Ask the Expert: How to Make Simple, Healthy Dinners

I am always on the lookout for quick and healthy dinner solutions.I am always on the lookout for quick and healthy dinner solutions. I was pleased when I came across Sarah Waldman‘s recently published book Feeding a Family – A Year of Simple and Healthy Family Dinners.   

The book is full of ideas and tips for healthy meals that are easy to prepare with a seasonal focus that are sure to be inspiration with your family meal planning. I am happy to have the opportunity to share a recent conversation with Sarah, and one of the featured meals from the book:

Related: My Sanity Saving Strategy for Weeknight Meals: Here’s How

Sarah WaldmanQ.  Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, your interests.

A.  About three years ago my husband Nick and I decided to take the plunge and move full-time to the island of Martha’s Vineyard. We were familiar with the island before moving — I was a summer kid here (my grandparents and parents both lived here part-time), Nick and I got married here, and we visited all throughout the year, but committing to island living felt more serious.

Moving to a small island automatically forced us to simplify our lives. We adapted quickly to life here which is strongly based in tight community connections, nature, and adventure. Of course there are times when I get annoyed with having to take the ferry and wish for a big box store down the road (there are no chain stores on Martha’s Vineyard) but in general the lifestyle, community, and natural beauty is hard to beat.Feeding a FamilyI work as a food writer, recipe developer, and cookbook author. My book, Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work was published in April. I worked on the book for two years and am thrilled to finally be sharing it!

When I’m not at my stove or kitchen table working on the book, I am writing articles (see my Food52 stories, here), testing recipes for publications, and helping island friends with food-related projects.

The core of my work is helping families find recipes, methods, and planning strategies that encourage whole food cooking at home. I also write a lot about feeding babies, picky eaters, and kids in general.

In my “free time” I help run Vineyard Birth Collective, which provides a listing of local resources and practitioners offering physical, emotional, and social support to Island families during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. I also manage a killer cookbook club.

We have two little boys. Dylan is 6 and is obsessed with butterflies and hockey and Gray is 3 and is obsessed with Babar and motorcycles.

Q.   What inspired you to write Feeding a Family?

A.  After getting asked often, almost daily, in the parking lot after school and in the grocery store what I’m making for dinner I decided to write a book about it. My friends ask not because I’m an expert, but because I might have an idea for something new, or I might just tell them it’s okay to make egg sandwiches.

Everyone wants to know how to make dinner work, because when it works it is a great source of pride, connection, and light at the end of a long day.

But when it doesn’t work, dinnertime is depleting, depressing, and so unbelievably stressful. My longer answer to “What should I make for dinner?” comes in the form this book. My goal with this book is to help parents, and busy people in general, get into the rhythm of making home-cooked meals.

Nowadays we get a lot of our suggestions from a computer and have lost the community discussion about food, the sharing of beloved recipes. The recipes included in this book are our
family favorites – the meals that have been in our regular rotation for years, as well as recent discoveries that have quickly become staples at our house.

There are many recipes in Feeding a Family that my kids eat weekly, if not daily, like Banana Milk with Flax Seeds and Black Bean Quinoa Burgers. Other dishes that my husband, Nick, or I happen to love (hello, Roasted Green Beans with Scallions) are entirely aspirational: the boys have never chosen to eat a full bite of them, but I continue to cook are serve these foods, knowing that someday they may catch on.

In Feeding a Family I share a ton of insight, tips and advice around the benefits of family dinner, family nutrition, planning, shopping, and preparation, involving the whole family, feeding picky eaters, and building a family pantry.

A Spring Picnic

Oven-Baked Falafel with Garden Radish, Cucumber, and Pea Shoots

This is a perfect dinner for nights when your cupboards are bare (I seem to always have these ingredients hiding someplace) and your energy is low (just whizz everything in the food processor and bake).

Depending on your family’s likes, you can serve the falafel balls packed in pita pockets with yogurt sauce and fresh vegetables, on top of a large green salad, or on a platter next to other nibbles, such as olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, and tzatziki and hummus dips. In my opinion, there is no wrong way to eat a warm, homemade falafel ball (especially if you are doing so outside on the warm grass).

feeding a family - roost books

Oven-Baked Falafel with Garden Radish, Cucumber, and Pea Shoots

My sister Anna made us a version of these falafel rounds almost ten years ago. I immediately quizzed her on the recipe and have been serving it ever since. Our favorite method is to fill toasted pita pockets with falafel balls, then stuff in favorite crunchy vegetables, such as carrots, sprouts, radishes, cucumbers, or pea shoots. Here, I have included a simple yogurt sauce, but spreading the pitas with hummus works fine, too.

Kids Can: Little helpers can measure and blend the falafel ingredients and scoop and flatten the falafel balls.

Makes 15 small balls (you can double the recipe for 30 falafel bites)


½ medium yellow onion

One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Handful of fresh parsley

Juice of ½ lemon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

3 garlic cloves

4 tablespoons whole-wheat all-purpose flour (or gluten-free all-purpose flour)

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Yogurt sauce

1 cup plain full-fat Greek yogurt

3-inch piece cucumber, grated

Juice of ½ lemon

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For serving

4 pita pockets or lavash, warmed in the oven

Thinly sliced cucumber

Thinly sliced radishes

Thinly sliced red onion

Roughly chopped pea shoots

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. To make the falafel, simply whiz all the ingredients (leaving out 1 tablespoons of the olive oil) in a food processor until mostly smooth (with a few remaining chunks).

2. Grease a baking sheet with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Using a tablespoon measure, place heaping scoops of the falafel mixture on the baking sheet, then flatten them with the back the spoon. Bake the falafel rounds for 10 minutes, flip them, and then bake for another 10 minutes, until edges are crisp and tops are golden.

3. While the falafel bakes, mix together all the sauce ingredients in a medium bowl.

4. Serve the baked falafel with warm pita pockets or lavash, cucumber sauce, sliced vegetables, and pea shoots.

From Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work by Sarah Waldman, © 2016 by Sarah Waldman. Photographs by Elizabeth Cecil. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.

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