What is your family’s favorite comfort food?
Pasta. Definitely pasta. My husband cooks giant vats of sauce every few weeks (his great-grandmother's recipe). He calls it "mother's milk," and even though Harry hasn't eaten any for a good 18 months, we know he'll come around. This stuff's in his blood. For now Harry eats plain macaroni with olive oil, and that's fine by me.

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When did you show an interest in cooking?
I have sweet memories of cooking with my mom: making Toll House cookies, baking challah on Friday afternoons. But my real fascination with food didn't kick in until I worked in book marketing — we published a lot of cookbooks from some very high-profile people, so I ate at many of the best restaurants in New York on somebody else's dime. Not a bad way to expand your palate. My wined-and-dined days ended in 2002, when I left corporate life planning to open a gourmet shop. I wanted to be the next Ina Garten. All it took was six months working with a woman who owned a food business to change my mind (she never slept! after fifteen years!), but that led to my current life as a food writer.

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Do you cook with your boy? What are his favorite things to cook?
Harry has very specific tasks that he loves to do: Rolling out dough. Pumping the salad spinner. Decorating cookies. Using a special kids' knife to cut soft vegetables like zucchini, which he then refuses to eat. Licking the beater. OK, that last one isn't technically cooking.

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Where do you go in the blogosphere for inspiration?
I have dozens of food blogs in my reader — it's hard to pick favorites. But the ones I'm drawn to most often are written by parents, many of whom are also food writers: In Jennie's Kitchen, Dinner: A Love Story, One Hungry Mama, Stay at Stove Dad, Devil and Egg, My Kids Eat Squid.

Thank you, Debbie!

If you are first time reader of Debbie's blog you might want to start with her posts on Parents Need to Eat Too, but you might find her posts on Quick Suppers, Nap-time Cooking and Big Batch Cooking right up your alley also.

(Images: Debbie Koenig)

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