The Bland and the Beautiful

Today’s post is devoted to one of the the most common challenges any Practical Cook faces—how to make something everyone in the family will eat. The Practical Cook is yet to meet a family where everyone agrees, and her own experience is right in line. The eldest will try most things, but has some texture issues and a highly-developed sense of taste. No putting anything past her. The youngest we call “Dr. Atkins” (tongue in cheek), as she loves carbs in all their forms above all else. Everything tastes “spicy” (said as loudly as possible). The adults prefer stronger flavors and tire of eating bland food or the same things over and over. Sound familiar? Cue the theme music.

The key to gaining mindshare (oops, marketing brain just took over) across diverse palates is choice. Choice with empowerment, better still. Plain English–the answer is a bar. Gentle readers, I can hear you thinking—that is not practical. I’m not advising you to hit the bottle or chop a million things. This is all about marketing.

Here are three road-tested ways to apply the basic idea:

  1. Baked Potato Bar
    Scrub, prick, and bake the appropriate amount of russet potatoes (microwave or oven, the Practical Cook doesn’t judge). 

    Topping ideas: butter, sour cream, plain yogurt, cheese, marinated mushrooms, scallions, salsa, olives, steamed broccoli, crispy bacon, pepperoni, roasted garlic, pickled jalapenos, diced green/yellow/red peppers, roasted red peppers.

  2. Omelet Bar
    Plan for 1 egg for young kids or light eaters, and 1.5-2 for everyone else. Use a largish measuring cup if you have one (medium mixing bowl if you don’t), scramble eggs with some milk (splash of per egg) and a dash of salt. Heat a non-stick frying pan with some butter over medium heat. Now make like the Waffle House, creating custom omelets using each person’s topping bowl, and yell out “Order Up” when each one is done. The sheer spectacle will stun some reluctant eaters into eating a good meal.

    Topping ideas:
    spinach, cheese, olives, mushrooms, peppers of all sorts, leftover potatoes or winter squash, salsa, black beans, tomatoes, bacon, ham, sausage, fauxsage or facon, scallions, avocado.
  3. Personal Pizza Bar
    If you have the time, make your own pizza crust, or look in your store’s deli section for quick dough, or the dairy case for commercial pizza dough in the can. Also try English muffins, whole wheat pita, or even sandwich bread in a pinch. Top with tomato sauce or pizza sauce (your own or jarred), sprinkle cheese on the top. Now add the topping bowl toppings.

    Topping ideas:
    any standard pizza topping will work, but consider fruit (like pineapple, pears, apples) or fresh or dried herbs.

General How-To:

  • Do you have small bits of cheese, vegetable, meat to get rid of? What flavor combinations do you like/have you seen on a menu/has your blandy-bear ever consumed?
  • Chop your toppings into smallish pieces, as you would expect to see on a salad bar. If texture is an issue, chopping small can convince the picky to try something.
  • Provide small bowls/ramekins/etc. for each person to select their toppings.

That’s it. Pick the bland medium that serves your needs best, and then let everyone choose their own flavor journey. Serve a side salad or fruit, and dinner is served. Your job is to lead by example. Provide a range of topping options, and comment on what you do and don’t like and why.

The hard part–don’t comment on what the bland-fans choose or don’t choose.  (For more on the topic, especially in the context of raising good eaters, check out Ellyn Satter.)

Coming next, Easy Fish, or How Not to Flounder.



Filed under Kitchen Philosophy, Recipes

3 responses to “The Bland and the Beautiful

  1. Is it wrong that I enjoyed “Some Like it Hot” way more than I intended?

    I make whole wheat pita pizza all the time. I adore it.

    • The Practical Cook

      Enjoying hits from the 80s and pita pizzas indicates good taste, not lapses in judgment! Any topping ideas for the pizza you’d like to share?

      • My pizza toppings usually consist of whatever is about to go ’round the bend in the fridge. The ingredient that I surprised myself with was sugar snap peas (sans pods). Mixed with some garlic, bacon, parmesan, mozz, and pizza sauce, it was awesome. Booyah.

        I’m very much looking forward to the preponderance of puns I know I can expect from this site. 🙂

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