Do you have a child who is a fussy eater? Perhaps you have more than one. We asked the authors of the new book Feed Your Family for their top tips on how to cook healthy, delicious food that everyone will eat. Written by food writer and author Jo Weinberg and Nicole Pisani, author and former Head Chef at the Ottolenghi restaurant NOPI, together they launched Chefs in Schools, a charity that operates in over 80 schools and feeds up to 30,000 pupils a day. Their patrons or trustees include Thomasina Miers, Yotam Ottolenghi, Henry Dimbleby, Prue Leith and Amelia Freer. The recipes in this book have been tried and tested on thousands of children and have been proven to work.
How do you recommend introducing new foods and flavours to children?
Slowly! We talk a lot about taking children on ‘The Journey’ – a bit like in Strictly – you start by stripping flavour back to its very simplest form, then when a dish becomes familiar, gradually introduce new flavours, a pinch of spice more each time to a dish. For example, the beetroot journey – start with our beetroot and chocolate brownies, when children are used to the flavour, you can start adding beetroot to salads. We have seen some children who disliked beetroot, cook the brownie recipe and then eat a beetroot as if it was an apple. But we’ve also seen children who don’t come round! Never get disheartened – just try again another time.
Which healthy but enticing snacks can you recommend?
One of our Golden Rules is ‘Veg First’ for snacks. To an extent, good snacks are as much about when as what: a great time to offer veg is when they are hungry and also distracted – so in front of the tv, for example. We have some lovely street food in the book that is super simple to make – such as prawn toasts – blitzing prawns with egg, smearing toast and grilling. There’s also a lovely recipe for ‘corn ribs’ – corn on the cob cut into wedges lengthways and roasted very hot till they curl up a bit at the ends. You gnaw on them like beavers. But even doing something as simple as squeezing lemon juice over carrot sticks can make them more exciting.
What is your go-to meal for kids that is super-quick but healthy?
We love the Pasta al Burro with broccoli – it takes the same amount of time as the pasta to cook, but cooking the broccoli in butter until it slightly browns, gives it a sweetness that is offset by a mild pinch of chilli. We also love this recipe because it includes the broccoli stalk – a much under-appreciated part of the vegetable and significantly reduces waste. Our tomato and miso paste is great to make in batches – you can stir that through pasta and have a meal in minutes.
Which meals can we make for all the family?
All of them! The feasting section has some recipes that will become weekend favourites. But every recipe is suitable. We believe wholeheartedly that children will eat complex foods if they are introduced gradually, and that parents and carers shouldn’t be shy of introducing them early. We have tips throughout the book about how to make sure the recipes are suitable for children who might not like spicy flavours, while also satisfying children who do. And whilst we have kept flavours fairly mild, they are still interesting and complex and will please everyone – so we can stop making two meals each time!
Any suggestions on how we can make meal times more fun?
We love the theatre of food. We always put sharing plates of interesting looking salads and vegetables on the table for the children before lunch to explore themselves. When Nicole first took up the role of chef at a school, she would serve whole roast cauliflowers on the tables with sharp knives sticking out of them – until the Headteacher pointed out that 500 under-11s descending on sharp knives wasn’t the best idea. You can find the recipe in the book, though. Nicole also laid out pea shoots and scissors for children to snip at themselves. You can grow some edible flowers at home and put them in a bowl on the table. Children enjoy looking at them and trying them – though the flavours can be a little strong for some. Use as many senses as you can, and always encourage them to smell the ingredients or food – that makes such a difference. Our finger food such as the gyoza and corn ribs is a hit with everyone, or let children handle sharp knives (under a watchful eye!) and get them involved with carving and serving, too.
Please can you recommend some baking recipes to do with kids that are low in sugar but still taste delicious?
We don’t use white sugar at all in our cooking in schools, and in the book, have reduced use of all sugars as much as possible. We love Nerissa’s Butternut Squash cake which uses the natural sweetness of the squash to add sweetness and moistness. We also love the Chocolate Bark – dark chocolate melted and spread very thin into shards, and scattered with whatever flavourings you like. We also have a crumble with some kale in the topping – believe it or not, children love it!
Can you please recommend some strategies for cooking for several children, all of whom have different food preferences.
Look for simple recipes that you can layer different elements into. So our stir fried rice could simply include egg and peas and you can try the other elements such as cabbage on the side to start with. Or keep things separate and let children choose which elements to include for themselves – our Taco Bar works really well for this.
What do you think about snacks – keep them or get rid of them?
Tricky one! As a parent, I wish I had never started with snacks at all. But they can very very useful vehicles to add nutrition, whether in the form of fruit, cheese, veg, nuts, seeds and more. By and large, if something comes in a packet or is ultra-processed (no longer resembles the original ingredient and has additives), avoid it. Timing is significant, too: avoid snacks within two hours of any meal.
If a child doesn’t like certain textures or colours of foods, any suggestions as to how you get around this?
Don’t give up. Always offer a little on the side of the plate. It can take many tries to get something new over the line. In our experience, children’s tastes change all the time. It’s often the parents who get attached to a child not being willing to try something, using phrases such as ‘George would never eat that’, or ‘You don’t like beans, do you?’ Give them another chance!
We’re delighted to announce that we have one copy of the book Feed Your Family to give away. Simply fill out the form below to enter our prize draw and we will pick out the lucky winner after 5pm on Friday 25th March 2022.
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