Family mealtimes & “unbeatable eatables”
Monday 4th January 2016
A few tricks can turn fussy eaters into kids who will devour almost anything, says recipe blogger Lucy Parissi.
Every parent wants to give their child the best start in life, to nurture them with good, wholesome food. And the second my children Anya and Sam (now aged eight and four, respectively) moved on to solids, I started to worry about their diet. Are they eating enough? Are they eating too much? Can a child survive eating nothing but white bread and chocolate buttons?
While you can’t necessarily control how much your kids eat, you can take control by cooking from scratch – eliminating most preservatives, added salt and other nasties from their diet and your own. Sounds simple enough, right?
Not so fast. You may be armed with the best intentions and a veritable library of cookbooks, but children usually have very different ideas. Some parents are gifted with kids who will eat anything – something they’ll be sure to mention repeatedly (I’m only a little bitter) – but most have to contend with at least one fussy eater in the family. The result is epic mealtime meltdowns and the endless frustration of having lovingly prepared food rejected time and time again.
Turning your fussy eater around is not easy, but one thing works wonders. Get your children involved: bring them into the kitchen and cook with them rather than for them.
Start by taking your children food shopping. Have them help with the shopping list and give them choices – should we have broccoli or carrots with dinner? What fruit should we get? What do we need to get to make pizza? My daughter Anya flatly refused to try any “yucky” fish until we bought some salmon, which she chose, and prepared it together. Suddenly she was willing to try (most) fish and I was completely astonished. My four-year-old son, Sam, is now able to recite the ingredients of a few basic recipes – admittedly most of them cakes – and is genuinely excited to help out.
Cooking with children is very messy but enormous fun. Starting with a muffin or scone recipe is the easiest, as it can all be made entirely by hand. Older children can even prepare them unaided, as long as you deal with the oven. Moving from the sweet stuff to healthier pastures is a little trickier but not impossible. Try making a salad by encouraging kids to cut the softer vegetables or tear leaves. Get them to add vegetables to a pot for soup – or to a blender for a smoothie.
Cooking together with your children may not cure them of fussiness entirely, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Sometimes you need a few other tricks up your sleeve. One of the more effective methods is to invite other kids over for dinner. It is amazing what having company, copying other kids (especially older ones) and a little competitive spirit will do. Just make sure you prepare enough for seconds. Another oldie but goodie? Draw on their food. Sometimes a ketchup smiley face is all that stands between a battle and my son gleefully dispatching his dinner – “Look mummy, I’m eating the eyes!”
Who’s got the time?
Making meals from scratch requires time and that’s in very short supply for most working parents. This is where meal planning, batch cooking and your freezer become essential. I have a few hardworking recipes that are always in rotation.
I usually prepare a large batch of Bolognese sauce every Sunday, for example, which I then freeze in individual portions (silicone muffin trays are perfect for this – simply freeze then pop out to store). This can be eaten with pasta, as jacket potato filling, with rice and added beans to make kid-friendly “chilli”, or served with mash as cottage pie.
And I make sure to sneak some extra veggies in there (like grated carrot and butternut squash) to both make the meal go further and supply my fussy eaters with some of their five a day!
Children can get very cranky if they aren’t fed at regular intervals, and I speak from experience. They can shift from being a bit hungry to having a complete meltdown in minutes. Here are some quick and easy (and healthy) snacks to keep hunger pangs at bay:
- Rice cakes with peanut butter.
- Any fruit (for fussy eaters, try creating colourful “fruit kebabs”).
- Handful of nuts (better for young teeth than dried fruit).
- Crudités with hummus, guacamole or yoghurt dip.
- Greek yoghurt with a layer of cereal and a layer of fruit, sweetened with a little honey.
- Vegetable-based smoothies (carrot, apple and orange is a favourite).
- Yoghurt and frozen banana “milkshakes”.
Roast chicken – a large Sunday roast provides leftovers for chicken pies, soup and sandwiches.
Fish fingers and chicken nuggets – most kids love them, but instead of serving store-bought versions make them at home and freeze them, pre-cooked, as an emergency stand-by dinner.
Meatballs – try all kinds, with a dipping sauce. Use meat, fish, vegetables or pulses as your base.
Pizza – not only are children delighted to get their hands dirty by kneading the dough, they can be actively involved in choosing and adding their own toppings.
DIY meals – anything you can assemble yourself and eat with your hands, e.g. tacos, fajitas etc.
Skewers – from sandwiches to fruit, kids will eat most things that come on a stick.
Visit Lucy’s blog for her recipe for fish fingers and much more.
This article first appeared in benhealth magazine (issue 30, spring 2015).