Let's Eat

If mealtimes are messy — make them muck in

Struggling to get your children to eat? Then put them to work in the kitchen


What Jewish mother is not concerned with what her offspring eats? Coming from a culture so concerned with its stomachs, most of us know how important it is to pass on to our children the enjoyment of preparing and consuming good food.

Countless articles tell us that the best way to achieve this is by setting a lifelong example to our kids about the value of communal eating.

But what a headache this can be. We just about cope with putting a meal on the table that meets the diverse needs of the family; anticipating the uncertain whereabouts and numbers of teenagers that will turn up, the fussy fads of 10-year- olds, or the constraints of picky toddlers.

You know the scene. One loves pasta but hates potatoes unless they are chips. Another only eats pasta with the sauce on the side and certainly never with tomatoes that look like tomatoes. And he is adventurous and excited by spicy flavours but so bored of yet more chicken escalope and spaghetti bolognese.

But as the mother of two teenagers and a cooking coach of some years, I have found there is a solution. The minute you involve them in the creation of a meal, allowing them to make some decisions, and get involved in putting something they love on the table, you will see a miraculous transformation.

Suddenly, you will discover your kids will want to try new combinations, especially if they are allowed to get out of the washing up if they have been involved in the meal preparation.

And what better time to try this out than during the summer holidays when things are a little less hectic?

This is how it has worked for me. First, get each child to make a list of all of their favourite foods, the more random the better. Anything from soy sauce, noodles, cucumber, sweet corn, cheese, salmon, pesto, garlic bread, chicken drumsticks, etc.

Also ask them to list the types of food they love — Asian, pizzas, curries. The list can be as random as they like and starts the process off in a positive and fun way.

Next, using their lists, find 30 minutes on your own to find a bit of online/cookbook inspiration. For each child, find a few meals that match a handful of their choices. For example, if they have listed chicken, broccoli, and red peppers, a little Mexican fajita feast comes to mind. If Asian food is their favourite, with a penchant for lunch at Wagamama, go online and find a simple chicken noodle dish that they will love to recreate at home.

Now present them with a few choices of meal ideas. They can add their own and you can discuss which they would like to make. There has to be some flexibility here, and you can easily leave out certain ingredients that a recipe might suggest.

If old enough, you could even send them to buy the ingredients on their own, and carve out an hour to prepare the meal together.

After they have cooked their first meal, it is well worth having them repeat it during the following week so they can practice, feel more confident and start owning that dish.

And the best bit is that they now have a dish that they enjoy making, — and that means one less for you to prepare.

Here are two recipes to get you started. Fajitas are great fun to put together at the table and if your child is a fan of noodle bars, the chicken chow mein should inspire.

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