Stop dishing up special food for the children, says author Karen le Billon in her book, French Kids Eat Everything. The mum-of-two, who moved from Vancouver to France in 2008, believes we could all be taught a thing or two if we followed the example set by our continental cousins.
But it’s not just the French who know how to feed their children — my own three boys eat everything put in front of them, whether it’s meat and two vegetables, fish, curry or even shellfish.
Right from the start, I have encouraged them to try new foods and don’t cook ‘children’s food’ especially for them — they will eat smaller versions of what the adults are having.
And I am not alone.
Celebrity chef Kevin Dundon of Dunbrody House Hotel has always given his children ‘adult food’ and says more and more people are doing the same. His advice to anyone trying to change their child’s eating habits is to involve them more in the procedure and don’t prepare separate meals.
“If parents want to ensure their children have a varied diet, I would advise them to feed their kids what they eat themselves and not to be preparing plainer or less rich items for them,” he says. “It will make them feel more grown up and if the ‘kid version’ isn’t there they won’t miss it.
“So if you eat your meat medium rare then feed your kids the same — it’s actually easier for them to eat than well done. Fish is great as there’s no chewing to worry about, just make sure there are no bones. And feed them shellfish — they adore using their hands and mussels and crab claws are a fun way to get them started. Likewise, smoked salmon — we didn’t feed our first two smoked fish when they were very small but when we found the third digging in at six months we were amazed. He’s been an addict ever since.”
The father-of-three says having easy access to healthy food makes children more likely to turn to it when they feel hungry.
“Raw vegetables will always be eaten if you keep putting them in the lunch box,” he says. “Similarly we have fruit platters readily available in our house and the kids all know that they can have fruit anytime they want — treats are restricted to after dinner.”
And as far as this chef goes, there is no better way to encourage children to eat well than to let them prepare the food themselves.
“We run a fantastic programme with Euro Toques called Mini Chefs in conjunction with our local national school and all the kids love it,” he says. “The older ones have a lesson and its all hands on deck. The younger ones do blind tastings and the junior and senior infants come and make their own smoothies and fruit skewers.
“At home, I would encourage parents to let kids of all ages grow a little herb pot of their own — you can have something small on the doorstep — you don’t need a whole lot of space, and not only do you get fresh herbs on a daily basis you also get kids who develop an understanding of the benefits of fresh seasonal produce that they can harvest themselves.”
Mini Chefs is an initiative by Euro Toque chefs around Ireland where for one week a year, they visit their local school to carry out workshops. Spokeswoman Ruth Hegarty says the programme is very beneficial in developing children’s taste-buds.
“We believe we can make children more adventurous with food by engaging and involving them with sourcing and preparing — and even growing their own food from a young age,” she says.
“The palate of a baby or young child is predisposed to sweet tastes. So, if children have a limited diet, they palate is likely to develop a preference for sweetness, saltiness and fat and will be less disposed to other flavours.”
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