Dinnertime Challenges for Mom, Top Chef Style

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Is it just me, or was the elimination challenge on Bravo’s Top Chef last night hardly, well, a challenge? The task: cook a nutritious, simple, and kid-friendly dinner that American families would be happy to re-create. Oh, and spend $10 or less. If this seems an impossible feat, as Chef Andrew quipped, it’s worth noting these astounding figures reported in Chef Tom Colicchio’s blog: 10% of Americans rely on food stamps. Food stamps allocate just $1/meal per person. That means cooking a simple, nutritious, and kid-friendly dinner for your family of 4 for just $4. And the cost of food continues to rise…

Anyhow, it seems this ‘challenge’ — or should I call it a ‘regularly nightly task’ for most American moms — really stumped these talented chef-testants. So I’ve decided to critique each of the chefs so they’ll be ready when they have hungry kids of their own.

Mark: I agree with the judges on this one. Your sweet curry entree lacked essential carbs and protein. Gail was right, sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamins, but a dinner of “just vegetables” doesn’t work on the family table. How about mashed sweet potatoes with turkey burgers?

Dale: Good thinking. Pre-cooked sausages are a quick, inexpensive staple in the family kitchen. But your kids may find brats and cabbage to be the ‘worst’. How about smoked chicken and apple sausage instead? Or an Italian turkey sausage kabob with sauteed red peppers and broccoli, with a side of brown rice?

Spike: Few kids get excited about olives and capers. But pasta with red sauce will always be a quick, inexpensive, and nutritious family meal. Jessica Seinfeld’s been known to sneak some unique vegetables in there, too. I loved your idea for carrot soup — I wish more American moms knew how easy and rewarding it is to make homemade soup.

Nikki, Richard, Stephanie, and Lisa: Lots of roasted chicken. Definitely a healthy, delicious way to feed a family. Think outside the BSB (boneless, skinless breast): it’s a lot cheaper to buy whole chicken, thighs, or even bone-in breast. I liked Nikki’s easy clean up plan and wished more chefs had considered using just 1 pan. Richard did a nice job introducing hot pink beets. Kids love the sweet taste and bright color when they are roasted. But left whole the texture is intimidating. Try running the beets through a food processor and toss with pasta and cheese. Though Stephanie’s dish was deservedly on the bottom, whole wheat couscous is a great, quick kid-friendly grain. Mixed with some leftover chicken, chickpeas, and snow peas, it’s one fast dinner.

Andrew: I loved this take on a ‘kid classic': chicken parm. Your salad of fennel, orange, and apple was sweet and full of vitamin C. But Spike, no dad in his right mind would dare serve it on top of the chicken!

Antonia: How fitting that you, the single mom, knew how to “stir-fry” up a healthy, tasty, inexpensive kid-favorite. It’s no surprise that this includes whole wheat pasta, chicken, and sweet veggies like bokchoy and edamame. I’m sure your daughter is proud!

I applaud Top Chef for inviting kids into the kitchen to help put dinner on the table: note to viewers, try this at home! And I know moms across the nation smiled in victory last night, confident their “Wednesday night chicken” or “surprise pasta bake” would have earned gushing praise from the Judges Table in this “challenge”.

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