Allow Jenny Mollen’s humor to soothe your frazzled parental nerves, even as you try your hand at a few of her genius lunchbox recipes. That’s the idea behind the comedic actor turned kids cookbook author’s new book, Dictator Lunches.
As a bestselling author of the essay collections like I Like You Just the Way I Am and Live Fast Die Hot, we have to admit we wern’t expecting a family-friendly cookbook from Mollen, but are delighted nonetheless. Dictator Lunches is a cookbook for parents who want their kids to eat a nutrient-dense diet with as little effort in the kitchen as humanly possible. According to Jenny, this feat requires repetitive exposure (wear them down!) and a few tricks to make healthy foods seem fun — yes, even seaweed snacks. Here’s Jenny…
The book in a nutshell: A paint by numbers approach to nutritious meals that will excite even the pickiest of eaters.
Who are these “dictators” you refer to in the book? (side eye to toddlers everywhere.)… My children. It doesn’t help that they speak German. My eldest son likes to tell me that he is the main character in our family if that helps you get a sense of what I’m dealing with.
where did all these clever kids’ meal ideas come from? was there a learning curve? The curve for me has always been intense. I’m not a chef, a bento artist, or even someone who can use right-handed scissors. Lunch making for me is like writing — I just have to bore myself to the point where I start finding the funny. I say in the beginning of my book— ‘if I can do this, you can too’.
For parents who may be overwhelmed, what are your 3 favorite ideas in the book that are easy AF? I am the type of person who likes to cook using one pan and typically sets the fire alarm off before dinner is served. I’ve honestly destroyed two indestructible blenders and melted three air fryers.
When I promise you that these recipes are easy, it’s not hyperbole. Try the:
+ Ninja baby bells = easy AF
+ Egg mold = beyond easy AF
+ Seeded avocado = pretty much my dogs could make this.
There is really only one difficult recipe in my book. And that is the pandemic birthday cake, which I made only because I was living through an actual pandemic.
Favorite recipe in the book overall? My favorite recipe that we make at least once a week is the Guatemalan coconut rice with black beans. I eat mine with hot sauce, a handful of cilantro and avocado.
Best nutrition tip for parents? For me, it’s all about repetition. The win isn’t in getting your kid to eat something right off the bat. The win is in getting them so anesthetized to seeing it that they stop questioning why it’s on their plate.
I think many American parents need to remind themselves that there is no flavor profile that should be considered too much for a kid.
Healthy tips for eating out with kids? I try to play it looser when I’m eating out with my kids because I don’t want to ever make them feel deprived. If we are somewhere where I can work it in, I will ask for steamed broccoli and a side of carrot or cucumber sticks with whatever they end up ordering as a main.
Any other favorite resources for helping kids get excited about real food? I have always found it odd that the same parents who will sit down to a meal of grilled fish over salad will set out a plate of chicken nuggets for their children and call it a day. I think we underestimate children in this country. Kids are quite capable of rising to the challenge and eating the same things their caretakers eat, especially when they aren’t being given other options.
The best way to get a child excited about cooking is to cook with them. The same goes for farming. If you have access to a veggie garden or even just some seeds you can sprout in a pot at home, kids love seeing the process and feeling a sense of ownership over the foods going into their meals.
Fav resources for parents currently? Dr. Michelle Chung on Instagram always has incredible insights.
Want more recipe ideas for kids? Try Earthy Andy’s Gluten-Free Apple Crumble With Maple Almond Butter Sauce