Q&A with Beth Bader, co-author, The Cleaner Plate Club

Today, I’m delighted to bring to you an Q&A interview with Beth Bader. We here at MotherTalkers know Beth better as Expat Chef, who has endeared herself to many here for her recipe and passion for cooking, healthy eating and food justice as captured at her blog The (Ex)Expatriate’s Kitchen. Beth and co-author Ali Benjamin, founder of The Cleaner Plate Club blog, have recently published their first cookbook, The Cleaner Plate Club: Raising Healthy Eaters One Meal at a Time.

A few notes of journalism – firstly, Beth is a friend, so this isn’t exactly a strict piece of journalism – I’m biased as hell and want the book to succeed! Secondly, this “interview“ took place over IM and is edited and condensed for space, clarity and to cut out random  “My kid does this“ stories. Thanks, and without further ado:

R:  What was the genesis of The Cleaner Plate Club?

Beth Bader: It started in one way as a hobby I could fit into my life as a new parent. I needed something I could do for me (writing a blog) that would be flexible, ten minutes here, a random hour in the middle of the night there. And, something that I had to do in life anyway, that I enjoyed: cooking. I just pointed myself down the path I enjoyed. The food issues were beginning to surface and there was a lot to write about. The book came along when I met another blogger online. She [Ali Benjamin,]  emailed me and said, “We should do a book!” You think, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ But people have the best intentions, it just rarely comes to be. Next thing I knew, I have a proposal, a book contract [and a] life goal staring right at me.

R:  I like the fact that your approach to the book is really “in the trenches” and explanatory without being condescending. Am I right in thinking that a lot of these recipes have come about because of techniques to encourage healthy eaters?

BB: Definitely. None of them are too complicated. All of them are aimed at getting the best flavor from healthy foods in a way that most kids would try, without really bringing the recipes down to a “kid food” low. And by kid food, I am talking about that limited set of recipes based on sugar, fat, salt and simple carb. The goal is to expand kids’ palates back to something “normal.”

R:  Yes – they come across as being adventurous and colorful without being demanding in a molecular-gastro-haute-cuisine sort of way.

BB: Heh. We wanted the cooking skills required to be minimal, and not intimidating. But we also used the recipes to teach how to create meals WITHOUT a recipe. Empowering people to cook, not just instructions without the “why.”

R: I’m struck by that phrase “expanding … back to something ‘normal’…” because it occurs to me that the re-norming is not just for the kids, but also for the adults doing the shopping, preparing and cooking.

BB: Seems like our culture has completely forgotten how to cook. Which is ironic, what with Food Network on 24/7 and all. But there it is. Maybe we all just need permission TO cook again, where marketers and fast food are trying to convince us we are too busy?

R: To that point, what I really enjoy about the book are two features – the pantry shopping list at the start of the book, and the recipe index at the back that organizes things by season.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve whipped out one of my cookbooks, found a delicious recipe and then either discovered that I don’t have the ingredients in my pantry, or that it’s totally impractical from  seasonal perspective.

BB:  Well, thanks, there’s a good reason the recipes all use the same pantry. It was my pantry! I cook with what I have on hand, recipes come from that one source, so the pantry is limited and seasonal.
… [A] lot of it is all the basics with a slight obsession for spices. We’re on a weekly food budget like everyone else. Growing herbs is absolutely the one way to take your dishes to the next level. Immediate greatness.

R: It works so practically, doesn’t it? they taste great, they’re cheaper than buying those bunches of fresh herbs in the store, and the food miles become  “food feet”. what’s not to like?!

BB: And they smell amazing. And somehow even I cannot kill them. I am a lousy gardener.

R: Do you have favorite recipes in the book? People who are longtime fans of your blog … will find old favorites like the mac n cheese recipe and the Florentine meatloaf recipe. But do you have favorites?

BB: I love the wedding soup. And, hmmm, the carrot souffle. My favorites kind of change each season. I’ll make something again and remember I love it.

R: So, what’s next for you? Have you enjoyed the process [of co-authoring a book] enough to repeat it? Does your activism continue in other venues?

BB: I’m still on the path with food. Food justice is growing on my radar. There is a nagging in my heart about those who don’t have access to good food. Hard to fully enjoy a meal when there are so many still hungry. So, that’s a next step. I would like to do a next book, too. But this one has to do well first for that to happen! One thing at a time, I guess. I am also intrigued by creative solutions to feeding more people. Urban agriculture for example.

R: Food justice. Yes. It’s not enough for people to go out there and say “organic is best! Buy only organic!“ then you  go into schools or negihborhoods where they’re starved for any fresh produce, conventional or otherwise.

BB:  Definitely. Food justice is a movement because so much of it is based on empowerment. Not just handing people money for a temporary fix. I love the creativity in problem solving, it inspires me. So those are fun topics to explore.


47 thoughts on “Q&A with Beth Bader, co-author, The Cleaner Plate Club

  1. Thank you

    for the interview and for bringing the book to our attention!

    The big food tension in our house is almost exactly summed up by Beth’s comments –

    expand kids’ palates back to something “normal.”

    trying to feed my DS (and DH) healthier foods but seeing them drift back to the same familiar and comfort foods.  If I make pasta with vegetable sauce and meatballs – he will eat the  meatballs and some of the pasta and push the zucchini (or most of it off to the side).

    I’m hesitant to buy another cookbook, when I already own a few too many and when I am not a “cookbook” person, but your interview with Beth has piqued my interest!

    • It reads an awful lot

      like the stuff L writes – very sensible analysis of food, cooking and nutrition issues. I actually thought of L when I read the book.

    • Tomato Sauce

      is a good “gateway” for extra veggies. Consider adding some finely chopped carrots and red peppers to the mix, even the zucchini. Vegetable lasagne is also a great way to get some veg in. I mix the diced veggies in the cheese layer.

  2. I despair

    of ever having my kids eat anything real ever in their lives.  I’ve tried everything- “eat it or don’t eat it but it’s all there is,” “sneaky chef,” having the kids help shop/ prepare/ grow the food, making them the “chef” for the night, teaching them why it’s important to eat the right foods…

    They understand all of it and can even proselytize on the teeny problems with other people’s eating habits.  They consume none of it.  They won’t even try new foods- even junk foods.  I had to bribe Molly to taste chocolate ice cream.  Seriously.  My kids have food issues.  I hope this helps other people, but my family is totally beyond hope.  Molly will spend the rest of her life eating strawberries and peanut butter crackers and Harry will survive on Bagels forever.

    • It will be OK

      I had a very limited food palate as a child and I outgrew it.  My brother was even worse but when he started dating, he got over it.  He couldn’t eat like a kid and impress the ladies LOL!

      My kids, actually my boys, are eating more beige than I would like but between food allergies and other things, I’m just not going to fight this battle.  They see DH and me eat good food and Mary Rose nibble off of our plates and someday the light will go on.  This is just the area that they are annoying on.  I truly believe that every child has an area where they will be a PITA, no matter how well we try to parent it out of them.  I’m grateful it’s food and not sleep with mine.  They sleep like rocks, God love ’em.  Just don’t ask me what they eat 😉

      • I could use some sleep tips …

        Oh my. Mine is one of those spirited kids who hates to miss a moment. Will not sleep. Does not sleep well. Gets it honestly, my folks seriously locked me in my bedroom. I’m not real excited about that approach with mine!

        • Patience

          My boys won’t eat their vegetables but they’ve always slept well so I can’t take any credit for it being anything I’ve done.  Just appreciate your daughter for her good eating or other positive traits and wait for the PITA area or areas to come around.  I’m waiting on the food and some other traits.  Sometimes this patience thing sucks though.

          • Thank you!

            You are right! Patience, and trying to sleep (co-sleep) while being kicked and pushed out of bed in the meantime! She’ll outgrow it definitely.

    • I hear ya

      I had to practically force my younger son to try lemonade flavored sorbet recently, which I knew he’d love.  Not that I cared, but I’d promised his brother a fro-yo and I didn’t feel like listening to him have a public freak out tantrum over the unfairness of his brother eating a treat in front of him.  And yet he’s my easier one; his brother’s pickiness is appalling.  

      My boys shop, cook, chop, grow food in their own garden plots.  I’ve let them walk away from the table hungry many times.  They were exposed to all sorts of flavors from as soon as they were old enough to taste mushed up curry.  And at the dinner table they eat the smallest portions they can get away with then fill up on white rice.  With ketchup.  I console myself with the thought that humans normally survive to adulthood despite it all.

      • you’re who i thought of when i read this:

        having the kids help shop/ prepare/ grow the food

        in laura’s comment.

        you won’t remember, but i had the girls make their own vegetable kebabs for the grill, and they had a great time and were really excited, but then they didn’t even taste them.  you said something like “well, there’s you’re problem right there: ‘vegetable.'”

        • Thank you so much

          I will be forwarding this to my MIL.  She is brutal about my boys and their food choices and that we actually cater to them at family gatherings and holidays.  They eat a little more of their favorites on their occasions as having a child who has traveled for the better part of a day, is out of his routine and comfort zone probably won’t look back fondly on getting together with the relatives if we add hungry to the mix.

      • I forgot, the post is called Neophobia 101

        Think its a great picture of the frustrations of this and her struggle. She’s been an awesome co-author for me since we have such different kids. We’re able to be broader in our range of issues we cover.

  3. bacon

    I cranked the heat on the oven-baked bacon today up to 400. It was perfect. YUM.
    I love cookbooks and will have to get this even though I don’t, strictly speaking, need it. I have a tendency to go off-recipe, unless I’m baking. I think this will help me with deciding what goes with what (vegs, herbs, etc.) My food is not as well herbed/spiced as it could be. I do tend to kill my fresh herbs. I try every year to grow them, and then I don’t use them in time.
    My kids will eat most things (especially frozen/cooked broccoli – go figure) and they like simple flavors (not big on seasonings).
    I have issues with organic frozen foods, speaking of which, b/c of so much of it coming from other countries.

    • I too am not convinced that

      organic is necessarily better than locally grown. I mean ideally locally grown/organic, but I try not to go too far down the rabbit hole. I figure if my kids are actually eating carrots (which they do) then I am okay.

      • same here

        I frankly don’t care where it came from or how it was raised as long as they eat it.  I have successfully convinced my kids that local tastes better than non-local – this is something they have confirmed for themselves with all kinds of fruit – so sometimes they are more willing to try a vegetable if they know it is local.  But I’m not at all fussed about the source of anything that makes it into their stomachs.

      • Right, there are a few foods that are top

        on pesticide residue, and those I buy organic (or local and verified with the farmer on how it was raised). The rest, I am happy to afford fresh produce. I hate that my only edamame source now is China. We love edamame.

  4. I like the idea

    of a cookbook based on a seasonal pantry.

    I love borrowing cookbooks from my library, but I tend not to cook much of what I see in them, only use them for inspiration in creating my own recipes. My main reason for not following the recipes is that most cookbooks seem to rely on buying ingredients just for that one recipe, and I tend to rely instead on having a well stocked pantry full of natural things, a fridge filled with whatever veggies are in season and then just cooking what I can with that. It sounds like this cookbook follows the same idea, and I might have to order a copy.

    • I agree.

      That is how I cook too. I always “shop” my pantry, refrigerator and freezer for food first and then end up subbing 3-4 ingredients in any given recipe.

        • I’m better now than I used to be

          and in fact I talk about that in my blog today, substitutes for milk in a macaroni and cheese recipe. I think I have begun in my own weird way to categorize the whens, whats and wheres of substituting items. I think I need to try and write it down because I have a lot of them.

        • The book was built

          From my one pantry and then seasonal. So, it should fit. We also have “templates” like the steps to create any type of soup you want (broth, cream of, cheese, puree) with what you have handy.

          Lots of swap out tips and prep tips and guides to what different types of sweeteners/oils can be used in place of one another. And a guide on how to cook all the different grains from the bulk aisle. So, a lot of open-ended cooking tips without the need for a strict recipe.

          I confess I rarely use recipes, but only track my ingredients carefully as I cook to write recipes, then follow my recipe again to test it.

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