What Is Kid Food?
A question I get often is “are your recipes kid friendly?”
I always say Yes, but, what I truly want to say is “Sure, but that’s the most meaningless phrase ever.”
Feeling prickly and annoyed about it recently, I asked 196 parents what the term “kid friendly” means to them. The amazingly accurate answer was: Whatever food my kid will eat.
As a chef and recipe writer who is trying to appeal to thousands of different families, it’s really frustrating to address this idea of Kid Food. As a parent dealing with 2 completely different, preschool aged eaters, I get it. I’ve been a private chef for at least 50 kids over the last 15 years and have seen them enjoy everything from sardines on yams to sushi to raw kale salads and everything in between. My own kids snack greedily on seaweed but won’t touch a brussel sprout. They love asparagus but can’t handle blueberries.
I believe when experts say that pickiness is a control issue. A parent can force their kid to do a lot of things but not chew and swallow food. But then, why does my younger son refuse to try anything and my daughter (who’s older) is usually pretty willing? I parent them as similarly as makes sense, why does he feel like he has to resist?
Yet, I still do not think that there should be a category considered “Kid Food.” Just as there isn’t a category of “Adult Food.” (and don’t even get me started on the problematic term Ethnic Food.) Do you know a grown up who hates fish? Or won’t touch garlic or green veggies? That all sounds pretty kid-like to me. I also don’t think that parents should make extreme accommodations made for picky eaters or pay them much attention. Obviously, it’s your job to make sure they’re in good health and learning but serving up a King’s Hawaiian Roll and Banana (that’s my son’s second favorite meal after boxed mac&cheese) every night isn’t helping them grow.
If you’re still with me and have a picky eater, what do you do?
Rule Number 1 – “In our family, we don’t say food is yucky or gross.” This rule is also great for later when your kids eat with their friends. Families all have different preferences and types of food. Calling something gross is offensive, mean, and doesn’t respect the work that went into cooking it. Simply say: No Thank You.
Rule Number 2 – Don’t pay attention. If the kid refuses or throws food, and tries to kick up a storm, just move it away from them without comment or attention beyond “We do not throw food.” (Real Talk – this is hard to do).
Rule Number 3 – In order to follow Rule 2 and not actually starve your child, you have to serve something at every meal you know the kid will eat, some familiar component that you can redirect them to. Maybe the meal is roast chicken and asparagus – new to them – but you also serve a small side of rice, sliced carrots and hummus, which you know they will eat. Be sure to serve the rice, carrots, and hummus to everyone. The idea is to get all the plates to look similar and present options, without creating an entirely separate meal.
Rule Number 4 – Deconstruct. Last night my family had a southwest-inspired-produce-drawer-taco-ish-saute. There was a little chicken, red cabbage, asparagus, frozen corn, and mushrooms all cooked with my taco seasoning blend and topped with pepitas, cilantro, tomatoes and avocado. The kids’ plates had these same components but presented with each different vegetable sliced small and laid out in a row but obviously not touching. They had a few bites of the chicken, sliced in small cubes. And, a cheesy tortilla on the side (which is their favorite). Whatever you’re cooking, pull components out of the meal so kids can taste new flavors one at a time. Or, if they won’t taste them, at least they see them and get used to them on their plates.
Rule Number 5 – Keep going. Did I put sliced tomato on both kid’s plates last night, knowing full well neither of them would even so much as lick it? Yes, I did. But, step one is helping them get used to it. We tell my daughter it takes 20 tastes before she might like something so she has to have a little nibble, again and again. If they don’t want to eat it, I can not force them to but the ingredient will sit on the plate (so help me…). They can choose what they ingest if it’s being served on the table that night. This might mean some nights my kid will eat nothing but raw carrots.
Bonus Points –
- Make up for dinnertime stubbornness with varied lunches they enjoy
- Detach dessert and dinner time – announce hours before dinner whether dessert will be served or not
- Describe vegetables as making the body strong, it’s what powers their bike riding or hopscotch ability
- No snacking 90 minutes before dinner time
- Do not serve food again after dinner. Ever. Didn’t eat enough at the table? Well, too bad! See you at breakfast. (This might take a few weeks to get used to, so you can offer carrot or celery sticks, or snap peas maybe, for a few nights as you’re building up to this rule).
- If they have truly tried something multiple times, and prepared in various ways, it’s ok to say for example “right now, brussels sprouts aren’t my favorite vegetable. I like asparagus better. Maybe as I grow up my taste will change.” Then give them a break on brussels for a bit.
- Get them to help in the kitchen. Enlist them in meal planning for the week ahead and prepping dinner. Even if they don’t eat it the first few times, helping prepare foods begins to warm them up to the idea.
So YES! Ends+Stems recipes are kid friendly because all kids are different and food is food. I don’t post recipes for dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets or carrots cut in the shape of flowers but I truly think every kid and family can come together over shared food and that my recipes will help them get there. Some nights will be better than others and there’s no magic solution, like all of parenting it’s infuriating at times and totally worth it when you have a breakthrough.
Did I miss anything? What’s worked for you? Let me know!