I've had a few comments from friends and family asking what I did to get the children such adventurous appetites. Their favourite meals include Chinese food, paella, curries, Mexican food and Moroccan meals. I didn't really set out with any plan, I just enjoy cooking, enjoy different types of food, and have never cooked anything for my children other than what I'm cooking for me and Hubby to enjoy. And I guess because I love food and cooking so much, I've also done the following:
- Involve the children in planning the menu. I don't mean that you only cook what they want to eat and end up with chicken nuggets every night, but you could get them to choose meals for a couple of nights a week, perhaps encouraging them to look through recipe books, or watch a cooking programme for ideas, or giving them a handful of suitable options to choose from.
- Involve them in the shopping. I know, I know, sometimes children can be an absolute nightmare in the supermarket. Now that Bug is 3 she no longer sits in the seat in the trolley, and instead fights with C over pushing the trolley. I find it helps if I give them their own shopping list of about five items (preferably for the meal they have chosen), with pictures. I don't always have time for this, in which case I say, "Right, C. The next thing I want you to find is...." They start asking about different products, or suggesting that we try something, which sometimes even means that I try something new too!
- Involve them in preparing the food. My two absolutely love helping to cook. C is now so proficient at a couple of recipes that I think he'd remember what to do if I wasn't there. He's getting good at chopping too, though I do need to leave extra food prep time, as they are a lot slower at chopping than I am, and a watchful eye is of course always required. Bug's favourite part of cooking is "just having a little nibble". She'll try anything, so I do need to be careful to keep raw meat out of reach, but she'll have a nibble of onion, mushroom, chilli, and herbs and spices various.
- Operate a "try everything" policy. Whatever you put on their plate, they have to try - but if it's something new or something you know they aren't keen on then keep the portion small and don't get upset if they don't eat it all - as long as they've tried it. For example, C has expressed several times that he isn't fond of mushrooms. That's fine. It doesn't stop me cooking with them! Unless they are chopped up very small, I usually let him know they are there. I've explained that our tastebuds develop as we get older, so he always tries them. Usually he then passes the rest over to Bug, who loves them.
- Small portions. Children's appetites are unpredictable. Offer small portions, especially if its something new. A large portion can look a little overwhelming, and if we insist on them finishing a large portion, then we are also encouraging them to overeat even when they are full up - hello, obesity problem! Better to offer small portions, with the option to top-up with seconds, or some bread or salad. Last night I made a mackerel dinner, with a lovely tomatoey pasta dish. I know they like pasta, so they had a good spoonful of that each, but mackerel was new to them, so I only gave them a very small portion. C wasn't sure on the mackerel, but he did eat most of his serving, and had some extra pasta. Bug loved the mackerel and had more of that and more pasta.
- Eat together around the table. Its difficult to encourage children to try something new, to take an interest in food or to join in conversation, if you are all sitting watching the television. Sitting around the table gives the opportunity to learn table manners, and to actually take part in the meal. We don't do it all the time, but most evenings, dinner is around the table as a family.