Years ago, you posted a tutorial video for homemade yogurt. Did you ever think it would eventually lead to your own television show?
After having four daughters in three years, I changed paths from working in corporate strategy and finance to focus on being a stay-at-home mom. Living in Texas at the time with four babies, I quickly realized I was hardwired to streamline my family’s expenses (just like my mom had to do when I was growing up). I began sharing my tips and ideas with local groups of moms, and the homemade yogurt I made in my hot Texas garage – a strategy that saved us over $1,000 a year at the time – was a clear favorite. I decided to make the video in order to share the technique with more people. I then submitted it online for “The Next Food Network Star” season 5 auditions (in 2008). It’s been a true joy to share my recipes, strategies and tips with Food Network and Cooking Channel viewers. (And as for the yogurt recipe…it now appears in my Ten Dollar Dinners cookbook and was also the subject of a Food Network Magazine feature.)
With four children, how do you find ways to prepare meals that everyone in your family can enjoy?
With a big family, we have a variety of tastes and preferences. Still, I serve one meal for dinner (always including two vegetables so the girls have a choice – “Would you like the spinach or carrots, or both?”) that deliver on being both delicious and nutritious for the whole family. My husband and I both love spicy food, so we may adjust certain spices or seasonings especially when serving ethnic cuisines. We use our meals as a time to have the girls be part of the food conversation and develop a healthy understanding of what different ingredients offer us – each night one daughter presents the meal by sharing in simple terms what each dish is, its main ingredients and the functions of those ingredients (e.g., chicken is a protein and helps build muscle). Also, I always serve at least one healthy food that I know the kids like, sort of my insurance policy against picky eaters. For instance, I can always put out a basket of whole grain rolls and know that if someone eats only rolls and milk, she will be fine for one meal. Lastly, dinner is about more than just the food for us. It’s about sharing and connecting with the family, and hearing about the day’s highs and lows for everyone. So even if we do a quickie dinner, such as an omelet and salad, we still sit down as we would for any dinner and connect.
Where are your favorite places to shop for food? (ie. farmer’s markets, grocery stores, specialty food shops, etc…)
I do the majority of my shopping at grocery stores and also at warehouse clubs where I can implement the many savings strategies I share on my show and in my book – everything from making smart splurges in the produce aisle, using the bulk aisle in surprising ways for both large and small quantities, stocking up on (and then freezing) the loss leaders (proteins on sale for 50-75% off to get shoppers in the door), taking advantage of manager’s specials especially on dairy and bread. Farmer’s markets are wonderful for fresh and local produce, and I just love when we go as a family; it’s a fun, relaxed and educational outing (and much cheaper than going to the movies as a family these days!).
Describe a typical dinner at the d’Arabian household.
If it’s a rushed Tuesday night, I will likely be the one in charge of getting dinner on the table. On nights when we have more time (or just as a separate activity altogether), the girls love to help in various ways (making salad, measuring out ingredients, cracking eggs, breading, etc.). You would find us eating the very same recipes I share on my show and in my book, or perhaps some new recipes I am testing for upcoming projects – my family has become my focus group of official taste testers. One of the girls presents the meal (as I mentioned above) and we enjoy being together. I think just simply being around the table together as a family is so important. Whether you ordered in pizza or cooked a lavish meal, sharing the time together at the table is beneficial for myriad reasons.
What’s your favorite part of preparing meals for your family?
It’s simple: Creating positive and happy memories for my girls to look back on while nourishing and respecting our bodies with satisfying delicious food.
Any tips for parents who struggle to get their kids to eat healthy?
I have four girls (8, 7, 5 and 5) and I believe in developing their palettes while also laying the groundwork for them to have an overall healthy relationship with food. So, I have lots of tips – ranging from how to get them involved, how to encourage them to try new ingredients, and beyond. Here’s a recent write up I did on Cooking Channel’s Devour blog that highlights some of my favorites.
Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to food? (It’s okay, you can tell us...)
Of course, I love to indulge in sweet treats here and there (enter the entire dessert chapter of my book!). I will say that I just love a piece of super dark chocolate with an espresso – my favorite combination. When it comes to savory and comforting, I can’t resist my famous Potato Bacon Torte.