Lidia Bastianich on Her New Christmas Book for Kids, Cookie Recipes Included

Filed under: Books for Kids, Celeb News & Interviews

Lidia Bastianch picture

Chef Lidia Bastianich is a grandmother of five. Credit: Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images for IMG

Lidia Bastianich certainly keeps her plate full.

The best-selling cookbook author is a host of a popular cooking show on PBS, restaurateur, co-owner of the enormous New York food emporium Eataly and, perhaps most importantly, nonna to five grandchildren who often appear on her television series.

This holiday season, Bastianich has come out with another book, but this time it's for kids. In "Nonna Tell Me a Story: Lidia's Christmas Story," the chef remembers how she spent Christmas in Italy as a small child and how her family would make its own tree decorations. Naturally, the book features several recipes for Christmas cookies, including the irresistibly titled "Brutti ma Buoni" ("Ugly but Good").

ParentDish caught up with Bastianich to talk about the book, holidays and fussy eaters.

ParentDish: How did you come up with the idea for this book?
Lidia Bastianich: I have five grandchildren. Whenever they come over, we cook, I read to them and pile up in bed when they sleep over and it's, "Nonna, tell me a story when you were a little girl." I'm trying to impart on them the reality of how life was a few years ago, 50 years ago say, the connection to the food we grew. I grew up in a setting where we had chickens, ducks, goats. We grew our own vegetables and, ultimately, made such organic things as our Christmas tree.

I wanted to share that with them and, also, that is their heritage. The more they know who they are, the stronger and better they will be as people. I had written it down for them to keep as a family. For the book, I added some recipes that reflect how I think. Hopefully, families will read it, interact and actually go and make the recipes and possibly make their own tree.

"Nonna Tell Me a Story" features cookie recipes and holiday stories from Lidia Bastianich. Credit: AP Photo/Running Press Book Publishers

PD: Your childhood was so rustic. It's completely foreign to the vast majority of Americans.
I have a lot of children watching my show. They are interested, they want to know about growing food. Let's show them that.

With my shows and books, I'm hoping to bring to children the need to understand how things grow. The chicken nuggets that they like -- it's an animal and that animal also gives us eggs and they should respect it. It's fine to eat an animal. When you tell someone you're going to eat rabbit and they say, "No, it's a bunny" -- yes, it's a beautiful animal, but it's part of our natural cycle and to really respect it is that, when that bunny is sacrificed for us, we eat the whole thing. What happens to the chicken feet, the neck? This preaching of being green, it's beautiful words, but how can we really practice that?

PD: You didn't get presents growing up.
We didn't get anything. We ate the ornaments from the tree. The present was on the sixth of January, Epiphany. The tree was dismantled and it was the orange, the candy and the cookies on the tree. We divvied it up and we each had a mound of goodies. That was the gift.

PD: You must find it a little strange how much stuff kids get now.
I understand. You can't not give them, especially when they reach a certain age, an iPod and so on, but they have to have the consciousness and understanding that there's a whole world we need to be in sync and in harmony with.

PD: How old is your oldest grandchild?
She's 12. She has her friends. I say to her, "Olivia, I know as time goes by you'll be distant from Grandma sometimes, but just remember, Grandma is always here to tell you a story. Grandma is always here to listen and to love you." I'm preparing her for moving on. She needs to know she has Grandma no matter what. You use these steps to assure them and give them that comfort zone, so that when they are out there by themselves they know they have a place to come to.

PD: How do you deal with fussy eaters?
Children do go through stages. Do not force them. But a household needs to have and cook those odd smells, if you will, of broccoli and cabbage. You need to cook them and the children need to become friends with these smells, or at least familiar with them. If you put broccoli in front of them when they're 8, and they've never smelled it, of course they're going to say what is this? But if it's been a part of the family, they might have tasted it. They may have not, but there will come a day when they will taste it because it's a part of the family.

My brother was a fussy eater. I liked my rice with chicken, but got rice with oil and cheese. That's understandable. You can't shove it down their throats. But you make the smells and the sights of it accessible. Children will come to it at their own pace.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.