In this new series, Nicole Pisani, formerly of Nopi and now a school chef at Gayhurst Community School in Hackney, answers food questions asked by parents and offers a family-friendly recipe to try out
Dear Nicole, I’d like my little one to eat the same meals as us, can you give me some ideas to get started?
Eating together as a family is such a great way to nourish a positive relationship with food from an early age—it just creates that feeling that eating is an enjoyable, shared event in the day. It is worth cooking meals for all the family even when your baby has only recently begun to eat solids. You just need to cook without sugar, salt or strong flavours, and then add those to your own portions later.
The children in our nursery at school are mostly given the same foods as the older children but prepared in such a way that they’re easier to eat—we take any meat off the bone for them and cut everything into smaller pieces. The earlier they try foods that are not hidden in breadcrumbs, the less scared they are about food in general.
Colours and shapes
The little ones really love going in the garden to see the lettuces grow and doing any kind of activity where they feel they have been involved. I have seen schoolchildren exploring Borough Market with their teachers and they are so excited to see all the different colours and shapes of the vegetables, the fish and the smells of the freshly baked breads.
Food can create wonderful memories of childhood: wandering around markets, visiting pick-your-own or city farms, sharing Sunday lunches, seeing apples on the trees, going blackberry picking in late summer.
I grew up in Malta and don’t remember seeing fish any other way but whole, even if an adult carefully pulled the flesh off the bone for me. It sounds a bit rose-tinted, but I still cook the fennel potatoes that are in my earliest memories, and which everyone always loves, young and old.
Play a game
When the children are trying new things, we try to make it fun, so that it is more about tasting than necessarily finishing their plate. We might play a game where they shut their eyes to taste the food and use their other senses. And we will do little variations on favourite dishes so that they try slightly new flavours rather than becoming too attached to a meal being exactly the same every time.
We might add just a little horseradish or wasabi to macaroni cheese (they seem to love this) or try different mild spaces with the roasted vegetables, such as paprika or cinnamon.
Fresh fish hasn’t been easy to introduce at school, but we have had success with calamari rings for the older children. Fish cakes are also popular—they are perfect for a family meal as you can make mini ones for the children and then add salt before making bigger ‘grown up’ ones.
Read Nicole’s recipe for a family-friendly dish of duck egg and fennel potatoes