Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Preschool lunch box lowdown

Back to school is upon us and of course so is the lunch box frenzy.  Anxious parents are everywhere, searching for the perfect solutions.  Preschool in particular can be harrowing, as it is their first time eating away from you and it means ceding a little control.  I remember sobbing as I packed that first lunch, mindful of how much my baby was growing up.  I wanted it to be flawless, and labored accordingly. In the end, it is just lunch, and the most important thing is that kids learn to have it together.  

Getting them ready to eat at school is also a challenge.  You can have a rehearsal play date to help kids transition.  Reading about lunchtime at school is another effective strategy; my favorites are Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban and Morris Goes to School by B Wiseman.

Below are some tips that served me well for my first year of preschool lunch.  Be brave, good luck, and enjoy every moment.  Feel free to comment below and tell me all about your own experiences.

On the outside:
  • Avoid metal lunch boxes.  They are heavy, easily damaged, hard to clean, and readily re-purposed as weapons. Personally, I prefer the cloth ones with an insulated lining, which you can wipe with a damp cloth. The bento boxes are cute but come with lots of pieces that are easily lost. Brown bags get smashed and easily confused - a big deal if you have kids with allergies or other food concerns. 
  • Get a back-up or two.  We went through four lunch boxes last year, all of which mysteriously disappeared on the way home.  Trying to buy a lunch box in April is like trying to get pregnant in your sixties - it's a little late and probably not such a good idea.  Although if you do find yourself in this pickle, Amazon.com did have some slim pickings available. 
  • Given the above, do not spend more than $15 on a lunch box.  $12 if you can manage it.  
Rules and regs 
  • Assuming the school has a microwave, try not pack to anything metallic that needs to be reheated.  Glass is great but make sure it is shatterproof.  Plastic is fine if you can live with the risks. 
  • Try to avoid peanuts, sesame products, and anything on the allergy alert list.  Kids swap lunches and then some; it is a nice courtesy to the other parents and school. 
  • Anything messy will end up all over the kids and their teachers.  Avoid the unnecessary drama.
  • Do not pack candy.  The kids get crazy and their teachers will be annoyed. Give them a small treat like a handful of graham crackers or one cookie.  Anything else is over the top.
On the inside
  • I love little thermoses (thermi?). Not only can you save money and mother earth by packing them water instead of a juice box, but in the winter you can also pack some warm soup.  
  • Keep healthy side staples on hand, like cheese, crackers, Cheerios, and yogurt.  Rotate them, and toss in one or two in every day.
  • Always pack a fresh fruit or vegetable.  My best luck has been with celery, carrots, apples, strawberries, melon, and grapes. Clementines are a big hit when they are available - they love to peel and eat.
  • My best success entrees include basic grilled cheese, hard boiled eggs, pasta wheels with cheese, rice with vegetables, tomato soup, and pizza.  
  • Try to make it fun.  Make eyeballs out of egg slices.  Put fruit on a stick (with dull edges) so they can pull it off piece by piece.  Throw in a small package of bubbles. 

Recipe: Basic grilled cheese sandwich
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 slices of bread
1 oz of cheese (any)
  1. Brush both sides of bread with butter.  
  2. Place cheese in the middle of the slices.  
  3. Add sandwich to a frying pan and heat on medium for 2 minutes.  
  4. Flip, and heat again for another 2 minutes.  
  5. Cool sandwich.  
  6. Slice and wrap in wax paper.  
Tip:  Make it fun by cutting it into fun shapes with cookie cutters.  Place the cookie cutter in the middle and press down.  Slice the outer edges into equal pieces.  

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Despite the blight: Adventures in heirloom tomatoes

"My kingdom for a good tomato", I muttered a few months back.  Summer had arrived but alas my beloved nightshades were just beginning to flower.  I was sick of the cardboard substitutes imported from g-d knows where, and hungered for a ripe, juicy gorgeous tomato to call my own.  July was particularly unsettling, when reports of the record blight seemed to doom this year's crop.  A non-event for the general population, the news sent me straight to the medicine cabinet for some Valium.  Honestly.  

Despite the blight, I have found some wonderful tasting tomatoes this year.  Albeit pricey, as witnessed while on vacation where at one farm stand they weighed my single, impressive find to the tune of $7.50.  Even I have my limits, although I do think about the one that got away from time to time and wonder what if.  

Today however, all the elements aligned and I found fresh, succulent, and well priced tomatoes at the 10th annual Hoboken Heirloom Tomato Festival.  Vendor Catalpa Farms delivered a wide range of goodies, including purple peppers, red oak lettuce, farm fresh eggs, and of course, tomatoes.  I counted more than 20 varieties on hand, and sampled as many.  Favorites included Yellow Brandywine, Striped German, and Prudens Purple.  I also liked the tomatillos and heirloom cherry mix.  More than anything, I enjoyed being in the company of my fellow tomato-philes, none of whom blinked an eye when I packed up 7 1/2 pounds to take home.  At $3.99/pound, it seemed like a bargain.

I arrived home with my loot, which my husband eyed suspiciously.  I heard him muttering something to himself about the fridge real estate and rotten tomatoes, but no matter.  All would be right come dinner time.  In addition to the produce, I brought home a terrific tomato and garlic dip which I enjoyed with crackers.  Once sated, I kept thinking about how I would make it, and proceeded to experiment for a good part of the afternoon until I came up with the below recipe.  I used the Prudens Purple variety because they are sweet with a nice texture that works well against the cheese, but I am sure Roma's would work too.  Now for the other 6 1/2 pounds....

Smoky tomato garlic dip

1 lb of tomatoes (2 or 3 medium size tomatoes), seeded, cored, and rough chopped
6 cloves of garlic
2 tomatillos, rough chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
8 oz cream cheese
2 oz goat cheese
1/4 - 1/2 tsp of chipotle pepper (Do this to your own taste.  Note: you need to let the flavor bloom for at least 10 minutes before you really can gage the level of spiciness.)
salt and fresh pepper to taste
1 tbsp finely chopped herbs (I like parsley or cilantro)

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees (roast setting).  Combine tomatoes, garlic, tomatillos, and olive oil on a foil lined pan.  Roast for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.
  2. Add ingredients from step one to a food processor and pulse 10 times.
  3. Add goat cheese and cream cheese, and process until smooth. 
  4. Add chipotle pepper, salt, and freshly cracked pepper. Pulse twice.  
  5. Top with fresh herbs and serve.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lost and found

My mom,daughter and I wandered around like the mother and child reunion, on a relentless quest for farm fresh eggs.  Perhaps this sort of fecund adventure should have aligned our bio-rhythms or at least our stars, but it was not meant to be.  

I consider myself to be geographically dyslexic; if I need to go right, I go left, if North I go South.  Even with the GPS gently reminding me, I invariably get lost (and tell it shut the f*!! up). So when I have no real directions as was the case today, it can be a little harrowing for me and my passengers.  The farm is located on a major road but no number was given.  We finally stopped for directions and after a few confused tries, the woman at the pharmacy broke out into a smile, "Oh, you mean the place behind the lumber yard...", of course I did! which is where we went.  There were no chickens among the 2 x 4's, and just when feeling doomed to be lost and eggless, we spotted the discrete sign near an impossibly small path.  

We wound out way down, passing a lake with ducks and then cows grazing on sweet pastures, finally stopping in front of a large chicken coup. 30 - 40 red hens were cheerfully clucking hello from inside, while a few rebels wandered around the farm giving me sudden and clear understanding of the term free range.  Our moods were lifted, and we began to poke around.  My daughter hopped out to chatter with the animals, as my mother and I looked for the farm stand.  Again, there was a sign with prices, but no people or produce or eggs.  Lost again, I wondered if the hens would accept a check.  

Up the road was a house with several large sheds surrounding it, one with what looked like the wooden frame of a boat in progress.  Debby Farber, co-owner of the farm approached me curiously and explained that the stand is self serve.  Eggs are in the first fridge, meat is in the adjacent freezer, just tomatoes and beans today, put the money in the box and write down what you took in the log under the calendar.  We wandered back, grabbed a dozen brown eggs, put $4 in the box, and set out for home while explaining to my daughter that the hens needed to nap.  

The kitchen is one place where I do not feel lost, but fresh eggs are new to me.  I had always heard about what a pleasure they are, how different from store bought, but never cooked with them. The three of us wandered in the kitchen and set out to make omelets.  I used Julia Child's recipe (http://www.savory.tv/2009/07/29/julia-child-omelette/) in honor of the Julie & Julia film.  It was one of the first recipes I tried after reading Julie Powell's book, upon which I swiped my mother's MtAoFC and began cooking in earnest.  I have made this recipe a dozen times and while my flipping skills can use some attention, the final product is generally quite good.  

As I readied the eggs, I immediately noticed a difference in the shells; they were denser and broke cleanly, with a more satisfyingly loud crack.  The yolks were a deeper yellow than I am used to, and blended together with the whites beautifully (this despite the fact that I did not add water per the recipe). As for the omelets, well JC never had it so good. The eggs were more fluffy and rich.  The entire thing was easier to handle and flip.  And there was a faintly sweet odor that made each bite a little more savory.  

My mom and I sat down together to enjoy our lunch.  We agreed that omelets sure beat boxed cereal as a last resort dinner. We compared notes on the food and mused over why people don't cook these at home anymore. Was it the lingering effects of the 90's cholesterol scare, laziness, or ignorance?  My mom taught me and my brother to cook; what happened to everyone else in my generation? I read a lot about the farm we visited today; where were all the other foodies?  Michael Pollan seems to think cooking has become a spectator sport. Julie Powell recently asked her fans to blog their favorite MtAoFC recipe; the majority commented that they loved her work but never attempted to cook anything JC.  It seems like something larger has been lost, the art of the home cooked meal in America.

Unable to solve the conundrum, we eased back into small talk.  It had been a while since we had eaten eggs together, and the aromas coupled with the company brought me back to my childhood, to her kitchen where I happily played and learned.  I spied my daughter giddily watching, eager to revisit tales of the coo-coo chickens while my past and future seemed to keep time with each other.  We are staying at a vacation rental, but at that moment I truly felt at home. 

Note: Blackwater Farms is located at Lambert's Cove Road, behind Cottle's Lumberyard, West Tisbury, MA.  If you are visiting Martha's Vineyard, I recommend giving it a try.  Worth the trip.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Milking It for What It's Worth

I felt like a science fiction porn star.  Two funnels were attached to my breasts, trailed by yards of tubing that led to the MACHINE, also known as a breast pump.  The MACHINE ceaselessly and loudly and efficiently pumped my milk into 2 small bottles which I clasped tightly, yielding about 6 ounces after 20 minutes. Now, to the uninitiated, that might not sound like much but you try strapping this thing on four times day (twice at work in a conference room without a lock), literally sucking the life out of you as you try to preoccupy yourself with anything that does not require your hands.  It is easier to give yourself a bikini wax.  

Let's face it, breast pumping sucks.  It was worse a generation ago, it will be better a generation from now, but for the time being it sucks.  I remember my brother coming over for lunch to see the MACHINE (we had viewings) and staring at my hospital grade rental.  "It's a piston", he stammered, then unable to eat the meal I had lovingly prepared.  And so it was, a crappy bot designed to help me feed my children.  I also nursed whenever possible, supplemented with formula, and tried to get them on solids as fast as I could.  And I would do it again, because for me this was the right combination, the right amount of effort.  But had you asked me about my feeding plans a week before my first delivery, that would have been a different story.

I was a text book, 1970's, bottle fed, formula loving baby.  My mom took care of me and my brother that way, and I did not see any reason to do differently.  My feelings were exponentially confirmed whenever I came in touch with any of the Lactation Specialists/Nipple Nazi's that chanted breast is best and were one haircut shy of the Krishna's.  Their obsessive message of intolerance for any other method fed my determination not to nurse.  And then there was the delivery.  

The first two days in the hospital were as planned, my daughter happily bottle/formula fed.  All was on track until my last mommy class.  The Nazi went through the usual speech, and then listed all things breast feeding could help achieve (Harvard admissions) as well as prevent.  I felt myself tuning out until she said Crohn's.  Crohn's is in our family, and is painful to consider; I would have done anything to prevent it.  I went back to my room and called for a consult. An hour later later there was colostrum (Inverted nipples, wouldn't you know).  Two hours later there was the MACHINE.  

I have always been short and busty.  But this was no ordinary time; when I went to get measured for a nursing bra I clocked in at 36K.  Even my OBGYN was impressed.  The store had to order me extra large funnels for the MACHINE, and even they seemed inadequate. Hauling these things around for 8 months was no easy task; I felt like a circus freak waiting for the bearded lady to join me at any moment.  You would think that mammoth as I was, the milk would have flowed, but no it came at the same pace as my A cup friends.  In fact, it probably caused the pumping sessions to go long, thanks to the extra plumbing.

The MACHINE came to rule our lives. One morning it broke, prompting me to scream for help.  My poor husband was woken from a  sound sleep and came frantically running to see what was wrong.  "Are you sure it's broke?" he asked. "Am I sure?  Am I sure?!!  Listen to it, can't you hear that the rhythm is off, it's all I can hear night and day is this MACHINE.", I ranted, panicking at the thought of the MACHINE being down while my husband's wooden ears enraged me further.  Looking back, it was so wholly integrated into our routine that even though I despised it I could not imagine life without it.  

My children are now 4 and 18 months, and my pumping and nursing days are behind me.  Despite the time gone by, and all of the history as written above, I still long for the days when I held my children while nursing them.  I am not nostalgic for the MACHINE but do miss the satisfaction of being able to provide so completely for them.  It is really the most intimate form of local farming.  I think it has also affected me in the kitchen today, where I beat myself up every time we serve hot dogs and feel best when I am feeding them something right from the garden.  I am compelled to constantly chop and cook, shop locally and require fresh fruit and vegetables with each meal and snack.  My husband drew the line when I expressed interest in a make your own yogurt machine, but that's OK because I am pretty sure I can fake it with some whole milk and a dixie cup.

Did you nurse, pump, or bottle feed?  How has it affected your later cooking experiences?  Comment below and tell me about it.  

Faking It

Whenever my Mom comes over she is always accompanied by a large bag from TJ Max or Marshalls, full of things for the kids.  She does a lot of shopping, and every once in a while I will throw in an actual request.  So it came to pass that camp was starting and my daughter needed water proof shoes.  My mom picked her up a pair of the real deal, the kind used by channel swimmers, meant to stay on in the ocean and and more than adequate for the light sprinklers and water tables available at camp.  My daughter wore them for about a week, and then started lobbying for Crocs.  I finally gave in for her birthday, and for the last week of camp she had her dream shoes.  

Now we are on vacation and the ocean beckons.  A pair of water shoes would be just the thing, and of course I left them at home, my daughter forced to crunch around the flotsam and jetsam, her Crocs useless. And so I ask why is it that no matter how well prepared I am, no matter how much I plan, I am always without the one thing I think I need?  

So it goes in the kitchen, where I have learned to adapt more readily than the other rooms in and out of the house.    Yesterday was raining, and we ran from place to place, stand to stand, trying to keep the kids entertained.  I came home with some strawberries, baby squash, and flowers.  I sliced the berries for the kids, placed the flowers in a plastic pitcher, and faked the below side dish.  Now if I could just learn to do this outside the kitchen...

When have you faked it and why? Please comment below.  

I Faked It Baby Squash

2 tbsp olive or canola oil
1 lb of baby squash, sliced thin (about 1/4 inch.  Zucchini would probably also work here)
salt and pepper to taste
1 lime, sliced in half
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill


Heat oil on medium in saute pan.  
Add baby squash, and saute for 5 - 7 minutes, until just soft. 
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Squeeze 2 lime halves over the zucchini and stir juice into squash.  Cook an additional minute.  
Add rice wine vinegar and stir. Cook an additional minute.
Plate squash.  Sprinkle dill on top and serve immediately.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


She snuck through the door with the stealth of a cat burglar, quietly entering the room and approaching the bed.  I hear her little girl footsteps and lie there quietly, hoping to catch her the act, of what I have no idea.  I hear her breathing excitedly, clearly she has a plan.  She comes to the edge of the bed, takes a deep giggly breath, and climbs up.  Suddenly I feel her hands playing with my hair and stroking my forehead.  "Sleepy mommy" she whispers.  This goes on for a few amazingly sweet minutes, as I lie there completely happy but still wondering about her plan when it occurs to me that this is the plan.  This is it, lying next to her mother and being close to her, that is all it takes to make this wonderful child happy. She gives me one last pet and then tumbles back into her room. 

A few minutes later I find her there, under a sheet, watching a movie.  She thinks I am her father. "Go away Dad" she chuckles, burrowing under the bedding.  I tickle her foot and she laughs but resists.  "Go away Daddy. No bike ride", she says, anticipating what comes next.  I grab her tummy and let her have it.  She is now breathless with laughter, and lifts of the sheet, surprised to see it is me with the long fingers.  We pad back into my room and I give her choice. "Bike ride with daddy or grocery shopping with me." The negotiations begin.  "I want to take my bike", she begins, knowing well that my husband is planning to take them in a cart that attaches to his bicycle.  She just learned to ride 2 days ago and is ready for the big leagues.  

"Sorry, maybe the next ride." 

"OK, Mommy, ok.  If I go to the supermarket you can get me an ice cream cone, ok? Alright".  I smile at her tactics, "I'll think about it, but you need to get dressed."  

"I want to wear my butterfly shirt." Long pause.  "Bike ride" 

We get dressed and come downstairs, where her brother greets me with a big smile and scoots into my arms.  The kitchen smells, well, used.  My husband smiles, "I made pancakes", he says to my disbelieving face.  "I'm an Eagle Scout you know", he gently teases as he takes the baby from my arms.  They are all off together on the bike, bound for adventures that are for their eyes only.  This is their time together.  

I stay behind and have a pancake.  They are actually pretty good, blueberry.  And then I look in the sink and see the used plastic bowl instead of the one good metal mixing bowl this vacation has to offer, which gleams on the counter untouched. The crappy plastic spatula lies in the sink, covered with batter while my top notch metal one sneers at it from the side.  The tiny appetizer plate is crammed with pancakes while the platters lie untouched a few cabinets below.  We don't always do things the same way, my husband and I.  We are different creatures, in all things.  He is a good, kind man that centers me and our family to this life, and despite that I am forever criticizing.  Today the kitchen is a reminder of my limitations, a place that is usually stage for my strengths.  But on this day I put my lesser instincts aside and am grateful for the whole package, and my entire life seems...delicious. 

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Don't Leave Home Without It

The boat sails, the wind blows, and we are bound for the island.  This year we are vacationing at Martha's Vineyard, the prettiest, most charming place on the planet.  I love the flowers that spill from every corner, lagoons that drift between the bays, and smell of the briny ocean.  So of course, the first place I head to once on island is...the kitchen.  Yes, the kitchen.  

Lady did you forget your meds you say?  No, it's just that I love to cook, especially when away, and what makes my vacation rental a home is the kitchen.  It's where everyone gathers at the end of a long, sun filled day.  It's where the kids play and draw on rainy afternoons.  It's where I bring my loot from the local farm stands and antique stores.  And it is where I cook and dream all the time.  I really enjoy learning my way around someone else's kitchen.  There is something deliciously vicarious about searching for pots and pans, firing up an unfamiliar stove or grill, and serving on foreign plates.  The smell of coffee brewing on someone else' pot.  The hunt for sugar, flour, and other basics.  Hidden treasures left behind waiting to be discovered, like real maple syrup, fine teas, unexpected spices, or a bottle of top notch hot sauce.  

And yet...there is always something missing.  It is unusual to find high quality kitchen items at a rental house; the owner's probably figure it is best to leave things out that may get broken or stolen.  So you tend to get a lot of low rent dutch ovens with missing tops, 3 of the original 8 scratched plastic cooking utensils, and mismatched tin cutlery.  And that is OK, because it is a vacation and only for an all to short while.  But there are a few things that I cannot cook without, and must come with me wherever I roam.  Here's what I bring assuming I remember and can fit it in the car:

  • Cutting board: With 2 young children, I spend a lot of time peeling and cutting things into teeny tiny pieces. That in addition to regular cooking requires a good board, preferably wood.  The vacation house variety tends to be odd shaped and plastic, although this year we got lucky with a well sized maple slab.  Doubly lucky since I forgot my board on the counter at home.
  • Knives: One for chopping, one for paring.  If not, at last bring a small knife sharpener, as the ginsus you find in the drawer are going to be duller than a tax seminar.  
  • Whisk: Nothing fancy, just a small whisk is all I need. My wrist gets tired from trying to fake it with the cheap forks.  
  • Handheld blender: I love my little Braun Multiquick.  It comes with an immersion blade, whip, and chopping attachments, all for less than $40.  Covers as a blender, food processor, and mixer.  Although I must say that if the house has any of these appliances I will try them; it is a blast from the past breaking out a LaMachine.
  • Grater: Again, keep it simple.  Something thing and small that can grate cheese or zest a lemon.  Trying to finagle one of those industrial four-sided graters in the car is a recipe for an angry husband and ripped luggage.
  • Tongs: Planning to make corn?  Enough said. 
  • Cookbook: I like to bring one or buy one when away.  This year I took the Black Dog cookbook, which is nice and local, and has great summer recipes.  
  • Spatula: I bring my large metal one with the thin but hard edge.  Learned to do so the year I made pancakes while away, and could not flip them with the mother f*^$*(ing thing they called a spatula.  Had to supplement with a knife.  Never again. 
  • Spices: You can usually count on iodized salt and some pepper.  After that, it is hit or miss.  I bring garlic powder, paprika, chipotle chili pepper, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, ginger, and cinnamon.
  • Oven mitts: How many times have I burned myself with the less than substantial gloves available at a rental? Enough to know better.  Bring your own or if you forget, use it as an excuse to pick up some cute new ones at the local home goods shops. You were going anyway, right?

What do you bring and why?  Comment below, and thank you for your feedback.  

Friday, August 7, 2009

To Market, to Market

Once upon a time in Hoboken you had two supermarket choices; the A&P on Clinton or the other A&P on Clinton (which is now CVS). Thankfully, those days gone and we have a wide variety of grocery stores to choose from. Wide to the point of unwieldy. In an effort to better understand the lay of the land, I have decided to put together a very biased, personal review of some of our local markets, their pros and cons, and what makes them stand out. As I begin this adventure, I'd like to ask for your feedback. Where do you do your local shopping and why? Comment below and join me on this adventure.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Iron Chef Hostess

Highly competitive cooking shows are for amateurs.  Don't get me wrong, I love to watch them.  The frantic chopping, amazing equipment, ongoing pressure, and endless pantry are a site to behold and I love every minute.  But come on guys, if you really want a food challenge, try preparing a holiday meal for your family and friends with young children at your heels.  You think coming up with 3 recipes in an hour is tough?  Try braising while nursing.  Searing while soothing.  Cooking while supervising.

I watch the Iron Chefs and laugh.  Need a last minute chopped onion?  Right away sir say the sous chefs who hurry to dice or mince a shallot, leek, or other variety on hand.  In my house, I have to find the damn onion, clean the board, cut it up, and throw it in hoping it's not too late, all to the melody of "Mom!!!", "Mommy!!!", "He took my toy!!!", or just plain screaming from the baby. If attention is not paid, band-aid emergencies pile up.  The floor gets covered with toys, and not the big ones - oh no, the little things that cause me to slip, trip, and fall.  Thomas trains.  Blocks. Small hairclips.  Try cooking in a loud obstacle course.  Where at the end of the show, it's not Jeffrey Steingarten doing the judging; it's your mother-in law - so it better be good.  

Beyond all that, you're not just making dinner, you're making memories which will outlast the big event.  The smell of my Nana's stuffed cabbage does not just make my mouth water; it makes me long to see her, to ask if I put in enough brown sugar, to show her how I am doing.  My Mother's mushroom barley brings back memories of our kitchen with my Grand-Mother, who loved to eat the cooked onions and mushrooms and taught me to enjoy the whole as well as the parts.  The warmth of a happy kitchen are some of my best childhood memories.  I'd like to pass that on to my children.  

Not to brag, but one year I piped, baked, and filled a full meringue tart with one hand while carrying my 3 month old son with the left. It was fabulous, and I felt like a combination of next Food Network Star and Supernanny.  Here are a few tips and tricks that have worked for me.

Play with your food.  I try to buy extra fruits and vegetables to keep the kids distracted.  What you say?  Yes, even if they won't eat them, they will play with them, especially if they see them in mass quantity.  When my daughter was two, I made lemons into currency and would bargain.  "If you eat your Cheerios, you can have two lemons" Worked like a charm. 

Get crafty. Another technique is to make art projects.  For Rosh Hashanah we go apple picking and come home with bushels of apples.  I cut them in half and let the kids use them as stamps.  Get a big piece of posterboard, some paint, and let them have at it.  Accept the mess - it's worth it if you get 15 minutes to focus on what you're doing. You can even use the result as a decoration.

Enlist the troops. Kids like to help in the kitchen.  Give them age appropriate tasks.  Let babies play with old pots and pans.  Toddlers can help stir, put the dishes in the machine, put candles in the candle sticks, and find ingredients from the pantry.  They also may like to use their own kitchen toys - give them some whole foods to use as ingredients.  Older kids can actually help do some prep, measure, read from the cookbooks, and set the table.  And everyone loves to taste.  Solicit opinions whenever possible.  Let them lick the bowls to their heart's content.  

Think ahead. If you can, try to have holiday appropriate activities for kids on hand during the meal.  Get extras, and use them for emergency activities while in the kitchen.  Some ideas include tattoos (always a hit - get frog ones for Passover), coloring books, stickers, oragami for older kids, gardening projects, etc.  

The more the merrier.  It helps having other adults on hand in the kitchen.  Invite friends and family over.  If they have kids it turns into a big playdate.  You can share the responsibility for cooking and watching the kids, as well as the results.  This works especially well with things cooked best in quantity like brisket or gefilte fish.  

Mary Poppins got it right; "In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job's a game."  I call it the spoon full of sugar school of cooking.  Kids get excited when they see the drama in the home kitchen stadium.  Manage them well, and you will be rewarded.