Picky Eaters Love Ratatouille

When Ratatouille first came out, I was intrigued by the promos (or perhaps it was just the title). My husband and I went to view it-childless. Our grandchildren live an hour’s drive from us and I couldn’t wait to see the latest Disney fare. When it became available on video, my husband purchased a copy so we can watch it with our grandkids when they visit.

The animation in Ratatouille is surprisingly lifelike, at times you almost forget you’re watching an animated film. The story centers around Remy, a cuddly rat-chef, who has an especially delicate nose. He not only appreciates finer cuisine (over a rat’s typical banquet of garbage), but has a love of the culinary arts. Ratatouille is extremely entertaining and the plot is intelligent with multi-dimensional characters. Ethics are an important element made evident in the moral dilemmas Remy faces.

When we viewed Ratatouille in the theater, I was aware of the noise level as it was extremely low, indicating the children were engrossed in the story. At times, I glanced around, just to see if the kids were really following the storyline. If they missed the finer points of culinary cooking or the implications of the moral dilemma at hand, it didn’t take long for laugher to erupt when the tempo quickened with a catastrophic spill or chase. This more than made up for any dialog that might be lost on younger children.

As people piled out of the movie theater, it was obvious that children and their parents alike adored Ratatouille. Hip, hip, hooray! At last, a healthy role model for kids. Enough of cartoon characters promoting fast foods and sugar-laden cereals. Finally, a vegetable-loving Remy. So what if he’s a rat? He loves to eat whole foods, even eggplant and of course cheese.

My enthusiasm quickly faded, as I become more aware of the children. They gleefully exited the theater with a candy box held in one hand and a soda pop in the other. Unfortunately, this entertained and amused generation is the first that’s not expected to live as long as their parents-the candy and soda pop are an obvious indication of why this is the case.

Remy is not only cute and clever; he’s a lover of whole foods. Remy’s culinary tastes are too sophisticated for junk food-remember, he loves Ratatouille! Take this opportunity for your prodigy to emulate his enjoyment of gastronomy. “Don’t hork it down!” Remy instructs his brother, Emile, when tasting a new food creation, but slowly chew it and appreciate the flavors.

Ratatouille is one of my favorite Mediterranean vegetarian dishes featuring eggplant and tomatoes. Unfortunately, many times vegetable-challenged kids often consider Ratatouille to be “yucky” and refuse to eat it. Somehow, Ratatouille seems not only an appropriate title for an animated film about a culinary-loving rat, but justified.

Rent Ratatouille for a fun summer project. Watch it with your kids, emphasizing whole foods and how much fun it is to cook. Then your kids can follow Remy’s example: make Ratatouille for dinner. After all, Remy has so much fun cooking; your kids can, too!

First, involve them in the planning and preparation of the meal. Take your kids grocery shopping and let them help you purchase the items for Ratatouille. Then, discuss the ingredients listed on the nutrition label of a sugary breakfast cereal. Would Remy eat that? NO! He would create a breakfast masterpiece with scrumptious oatmeal or cream of wheat. Finally, let your child help prepare Ratatouille. While giving it a stir, observe it as it cooks. What’s the texture like as it begins to heat up? Take a long, slow whiff. “Mmmm, that smells soooo very good!”

Make this recipe for with your children:

Ratatouille

1 medium eggplant (about 4 cups)

1 medium onion

1 Bell pepper

2 to 4 cloves minced garlic

2 small zucchinis

1 (14 ounce) can of chopped tomatoes

2 teaspoons fresh basil

3 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup white wine (optional)

½ teaspoon each salt & pepper

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (mozzarella may be substituted)

Method:

1. Cut eggplant into one-inch cubes.

2. Chop basil, onions, Bell pepper, and zucchinis.

3. Add eggplant cubes to the top of a double boiler. Boil on high heat for about 10 minutes.

4. In a large fry pan, sauté onions and Bell pepper for 5 minutes.

5. Add garlic, basil, salt, and pepper sauté for about a minute.

6. Lower heat; add tomatoes plus the juice, chopped zucchini, and white wine.

7. Cover and cook for another ten minutes.

8. Add cooked eggplant and heat through.

9. Serve Ratatouille in small soup bowls and top with shredded Swiss cheese.

Alicia D. Walker

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