Ceri Marsh on The Family Dinner

Less than a year ago, I made a change my younger self would have found clichéd in the extreme: I left my position as editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine, and with my online partner, Laura Keogh, I started Sweet Potato Chronicles, a website dedicated to family food. Lord knows I miss the pretty, but I’m finding cooking for kids–both the task and the subject–as rich in drama, tension and nostalgia as any couture collection.

Feeding children can be a Sisyphean chore, and I’m not alone in sometimes feeling overwhelmed. Many forces push the family meal toward extinction. Here are some of the places where I’ve found context and inspiration.

Ceri Marsh is a writer and editor. She’s also the co-creator of the recently launched Sweet Potato Chronicles, a project that forces to her to cook and write every day. She lives with her family in Toronto. Follow her @spchronicles

1. Jamie Oliver’s Ted lecture

Jamie Oliver’s passage from faux-cockney-boy-chef to food revolution evangelist has been well documented–mostly in his many slickly produced TV series. While receiving a Ted prize, he gave this lecture on the catastrophe that is the North American diet. Oliver’s not afraid of fear tactics. He shows his audience a clip featuring a class full of 6-year-olds unable to identify a tomato.

2. Eliminating Food Deserts in America

Until I watched this clip, I’d never heard the term “food desert,” which describes a community where people have little or no access to fresh food. Imagine raising kids in a neighbourhood where all of your groceries come from a convenience store. I admire Michelle Obama’s insistence that the big players in the food industry need to be part of the solution.

3. Laurie David on family dinners after her divorce

It’s not always finances that stand between families and healthy food. Super-activist Laurie David published The Family Dinner last year. In this excerpt of her book for the Huffington Post she describes how family dinners became the one thing she refused to forfeit in her divorce from Larry David. I’m taken (and relieved) by her position that sitting down over takeout with your kids can still count as a quality family dinner, so long as we believe mealtimes offer nourishment beyond what’s in the food.

4. Mark Bittman’s five suggestions

Mark Bittman’s Minimalist column in The New York Times may be have ended but its name is an appropriate headline for everything he does. His recipes are like haikus in their simplicity and so is his tough-love advice: As a parent, feeding your kids is your job, so do it. Learn how if you don’t know already. Find an hour each day to prepare food. “If you can’t do that, I don’t know what to say.”

5. Six weeks with a family dinner coach

This story made my magazine editor’s heart pitter-patter. Lori Leibovich had been feeding her kids turkey dogs and chicken nuggets for dinner and feeling terrible about it. Enter Jenny Rosenstrach, Leibovich’s friend, and the author of the popular blog Dinner, A Love Story, who acted as her dinner coach. For six weeks, Rosenstrach sent Leibovich a weekly email with recipes, strategies and, most importantly, encouragement. The resulting exchanges are funny, disastrous, and victorious.