School Year Recipes and Strategies

Laura Keogh and Ceri Marsh, the dynamic duo behind the bestselling cookbook “How to Feed a Family” and the blog “The Sweet Potato Chronicles,” have a new inspiring cookbook releasing this month, “The School Year Survival Cookbook: Healthy Recipes and Sanity-Saving Strategies for Every Family and Every Meal.” In this cookbook, they show moms how to master meal prep throughout the busy school year, from packing school lunches and making healthy dinners to fueling kids up for soccer practice. This indispensable fail-proof guide addresses every major food dilemma parents face during the school year, with 110 recipes and road-tested, guaranteed-to-work, effective strategies that will keep your family on track even during the most hectic weeks.

Before starting the blog in 2010, Laura and Ceri led lives full of travel, glamorous cocktail parties and black-tie affairs as editors for FASHION magazine in Canada. But after having kids, everything changed, and they each developed a passion for being in the kitchen and developing recipes for healthy, wholesome and delicious meals that their families would love in 30 minutes or less. Laura and Ceri also loved to share the things they learned with each other, which then led them to create a place to share strategies, nutritional information, tips and tricks, food finds, great new kitchen gadgets and other things they learned with other parents who were also struggling with getting meals on the table in a timely fashion.

Wanting to learn more, I interviewed Laura and Ceri, and this is what they shared.

In addition to raising kids, you’ve published a second cookbook and manage the Sweet Potato Chronicles blog site, and you also manage many other projects such as publishing a birthday party magazine and regularly contributing content to websites and news shows, among many other things. How do you manage to do it all?

CM: When you put it like that, it does sound like a lot, doesn’t it? The nice thing about running your own business is that you can decide when and where you work. Sometimes that means answering emails after the kids have gone to bed or finding a quiet corner so you can jump on a conference call from a class trip. It’s a juggle, but we know how lucky we are to be doing the things we love and being able to be there for our families.

Do your husbands ever help out in the kitchen?

LK: We definitely see food as being a family affair, so our husbands do help out in and out of the kitchen. I know Ceri’s husband makes dinners on Sunday night for her family, and my husband, Dan, likes to make dinner on the weekend as well. But they’re also definitely involved in meal planning and grocery shopping.

How is it possible for busy moms to cook every night?

CM: It’s not! We never want to be a source of stress for other parents. And with our new book we wanted to offer lots of strategies to reduce the stress of cooking. It’s why we’re big believers in meal planning and batch cooking. If you know you’ve got a hectic week coming up and you can get a couple of things in the freezer, it can make all the difference.

What is the most important piece of advice you can give to busy moms?

LK: We think it’s important for busy parents to be realistic about what they can accomplish in a week. If it’s not possible for you to cook every single evening, then try to get as much done as you can on weekends so you can just pull things from your freezer. Also, meal planning, as boring as it sounds, really does make a huge impact on time and money.

If you had to choose one recipe from your new book for readers to make, what would it be?

CM: That is so hard! I think I’d have to say one of the Transformers. We took a lot of time coming up with that section and we feel parents are going to love it. The idea is that you make a “mother” recipe, and with the leftovers you can make one or two more meals. I love the Spicy Beef Transformer. Any time we can help people get multiple meals out of their time in the kitchen is amazing.

Do you have a fool-proof go-to ingredient or recipe?

LK: My fool-proof ingredient is usually pasta. It’s always in my pantry, everyone loves it and it’s the easiest ingredient to kind of “MacGyver” with leftover ingredients. Penne with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach never disappoints my family.

Do you have a go-to weeknight dinner?

CM: Probably my favorite is the Orecchiette with Turkey and Broccoli. It’s so easy, I usually have the ingredients on hand and best of all, my kids love it.

LK: I love the Caprese Chicken Skillet.

Do you have a weekly pizza night, or a night each week where you have take-out/delivery?

LK: You’re darn right we do. We usually do something on Friday as a family, whether we grab take-out or make homemade pizzas. I always keep pizza dough in my freezer.

Do you have any kitchen tricks/tips you can share?

CM: I think a well-stocked, well-organized pantry is the best piece of advice for home cooks. We like to put pantry items in clear glass jars so we always know at a glance what we’ve got and what needs to be picked up at the store. The right pantry means you’re always a few steps away from a meal.

How do you deal with picky eating?

CM: The main thing is to remember that most situations with kids are stages. A kid who was picky last year can turn into a gourmand. Get a picky eater involved in meal planning and cooking – it really makes a difference. And just keep offering new options. My kids wouldn’t touch salad for years and now we have it most nights with dinner. And try your best not to make the dinner table a battle zone. Ask kids to try a bite of something new and then move on.

You’ve been able to get your kids involved in cooking. What would you suggest to other moms who want their kids to get involved in meal planning and preparation but are reluctant to do so?

CM: We get it, it can seem daunting to get the kids in the kitchen. We like to start with baking projects on the weekend. Choose a day when you’re not in a hurry and do something easy like cookies or muffins. They’ll be motivated by that treat and be full of pride!

What is your favorite part of your job – or your favorite thing to do related to all your many projects?

LK: This is such a great question. Thank you for asking it. I think my most favorite thing about my job is that I have the privilege of doing it with my family. Since we began the blog in 2010, we’ve always worked along side our kids whether it was recipe testing during shoot or for videos. I love so much that I’ve given my daughter a love of food, some pretty great cooking skills and confidence. It’s also great to work alongside a good friend like Ceri.