Borough Market’s demonstration chefs offer their tips on raising happy, healthy eaters
1) Wean your baby on proper food
The supermarket shelves are loaded with bottles of puréed, processed baby foods that all taste the same. That must be so boring. And we are regularly told what we can and cannot feed children. No honey! No seafood! No wheat!
We found that making supper for us, then pureeing some and freezing it in ice cube trays was an easy and cheap alternative. No packaging and no hidden ingredients. You know exactly what your children are eating and you can give them a meal, not just a mashed something-or-other with one texture and one flavour.
2) Find your own way, and don’t be stressed by contradictory advice
I’ve read many books on weaning, and I’ve sat reading mummy internet blogs for hours to check that what I’m doing is ‘correct’. But then I think about how I was brought up and how my parents were brought up: no books or websites offering contradicting advice, no complex guidance on what you can or can’t eat during pregnancy. I know that things change, but essentially as long as you have a little common sense, you’ll be fine.
3) Take your kids to markets
Taking the children shopping, especially to markets, immerses their senses in the smells and energy of food. Often the traders will have samples to taste, so I say: make the most of it. Just hand the kids a piece and see what they think. They won’t know unless they try.
4) Let them help you in the kitchen
My four-year-old will literally eat every vegetable known to man—other than peas. How have I managed this? It’s probably because I’m always in the kitchen working and cooking and Mari always tends to be by my side, stood on her little step, helping me.
I let her peel carrots and potatoes, cut up onions and peppers (with my help), stir the scrambled eggs and cake batter. She tastes everything, from raw vegetables to gravy browning and mustard. And she is always allowed to lick the bowl after I’ve made a cake!
5) Accept that there are some things they just don’t like
I used to be terribly intolerant of my friends’ children’s pernickety eating habits—I assumed that given the ‘no fuss, this is all you’re getting’ approach, a child would hoover up anything. I’d conveniently forgotten the hours I spent staring at an untouched plate of fish as a child, and the later sensation of lying in bed with an empty stomach.
The truth is that, while you can guide and influence your child’s taste, there may well be a few foods that just won’t go down. With my daughter Imi, it’s a textural thing: strawberries, tomatoes, avocados, mangoes, they’re all rather slimy, but whizz them up in a smoothie or gazpacho and they go down a treat.
6) Don’t forget: your tastes aren’t always theirs
As a non-milk drinker I often forget my daughter loves milk. When I do remember, she glugs it down and always wants more. So remember, just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean to say they won’t like it either. If you know the product is good, let them try it!
7) Eat together whenever you can
What with work and other commitments, we all rush around fitting in as much as we possibly can into the day. But an hour spent cooking a meal together on a Saturday lunchtime or Sunday evening will be invaluable. Then sit down, eat and talk. That’s what this cooking lark is all about: bringing people together, hearing what your children have felt or done that day, being there as a family. Your eating habits may have to change a little, but eating a little earlier in the evening or at lunchtime to accommodate small people is okay!
8) Take advantage of holidays and festivals
Holidays, parties and festivals are the places to introduce new flavours and ingredients. I remember overcoming my fish-phobia while in Spain—it was a combination of excitement about the barbecue on the beach, a desire to fit in and simply being swept away by the occasion (they were delicious sardines, too).
My daughter’s favourite chorizo and rice dish and a pretty zippy mackerel dal were first tasted at a music festival. Each day we set the challenge of eating a dish from a different cuisine from amongst the dozens of food stalls, it was a game and she was in charge.