I love a man in the kitchen, especially when it’s my man, cooking for our kids.
I know I’ve got a great deal. My other half loves to cook; so much so that I have to keep a pair of sharp elbows about me to get any kitchen time for myself. When I’m cooking up a feast, the poor man practically has to sit on his hands to stop himself from taking over. But that’s another story. The nub of the matter is that we’re foodies – unashamedly middle-class farmers’-market-visiting olive-oil-glugging foodies. But here’s the thing. Our kids just aren’t. I know it’s got everything to do with them being 4 and 7 but still, a little piece of my gluttonous heart dies inside every time one of them says, “yuk, anchovies”. Given free choice, they would exist on a diet of pancakes and gummi bears, or better still, pancakes filled with gummi bears.
But of course, they don’t have free choice. Instead they have to listen to me saying, “You don’t have it eat it, this isn’t a restaurant” and other clichéd phrases recycled from my own childhood. Like most working parents, we try to steer a course between healthy, adventurous eating and call-child-services-pronto, which effectively translates to “You can’t have this, unless you eat this.” Quite frankly, we’ve had enough of creating ‘vegetables-hidden-in-your-favourite-food’ type dishes and just want them to get on with it, be brave, live a little.
The seeds of change were sown one evening recently, when two little heads appeared around the dining room doorway whilst we were scoffing a seriously spicy Asian salad (accompanied by a medium-dry Riesling, in case you were wondering). In a bid to avoid being sent straight back to bed, they both picked up chopsticks and dived in for a taste. Expecting the usual “bleugh, too hot” routine, we were amazed when they carried on eating and polished off the lot. I mean salad, dressed with fresh red chillies? Just maybe they weren’t quite the lost cause we’d been thinking they were….
Prompted by salad-gate, my husband announced his intention of taking a week off work, with the specific aim of getting the kids eating more adventurously. New cookery books & specialist ingredients started arriving and Chris disappeared off into the kitchen in a cloud of fragrant steam, emerging each afternoon with a dish for the girls to help make for the evening banquet.
We started with an easy win – Italy. Bruschetta with tomato, garlic, mozzarella & pesto, spicy meatball pasta, home made garlic bread and salad. A little resistance on the mozzarella, some consternation about the salad, but basically a success.
India was up next – much more of a challenge – and we were ready to up the spice factor. Two types of curry, sag aloo, herbed potatoes and coriander naan bread. After helping make the naan bread, roasting the spices and ‘tasting’ the curry sauces all afternoon, the girls were ready to dig in. Seconds of everything and clean plates all round. It was the turning point. A taste of adventurous eating and the girls were ready to take on whatever we could throw at them.
By Wednesday, everyone in the family couldn’t wait for the daily afternoon cookery session to begin, to examine the ingredients, to taste the dishes as they came together, to enjoy the anticipation of a shared meal and to sit down together to enjoy it and talk about it how it was made. Chinese, Spanish & Greek rounded out the week – the spicy Asian salad again, chorizo stewed in red wine (worryingly popular) and spicy lamb wraps (messy but finger-lickingly tasty).
We carried on cooking right through the weekend and I began to wonder if I could persuade my other half to become a full-time house husband (I couldn’t). But the lessons from our week of adventurous eating in winter remain. Recently at a local restaurant, the girls chose calamari instead instead of fish and chips and polished off a bowl of seriously garlicky aioli between them. At home, we’ve just planted our herb garden and sown tomatoes, chillies and salads for the summer, with great enthusiasm though little skill. Thanks to our family team effort in the kitchen, although we don’t always succeed in getting the girls to eat the same things as we do, they are certainly more willing to try.
If you’ve got fussy eaters in your family, we’d love to hear your fresh ideas for encouraging adventurous eating.