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Other Writings and Recipes

Finger Food: Do Manners Matter?

Vidhi Dattani

I am no expert on feeding kids. But I think the worst mealtime strategies uphold the false classification of food “for children” and “for adults” and often result in lower standards for what we’ll ask our kids to eat. Most of us do this as a matter of circumstance–lack of time, not much in the fridge, and, most often, the need for mealtime to be conflict-free.

I get that kids need to feel in control of what they eat and giving them that control helps keep the dinner peace. But for this post, I’ll set aside talk about what your kids will eat. Instead–using their need to lead to our advantage–I’ll focus on how.

Manners.

Growing up, my family aspired to Manners Basics: napkin on your lap, chew with mouth closed, no fighting at the table or playing with food. As a kid, manners weren’t fun, but also not that troublesome. As a parent, I find the task to turn messy monsters into mannered folk a continuous slog.

But recently, I wondered if I was trying too hard.

At a recent and rare dinner out, I caught my nine-year-old mowing down a beautiful plate of salad with the whole of her eager paws. She compacted a pile of tiny leaves and stuffed the dripping wad into her small, greasy mouth. With her fingers, she fished out olives and groped for tomatoes, whose juices coursed down her chin. I pleaded for her to stop the uncouth display, smiling awkwardly at onlookers. Then, I got the sense to simply look the other way.

Here, in front of me, and–yes–for the world to see, was my hungry kid inhaling a vitamin-rich, very grown up salad like it was a prized boxed mac and cheese. In the parental game of choosing battles, I noted a solid win.

Rather than chastise my daughter for eating like the little kid she (no longer really) was, I thought instead to toast her maturing tastes. If I aspire to be the parent who wants her kids to color outside the lines, why should I insist on inflexible conventions when it comes to how we eat?

In that spirit, here is a “recipe” for a favorite family picnic salad that makes for fun (and messy) finger food:

Cabbage Salad to Go With Tacos, Grilled Meats, Sandwiches, and More

I like to have a head of cabbage in the refrigerator to shave from to accompany almost anything I might put on the grill. Unless I am making an entire head of cabbage into one dish, a head typically extends to many meals.

Nappa cabbage
salt
sour cream or 2% yogurt
garlic
lemon
pepper
dill

Thinly slice cabbage into 1/4-inch shreds. Place in bowl, large enough to toss cabbage comfortably. Sprinkle liberally with salt and massage salt into greens. The cabbage will begin to soften under your touch. Set aside for 10 minutes.

In another, small bowl mix together enough sour cream or yogurt to cover cabbage thickly. Very finely mince a clove or two of garlic and stir in. Add lemon and pepper, to taste, but not salt.

Mix together cabbage and dressing, tossing well with your hands, and allowing the water released from the cabbage to season and relax the thick cream. Taste again. When the seasoning is right–more lemon? more salt?–add a generous amount of fresh dill.

If you are not serving this salad immediately, toss once again before serving. The cabbage may continue to release its water, so you may need to redress lightly. The cabbage will soften considerably over night, but still tastes fresh.