"Daddy, what's for dinner?"
This is a question that I hear all to often. In fact most days! Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that my son loves his food. It was almost a formality that he did, with me beeing a chef. People often ask if he eats well, and almost reluctantly I will tell them yes. As I see all the pain and frustration written on their faces because theirs aren't.
I know it can be difficult and that some children can really push those buttons, but they weren't born fussy eaters. As they grow and are exposed to more foods it is natural that they wont take to things straight away. But try, try and try again and they will develop a taste for it. Those first few months are crucial to set your set the boundaries.
I do pretty much all the cooking at home, but when it came to doing the weaning and taste development that fell to my wife. She was adamant that she wanted to do this for him. And what a job she did! A lot of what she tried came from Annabel Karmel. This acted as a great starting point and then by watching and learning what things he liked to eat, introducing new things became easier. Once this great grounding had been achieved and he was moving into more substantial meals his interest in our food really began to show as he grew. So as soon as we could, at the weekends we would all eat together at a time that suited him. By all of us eating the same food at the same time, he felt grown up and special. It has always been important to us as a family to sit down together at the weekend as we live such busy lives and both work long hours through the week.
Before long in the week he would ask what mummy and me would be having for dinner? He would have his dinner at nursery and I think he felt a little left out as he always would ask as he was going to bed if we could save him some! It was great to see that he had such a happy and positive attitude towards food and that all the hard work that my wife had done at the beginning had worked so well.
Now as a seven year old he eats pretty well anything. Loves all meats, fish and seafood. And vegetables often disappear off the plate first. The past 12 months have seen him develop a taste for spices. And if you live in Birmingham you really need to like your spices!
I've always found that if I make the food interesting then he will be more interested in it. Whether that is by the ingredients I use or the presentation method. The other day when I gave him chicken and vegetables, the veg was cauliflower, green beans and cabbage. I used a whole Savoy cabbage leaf as a bowl for holding the rest of the veg, the chicken and the gravy. As a spectacle fora 7 year old it hit the spot. I'm not a believer of hiding vegetables in things but know that this is the only way sometimes with some children. A classic bolognese is one of the easiest to hide veg in because they can be grated and almost melt into the tomato sauce.
I also like to bbq vegetables. Peppers, asparagus, corn on the cob, mushrooms, aubergine are all great and in the summer time when the kids can see the vegetables on the grill and smell them cooking can generate a bit more interest.
If you are fortunate enough to grow your own produce, by involving your children in this will make them more likely to want to eat the finished product. I know when we had our allotment that he couldn't wait to eat everything that we had harvested ourselves. The berries never usually made it home. I always try to forage a bit on holiday. Whether it is blackberries, wild rocket and sea vegetables in the UK, wild oregano, lemons and fennel in Greece or almonds, figs and rosemary in Tuscany. Picking these things with our kids makes them want to eat the results. Which is great as it is fun and saves you a penny or two as well.
So really to best advice would be to try not to let them hold us to ransom with "I don't like that!" Because if they try it, they may just like it. They were born an empy book, it is our responsibility to write the recipes into those pages. Let's not make it a menu for a fast food restaurant!