In this happily-ever-after tale, author Debi Lewis learns how to feed her mysteriously unwell daughter, falling in love with food in the process.
For many parents, feeding their children is easy and instinctive, either an afterthought or a mindless task like laundry and driving the carpool. For others, though, it is on the same spectrum in which Debi Lewis found herself: part of what felt like an endless slog to move her daughter from failure-to-thrive to something that looked, if not like thriving, at least like survival. The emotional weight of not being able to feed one’s child feels like a betrayal of the most basic aspect of nurturing. While every faux matzo ball, every protein-packed smoothie that tasted like a milkshake, every new lentil dish that her daughter liked made Lewis’s spirit rise, every dish pushed away made it sink.
Kitchen Medicine: How I Fed My Daughter out of Failure to Thrive tells the story of how Lewis made her way through mothering and feeding a sick child, aided by Lewis’ growing confidence in front of the stove. It’s about how she eventually saw her role as more than caretaker and fighter for her daughter’s health and how she had to redefine what mothering—and feeding—looked like once her daughter was well. This is the story of learning to feed a child who can’t seem to eat. It’s the story of growing love for food, a mirror for people who cook for fuel and those who cook for love; for those who see the miracle in the growing child and in the fresh peach; for matzo-ball lovers and the gluten-intolerant; and for parents who want to feed their kids without starving their souls.
Debi Lewis has written for outlets including The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Huffington Post, and more. She lives in Evanston, Illinois with her husband and two teenaged daughters. You can learn more about her at http://www.debilewis.com and follow her on Twitter at @growthesunshine.
Chapter 1: Hot Chocolate
Chapter 2: Blueberries, Quartered and Stuck
Chapter 3: Chickpea Soup, My First Improvisation
Chapter 4: Tostadas, a Revelation
Chapter 5: Egg, Soy, Nuts, Wheat, Milk, and Joy, All Missing
Chapter 6: Chinese Food in a Hurry
Chapter 7: Marshmallow Fluff and Raspberries
Chapter 8: Matzah and Fat-Free Cream Cheese
Chapter 9: Strawberries and Sushi and Making Do
Chapter 10: Summer Lunchbox
Chapter 11: Pickles in Limbo
Chapter 12: The First Sandwich in a New World
About the Author
Parents whose pediatricians cite their children’s “failure to thrive” should find comfort in this story about a mom’s fight to help her daughter. Despite being born a week past her due date, Sammi weighs less than five pounds. Unlike her older sister, Ronni, a voracious, adventurous eater, Sammi sometimes subsists on little more than blueberries. Lewis, her understandably worried mom, takes her to see doctors and prepares unusual family meals. To avoid reflux triggers, she prepares meals without lemon, chocolate, or tomatoes. And during an elimination test, she forgoes dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and wheat. Before Sammi turns five, she finally gets diagnosed with an autoimmune condition that damages the esophagus. Then, after surgeries and good medical treatment, she officially becomes a well child. Today, she is a healthy 16-year-old. Lewis, previously obsessed with her daughter’s diet, concludes that it’s important to pick the right battles and doctors and to see beyond a child’s medical issues. It’s sound advice for parents who find themselves in Lewis’ shoes or more accurately, given how much time she spends cooking, in her apron.
There are a lot of elements of this book that I loved — the free-flowing storytelling that draws you in from the first page, the fact that all the chapter headings are foods, the cliff-hanger moments — but a major one was the fact that Lewis does not try to be perfect. She isn’t a superhero in this story, she’s just a human person trying to do her best in the face of a terrifying decade of uncertainty. She stumbles, and says things she regrets, and has to learn to be a staunch advocate who stands up to doctors and nurses. She has to learn how to make allergen-free everything for her family while being careful to maintain a positive attitude towards mealtime. None of this is easy. None of it is without pitfalls. Rather than shy away from the moments in which she stumbles, the author chooses to be completely open. This is true strength.
While Kitchen Medicine is about a mother’s quest to fulfill the role of nourishing mother, it’s the author’s underlying personal journey with food and her metamorphosis that I related to at every stage and kept me turning the page…. I fell in love with the author’s determination, resilience, and beautiful writing. It is a medical drama, a reference guide, and a coming-of-age memoir that’s alternately funny and tender, it’s suitable for anyone struggling with complex food issues, who identifies as a foodie, or simply likes a good read.
Debi Lewis is a master storyteller. Her gorgeous memoir, Kitchen Medicine, weaves the bright colors and gentle aromas of cooking through a fast-paced medical drama. More than a journey through her child’s mysterious illness and hard-won recovery, this is the story of a woman finding joy and confidence in herself and her mothering while redefining her own relationship with food.
In Kitchen Medicine, Lewis explores how we learn to measure our motherhood through our ability to feed our children, and what that means when it feels like we can't live up to all of the expectations and pressure put on family meals. While seeking answers for her daughter's mysterious medical problems, Lewis also learned how to parent and feed her family on her own terms. This beautifully-told story will resonate with any parent of a medically complex child, but also with anyone who understands the power of food to comfort and show love.
Debi Lewis has written a book of fierce maternal love that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a child. Equal parts culinary memoir and medical adventure, Kitchen Medicine is a well-crafted page-turner that feeds the reader with suspense. The book itself is both a mystery and a miracle of the heart. I’ll never see a blueberry, or a sandwich, the same way again.
Kitchen Medicine is a moving, beautifully written story of a brave mother who put her undying love for her daughter to work in the kitchen. Debi's creativity, patience, and fierce determination to heal her child through food is an inspiration, and her lovely prose is a joy to read.
Part heartbreaking love story, part breathless detective story, Kitchen Medicine: How I Fed My Daughter out of Failure to Thrive invokes our most primal and terrifying parental duty: the children’s very survival. For any parent who has experienced diagnostic agony, medical mystery, or the bright certainty of instinct—this book will speak right to your heart.
5/5/22, Bon Appétit: Debi Lewis shared tips for hosting guests with food intolerances, as informed by her experiences with her daughter.
3/16/22, Romper: An excerpt from the book was prominently featured in this article.
3/18/22, HuffPost: Author Debi Lewis shared the story of her daughter and the book.