The Food Nanny Comes to the Rescue at Dinnertime

Published October, 2008

This no-nonsense Mary Poppins brings togetherness to the table

Liz Edmunds, a Utah mother and grandmother, knows a thing or two about planning dinner. She developed a menu plan with guidelines 30 years ago out of self-defense, to make feeding her seven children and husband an enjoyable family activity — and to make cooking a meal her favorite time of day. Her template for stress-free mealtimes has garnered her the nickname "The Food Nanny."

This Mary Poppins of dinnertime has been sharing her plan with enthusiastic friends and family for years, and has recently brought it to the public, hoping to alleviate the anxiety of planning nightly meals for both parents and grandparents, no matter the size of the family.

"Dinner is the glue that holds a family together," says the Food Nanny. When Edmunds and her husband Steven, a pilot for the U.S. Air Force and then for Delta Airlines, began having children, they recognized that being at the table as a family was the key to healthy, "wide-open" communication.

As the Food Nanny, Edmunds helps simplify the daunting task of maintaining dinnertime as the cornerstone of a healthy family, a time, she says, to sit down and "bond as a family" in a stress-free environment. The way she does this is by planning dinner around theme nights, which she says "does not include party hats!" Monday is comfort foods, Tuesday is Italian night, Friday is pizza night, and so on. "The hardest part of planning a meal is choosing what to fix," she says.

With her new book The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner (Palmer/Pletsch, 2008), Edmunds, grandmother of 15 with another on the way, encourages parents and grandparents to follow her guidelines. But most of all, grandparents should "make sure there are always delicious smells coming from grandma’s kitchen, no matter the size of the kitchen," she says. "Grandparents have a huge effect on grandchildren," she says, as she recalls the wonderful smell of bread coming from her own grandmother's kitchen, and how that influenced her own love of bread-baking.

"Grandparents can also grow a pizza garden or grill garden for their grandkids," says the Utah grandmother. "Grow vegetables for grill night or tomatoes and herbs for pizza night."

Her recipes are all kid-approved, such as her creamy mac and cheese, easy pot roast with pan gravy, or her sweet-and-sour baked chicken. Everything is healthy and simple to prepare, with a "warm, nurturing approach," says the 57-year-old La Miranda, Calif., native and the former stay-at-home mom with the burgeoning new career.

Now that her kids are grown and starting their own families, she takes pleasure in knowing she’s given them the tools to encourage family bonding around the dinner table.

Although her template is geared toward parents, grandparents can also benefit from her menu plan. The recipes are simple and quick and great for babysitting grandparents who are "just relearning to parent" with their grandchildren. She says there’s "little work involved in preparing the meals," so the little ones can partake in the "no-nonsense" process and grandparents can focus on teamwork and togetherness.

The Food Nanny's Very Fine Tips for Grandparents
Liz Edmunds introduces stress-free meals for kids of all ages

Liz Edmunds gives suggestions for easy, stress-free meals that kids of all ages (and their grandparents) will love.

1. Go easy on the onions! You may even want to serve them on the side.
2. Stay in style with what you serve. Don't forget, most kids don't like every casserole dish or hamburger helper. Fix the classics like homemade mac and cheese, fried chicken, roast beef, and mashed potatoes and gravy. Try making fajitas, chicken tacos, or grilled teriyaki burgers.
3. Learn to make homemade pepperoni pizza!
4. Make homemade cookies and have the kids help.
5. Make your grandchildren a birthday cake on their birthday.
6. Make something you are good at and make it a tradition when the grandkids come over. For example, serve hot, yummy cinnamon rolls right out of the oven. Make homemade pancakes, waffles, or French toast and serve with real maple syrup. Bake hot, homemade bread. Fix malts, or milkshakes served with straws.
7. For birthdays serve waffles with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and pour chocolate syrup on top with a dab of whipped cream. I did that my entire life for my kids.
8. Most of all, make everyone feel comfortable and welcome in your home!

Sweet and Sour Tender Baked Chicken
Tastes like barbecued chicken but this kid-favorite is baked right in the oven

This is a very fast and easy meal. The chicken melts in your mouth. It comes out really tender. All kids love it! The Food Nanny serves it with brown or white rice and a salad.

6 drumsticks or thighs
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 (8-ounce) can pineapple chunks with juice, undrained
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Place the chicken pieces in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. (You may remove the skin if desired.)
3. In a small bowl combine the brown sugar, pineapple, soy sauce, and dry mustard. Pour the sauce over the chicken.
4. Bake 60 to 70 minutes, turning the chicken halfway through the cooking time. The chicken is done when the juices run clear, or if you prefer them well-done, when the meat falls off the bone.
5. Transfer the chicken to a platter and pour the sauce into a small bowl to serve as extra.

Substitute chicken breasts for the legs and remove them from the oven when the flesh is no longer pink. You could also make this with a mix of legs and breasts, but be aware that the breasts may dry out while you wait for the legs to finish cooking.
Grill the chicken, along with fresh pineapple slices. Marinate the chicken (briefly or
all day) in the sauce from step 3. Pour 1/4 cup of the sauce into a separate cup and brush it onto the chicken and the pineapple as they grill. Boil the remaining sauce and place it in a bowl to serve at the table.

Yield: Makes 3 to 6 servings.