Posts Tagged ‘
picky eaters ’
Thursday, March 13th, 2014
Confession: I often struggle with getting my kids to try new foods. (Well, if I’m being totally honest, let’s change “often” to “always.”)
The fact that I had such a hard time getting them to try new foods was baffling to me. When they were babies, I whipped up baby food with every wholesome vegetable and grain imaginable, and they would eat my delicious concoctions without hesitation. I mentally awarded myself a gold star in the nutrition department. I was a mac’n’cheese avoiding, broccoli-chopping kind of mum! That is, until my spinach-eating oldest son started cutting out more and more foods until pasta with a bit of salt, butter and cheese on the side became his most coveted dish.
When my younger son soon entered the same phase, I worried. Had I failed them in their earliest years by not introducing kale and agave nectar? Could I have insisted on salmon for dinner more often, and not caved for a more kid-friendly meal? Maybe. And while logic tells us our little ones aren’t going to be ordering plain noodles for their wedding day dinner, we worry they may not be getting the right nutrition.
Looking for some food substitutes? Try these picks from Parents.com.
So what is a mother to do? To introduce my kids to new foods, I held weekly “food tasting challenges.” Here’s how it works: Instead of presenting a plate of unknowns at dinnertime, choose a totally different time of the day to host your taste challenge. Tell your kids they’re going to be food critics for the afternoon; they don’t need to swallow—only sample each food. To make the experience fun and engaging, include a palette cleanser, such as little scoops of lemon sorbet or a sip of water. After each tasting, have them fill in a fun chart with stickers that say how they felt about the food, ranging from “Totally gross!” to “Crazy Yummy!” If your child is still refusing to sample new foods despite your efforts to make taste testing fun, try starting with smells and work your way up.
The point of the food challenge is to introduce your kids to new flavors—without the stress of having to eat them at the table. You might also try giving them a little control over what they eat so they feel empowered. I give my kids one choice per meal, like asking if they’d prefer broccoli or carrots, since more than one choice can be overwhelming.
While your little one isn’t likely to be eating roasted squash over a bed of arugula anytime soon (although you never know), it’s important to focus on the small wins and be patient. In my mind, the biggest win was turning what used to be a stressful time of the day into a fun chance to relax, all while working on my kids’ abilities to try new things.
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Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014
Frances Largeman-Roth is a registered dietician, author of four cookbooks, and a mom of two—with a third on the way. A health expert who has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN, and the Today Show, she has helped thousands of women find the best foods during pregnancy, lose weight the right way, and incorporate healthier meals into their lives. Her latest book, Eating in Color, hits bookstores this month so we asked her how to add pops of color to our dinner plates and why it’s so important.
This book is entirely about fruits and vegetables—when they’re in season, how to choose them, how to store them, and, of course, how to use them. I have to ask: which is your favorite?
Mangos! When I spent a semester abroad in Australia, I learned how to cut them properly and incorporate them into many dishes. There are two seasons there: fall/winter and spring/summer, so you get different varieties.
You write about a study that found only 30 percent of Americans are getting the recommended 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit each day. Why is improving this statistic important to you?
My father passed away when I was 12. He had all the things that we now understand as warning signs for heart disease and diabetes. We just didn’t know it at the time. Growing up we ate fruits and vegetables, but with my mom’s German background there was also a lot of cured meats and pastries. Now that I’m a parent I understand that moms and dads are super busy, aren’t getting enough sleep, and are more stressed than ever. Because of that, convenience often outweighs nutrition. But this book is about eating better in a fun and visual way.
Tell us more about the five rules you created: eat color often, don’t be monochrome, go outside your comfort zone, make dates with your kitchen, and exercise.
I wanted to explain to readers how they can actually attain this lifestyle and not just admire beautiful images of fruits and veggies. I wanted to connect the message and explain the execution. Sure, everyone is crazy about kale right now, but you can’t just rely on that one super-healthy thing. Plus, trying new things is essential to your health. We all get stuck in ruts with the same go-to recipes or takeout dishes. Pushing out of your comfort zone, though it may take more time and planning, is worth it! And eventually a new recipe will become part of your repertoire. And getting active just has to be part of it.
You describe nutrition not just as a career choice but a life path. How can families make this a priority in their life while balancing their often-crazy schedules?
When you’re rushing home from work to pick up your kids to then rush home to cook something up for them, it’s easy to rely on processed food. But if you can spend time in the morning or on Sunday, you can make so much happen! Simply put it into your calendar to “chop veggies.”
A trip to a farmers market is a great way to get inspired and it’s really fun for your kids. It exposes them to new sights and tastes. You can do something similar at the grocery store because there’s always something new in season. Just the other day I saw a beautiful dragon fruit that turned into an entire lesson: I asked my daughter where it came from, what color it would be inside, how the rough and scaly texture looked and felt. The bottom line: What kid wouldn’t want to try a super-bright pink fruit? This is such an easy way to dive in.
When your daughter Willa was learning colors in school, you offered her “reds, oranges, and greens” instead of “beets, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.” How did changing your food vocabulary help?
It sounds like such a small idea, but it made everything much less frustrating at the dinner table. I completely understand that from the parents’ perspective, trying to get your child to try one item 15 to 20 times is just too many. By the tenth try, you’ve wasted too much food and energy. Instead, go into it with a no-stress mentality. Just put a new food on the table and see what happens. Remember: sometimes kids are simply exerting independence when they are picky about dinner. If you take the pressure off both them and yourself, much of it can be resolved. This doesn’t mean your kids will eat and love everything, but it helps them try new things.
I like to display fruits and veggies in little bowls and in compartmental kids’ plates. I often ask them, “How many colors we can get on our plates tonight?” My two can get a bit competitive with each other, which can help on the dinner-table front.
Some families have super-picky eaters. What else can they do to make the introduction of new foods easier or more appealing?
Let your child have some control. During a trip to the farmers market or grocery store, ask him or her to pick out produce by color—one yellow and one red. Depending on your child’s age, have him or her pick out a recipe and then make it with them. I can guarantee that because they had a hand in it, your children will be more willing to try it.
Just remember that it takes patience. Kids can love something one time and hate it the next. (And vice versa.) But don’t ever stop offering! Their tastes are constantly changing. Or, like in my daughter’s case, their siblings can be influential. When she saw her brother eating avocado, she wanted some.
Don’t cater to “kid food.” The more you offer tater tots and chicken nuggets, the less your children will try the other things. I’m a big advocate of the family meal. Sure, you can have back-ups on hand, but you are not a short-order cook.
Your recipes run the gamut from meals, sides, and snacks to drinks and desserts. Why so much variety?
I wanted to show that fruits and vegetables have a place in everything. When I first started working on the book, I made a list of my chapters. I always knew it would be organized by color. So I started asking myself tough questions like “Besides a pie or crumble, what else can I do with rhubarb?” I approached recipes from outside the box.
You also added a black and tan chapter—including grains, seeds, nuts, and oats. (And my favorite: chocolate!) Why are these are just as important?
I think of the black and tan chapter as the items you pair with all of the other colors. It’s your base layer. To me, these items are a great way to bring in a lot of texture to your dishes.
Okay, we want the scoop. What’s your go-to when you’re in a pinch?
We have pasta often because it’s very versatile. I personally like to make roasted veggies on the side. I use whatever’s in season—butternut squash, sugar snap peas, purple onion, baby carrots, zucchini, cherry tomatoes. Creating a mix is best! We always have grated Parmesan in the fridge so a spaghetti dish can be done in 15 minutes.
Interview has been edited and condensed.
Author photo by Quentin Bacon.
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author Q&A, cookbook, cookbook Q&A, cooking, cooking with kids, eating in color, family recipes, Food, frances largeman-roth, fruits, healthy dinners, healthy eating, picky eaters, recipes, Rheanna O'Neil Bellomo, vegetables, weeknight meals | Categories:
Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
Whether your child has an aversion to many foods due to sensory processing disorder (SPD) or is just plain picky, getting through those big holiday meals can be more stressful than joyful. I recently tuned into a picky eaters webinar by the SPD Foundation, and Dr. Kay Toomey, a pediatric psychologist with more than 30 years experience working with children with feeding problems, provided some great ways to help kids she categorizes as picky eaters (children who will only eat a limited number of foods) and problem feeders (kids who suffer from SPD and are extremely selective about what they will eat). Here are some of her tips for getting through—and enjoying!—the holidays:
- Talk about the holiday plans. Unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations can be overwhelming for kids and ultimately decrease their appetites. Before you travel or have extended family over, pull out the family photo album, have your child draw pictures of what she thinks the holiday meal will look like this year, or chat about the upcoming plans—anything that will give her a better idea of what to expect. This is also a good time to remind her about table manners such as using utensils, not interrupting, and saying excuse me.
- Serve the food ahead of time. Most family traditions are about eating specific foods (ham, latkes, turkeys, yams, elaborate desserts, etc.), many of which children may not encounter during any other time of the year. If an unfamiliar food appears in front them, chances are they’re not going to eat it and even seeing it on their plate can cause a great amount of stress, especially for problem feeders. Try making some of these foods throughout the year so by the time the holiday comes around, your child will know what they are and how they taste, making him more likely to eat them during special occasions.
- Prepare the meal together. If you’re doing any cooking for the holidays, have your child lend a helping hand in the kitchen. By letting him assist you, he experiences the smell and taste of the food without the pressure of having it on his plate. Toomey’s rule of thumb when it comes to cooking with the kids: 3- to 4-years-olds should be able to help you stir, open a package, or do a simple task to assist; 5-year-olds should be able to abide by safety rules and help cook a family meal once a week; and 7-year-olds should be cooking with you twice a week, actively preparing some portion of the meal.
- Minimize changes in his routine. Getting off schedule when away from home is disruptive to children’s sleep patterns and appetite, so the less changes in their daily routine, the better. Try to serve your child meals and snacks at the usual time and resist the urge to let him stay up past his set bedtime.
- Feed her before the main holiday meal. You can’t expect picky eaters or problem feeders to mind their manners and try new foods during a holiday meal. They realistically will only be able to do one or the other, so you’ll have to decide which is more important to you. It’s helpful to put something in their bellies beforehand so they’re not starving at the dinner table and so there’s less pressure for them to eat what is offered. This way they’ll be able to concentrate more on participating in the conversation and bonding with family, less on stressing over the fact that they’re hungry and have to eat unfamiliar foods. Remember: it’s more important they’re at the table and a part of the celebration than whether they’re eating what everyone else is.
- Add one food they are sure to eat to the table. Even if children eat beforehand as recommended, you still want them to come to the table and participate in the meal as much as possible. To help them feel included, bring one food you know they’ll nibble on—even if it’s as simple as a roll, apple slices, or crackers. If they do happen to try something new on their own, don’t make a big deal out of it. You can mention something to them afterward or quietly at the table, but you don’t want to embarrass them in front of the family. And if they don’t eat at all, that’s also okay, as long as it is an option.
- Bring something familiar from home he’s used to eating with or on. His favorite utensil, placemat, or cup can serve as a reminder of how he normally eats at home and cue the same eating habits in an unfamiliar place.
- Create a secret signal. It’s a good idea to come up with a way for your child to let you know if she is getting overwhelmed during the meal and needs a break. You can give her a small card to hold up or establish a simple tap on the arm or leg to signal it’s time for a breather. This can also go the other way and you can signal to let her know she’s excused before a pleasant situation turns sour.
- Control and limit the sweets. This can be difficult because those Christmas cookies and Hanukkah chocolates are a large part of the holiday, but it’s important to stand your ground. Not only does sugar cut down kids’ 20-minute appetite window to only 10 minutes, it also suppresses their appetite for substantial food and leads to cravings for more sweets. Aim for one sugary treat a day, and make sure they know to ask permission beforehand—they can’t just raid grandma’s cookie jar at their leisure.
- Mask the scent. The smell of food can be too much for problem feeders, so it’s best to lessen it as much as possible. Try placing an isolating fan in the room where you’re having the main holiday meal. Or ask family members if they can open some windows while they cook so the smell isn’t completely permeating the house.
Image: Thanksgiving dinner via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
Nervous about preparing Thanksgiving dinner? You’re not alone. No matter what your level of culinary experience, cooking the Thanksgiving feast can cause more anxiety than a turkey feels as November rolls around. I’ve been to culinary school and am now food editor here at Parents, and even I’m not immune. (Starting two years ago, I finally put my gravy anxiety to rest by making it ahead of time.)
Recently we asked our Facebook fans about their biggest Thanksgiving dinner challenges, and I chose a few of the questions to answer, here. My goal is to help make the cooking part of your day go more smoothly so you can get down to the important part of enjoying the feast with your friends and family.
Ashley Jude is hosting her first Thanksgiving and asked for our best piece of advice.
My best piece of advice is one I follow myself every year: do as much in advance as possible. Turkey stock for the gravy and my piecrust are already in the freezer. This weekend I will make my cranberry sauce. Tuesday I will cut up my vegetables for the stuffing and trim the Brussels sprouts. Wednesday I’ll whisk up the gravy and put together a mashed potato casserole that can go straight in the oven on Thursday. The more you do ahead the less stress you’ll feel on the big day, guaranteed.
Check out our helpful make-ahead plan for more ideas, or consider preparing this make-ahead sweet potato dish.
Almost equally important is to have a cooking plan for the day and write it down. I start from when I want dinner on the table (4:30 PM), then work backwards to carving the turkey (4:15 PM), taking the turkey out of the oven (3:15 PM), and putting the turkey in the oven (12:15 PM). It’s amazing how having a schedule on paper can keep you cool and composed.
Heather Beckman wants an easy pie crust.
Ah, Heather, don’t we all. Okay, here is my official “food editor” answer: piecrust isn’t difficult once you practice a little. Just keep your ingredients cold and don’t work the dough too much. Watch our video here to see just how easy it is to roll one out.
And here is my “unofficial” answer: you know what kind of piecrust I love? Graham cracker. Yum. How delicious with pumpkin or pudding or cheesecake or virtually any other smooth, creamy filling. You can press a graham cracker crust into the pan in seconds or, gasp!, buy one that still tastes great.
Several people asked how to serve a gluten-free Thanksgiving.
Happily, aside from the stuffing, gravy, and pie most traditional Thanksgiving dishes are gluten-free (remember gluten is a protein found in wheat). So pile your plate high with mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts, salad, and, of course, turkey. To replace a traditional bread stuffing try a wild rice dressing. Instead of, or in addition to, pumpkin pie add baked apples to the menu, pumpkin pudding, or poached pears. No one will miss the gluten.
We had a lot of questions about dealing with picky eaters on Thanksgiving.
Here’s the good news. I think Thanksgiving is the last day you should wage a battle with picky eaters. (And, in fact, try to avoid making it a battle any day of the year with these strategies.) On Thanksgiving, just make sure there are one or two things on the table your kids will eat. That shouldn’t be too hard since, let’s face it, there’s an awful lot of food on the table. Maybe little ones will eat the rolls with butter, the mashed potatoes, a fruit salad, or plain turkey. Some kids might love the cranberry sauce or the sweet potatoes.
Another beauty of the Thanksgiving table is that you can always add a dish, so if you don’t think they’ll eat anything you serve, add macaroni and cheese (traditional in some parts of the country) or apple slices. Once the food is on the table, let your kids eat what they want and have dessert later, no strings attached. This is a meal for everyone to enjoy. You and your children. Save the one-bite rule and other maneuvers for outsmarting picky eating for another day. That’s something both you and your kids will be thankful for.
Any other Thanksgiving dinner questions, let us know!
Image: Turkey dinner via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
Michelle Dudash is an Arizona-based Registered Dietitian and Cordon Bleu-certified chef. She’s also a busy mom who wants to feed her sometimes-picky 4-year-old a healthy, balanced diet. Over the years she’s created appealing family dishes and helpful strategies for getting a home-cooked meal on the table quickly. She shares her recipes and advice in her cookbook Clean Eating for Busy Families.
Q: What do you mean by “clean eating?”
A: At its foundation, clean eating means consuming foods in their most natural and least processed state. (Also, if you can’t pronounce an ingredient on the label, you probably shouldn’t eat it.) Clean eating to me also means opting for in-season foods whenever possible. Finally, enjoy every bite. I’m a food lover and believe that food is something to be savored and celebrated. Enjoy food intentionally while seated at the table, and avoid mindless snacking.
Q: What ingredients are important to you to buy organic? Why?
A: Organic expeller-pressed canola oil, since most conventional canola contains GMOs.
Sometimes, depending on availability, I buy organic meats, eggs, and poultry because that guarantees that these animals aren’t given drugs, antibiotics, or growth hormones.
Q: What are some tips for getting a healthy dinner on the table quickly?
A: Properly stock your kitchen early in the week. That way in the time that you would call in and pick up your takeout order, you could have prepared a fresh meal at home. My book offers weekly, monthly and quarterly shopping lists, breaking down grocery shopping into manageable pieces to provide healthy meals. Try to plan meals ahead and have a go-to recipe arsenal. Your best bet: prepare one-dish or make-ahead meals whenever possible.
Q: Healthy is all well and good. What if a mom has picky kids who won’t eat any veggies, for example?
A: That makes two of us! My daughter loves hummus, edamame, and spaghetti sauce. Beyond that I need to incorporate vegetables into other things like in my Turkey, Vegetable, and Oat Mini-Meatloaves—with mushrooms! I bake them in muffin tins and call them “meatloaf cupcakes,” dicing them and serving over whole-grain spaghetti. My daughter, Scarlet, also loves fruit so I make sure to offer fresh options at every meal.
Children are more likely to try the foods that they help prepare so get them in the kitchen with you. If your child still turns up her nose, don’t give up. Continue to offer—not force—a variety of foods, namely vegetables, with most meals. It can take eight to ten exposures before a child decides whether she likes a new food or will even try it. Eventually, your child will probably surprise you. Scarlet continues to surprise me every day!
Q: How do you feel about “hiding” vegetables in foods so kids eat more vegetables?
A: “Hiding” vegetables should be your last line of defense and used only when necessary. You don’t want to add sweet potatoes to brownies and tell your kids, “Yay, eat up, now they’re healthy!” But even I succumb to hiding vegetables to add more nutrients to my 4-year-old’s diet. It’s still important to continue to offer vegetables in plain sight regularly.
Q: How else can moms encourage their kids to eat healthfully?
A: Lead by positive example. Kids become curious when they see other people, including you, eating—and hopefully it is healthy. Come up with cute names for food that resonate with your kids, like my “meatloaf cupcakes” (or anything-cupcake, for that matter).
Q: What are your daughter’s favorite dishes in the book?
A: Scarlet’s favorite recipe is Pecan-Crusted Chicken Tenders with Dill Dip, which tastes even better than deep-fried versions. She also loves the Scarlet-Approved Lemon Cilantro Edamame Hummus. When I gave her a taste, she said, “I want more” and ate it by the spoonful. Her favorite desserts are Four Seasons Fruit Pizza, Dark Chocolate Whole-Grain Brownies, and Almond Butter Oatmeal & Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Q: What are some simple changes someone could make to improve her family’s diet quickly?
A: Purge your pantry of the junk snacks made of refined flour, added sugars, and lots of sodium. Replace with whole foods, like fruits and vegetables for snacking.
Switch everything in your kitchen to whole-grain, preferably 100% whole-grain, including pastas, breads, crackers, tortillas, waffles and pancakes. If you face some pushback, stick to your guns and only keep whole-grain versions in stock. Your family can take it or leave it. They might not even notice, or eventually they will take it.
Q: What is a typical weekday breakfast in your house?
A: During the week, my husband, daughter and I all eat something different, which is easy to do because I keep plenty of quick-fix items on hand. One of my favorites is oatmeal and a cup of coffee with raw sugar and a splash of milk.
Q: What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
A: Right now I am really into Coconut Bliss Vanilla Ice Cream. It’s so creamy and delicious, especially with dark chocolate sauce. I eat dark chocolate regularly, though I don’t consider that a guilty pleasure since I have just a few bites and it contains some beneficial nutrients.
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Monday, July 8th, 2013
Last month, Chris Noth presented a generous donation to Nourish Now—an organization that brings meals to families in need—on behalf of BV Wines. Parents spoke to Chris about how his work (both on-screen and on the hunger relief effort) impacts his life as a father to his 5-year-old son, Orion, from dealing with dinnertime pickiness to spending time together before Orion heads off to full-day school.
P: How does being a father impact your perspective on the issue of hunger relief?
CN: As a father your instinct kicks in and you want to make sure your kid is safe and well-fed. People don’t really know that 1 in 6 Americans don’t have access to food, that 17 million children are living in food-insecure households. Like me—I didn’t know that. It’s inconceivable to me that if you have a child that they would be food insecure.
P: Speaking of nutrition and healthy eating, your son is at that age when it can be difficult to feed your child, not due to lack of resources but due to pickiness. Is Orion a picky eater?
CN: All kids have their own peculiar tastes, I think. For instance, Orion doesn’t like spicy foods. He loves strawberries. He’s a big cheese eater, too, by the way. I was surprised at that. He loves cheese. Loves Parmesan cheese [laughs]. We’re just now getting him to eat meat; he wasn’t attracted to any kind of meat. But, then, he loves certain seafoods.
I try to trick him of course because he’s in that superhero-fascination age. I say, “You gotta eat this if you wanna be like Spiderman, kiddo. You gotta finish this up.” It’s an ongoing challenge. We’ve made vegetables kind of fun for him to eat. But we also use the old tricks of the trade. My son, for dessert, he doesn’t like chocolate—believe it or not—but he likes mochi. He’s crazy about mochi. So if he knows that he’s gonna get his two mochis at the end of the meal, he’s gonna clean that plate.
P: Do you sometimes disguise the vegetables in tastier items?
CN: She [my wife] is very good at that, at chopping vegetables up and blending them into things so he thinks he’s getting a French Fry but maybe it’s beets. I mean he does love those salty things that can be a little dangerous.
P: What about school lunches? What are you most excited or most nervous for with him going off to full day kindergarden?
CN: We just had our kindergarten meeting, so he starts next year. It’s a huge huge step. He had a very tight community at his preschool and so did we—with the teachers. It was just such a nourishing environment. I hate to say this, because it’s ridiculous, but it’s like from that [preschool] environment to kindergarten it’s kind of like he’s going to university in his eyes. He’s nervous. But, it’s still a really small community.
P: Since you split time between New York and L.A., when you and Orion get to see each other and you are in the same place, what are some of your favorite things to do together to celebrate that father-son bond?
CN: He’s into baseball. A Yankee game has got to be on the list. He’s obsessed with Derek Jeter; he’s very upset about his injury [chuckles]. You know, I love taking him, believe it or not, I want to see a couple of shows on Broadway. He digs that. He’s seen Spider-Man twice. I’m trying to see if Matilda is the show for him. Although, I desperately don’t want him to be an actor.
P: Why is that?
CN: There’s enough…entertainment isn’t one of the things we lack. Actors are not something we lack. Do we need another actor? G-d no.
P: Obviously charity work is very important to you. Is volunteerism and giving back something that you hope to encourage as Orion gets older?
CN: Thanksgiving we went to a local church that I found through the food bank. I think it would be a nice thing for him always to know about these things. He didn’t really quite get it, he was having fun, you know, asking to serve things, but he will get it. I think it’s important for every child to understand what’s around them, what the problems are and to be a part of the solution as they get older. I didn’t do it as a kid, frankly. I wasn’t aware of it. It is about awareness and then action.
P: Aside from volunteerism and helping out those around you, what would you say is the most important value you hope to instill in Orion?
CN: Generosity. I want him to be strong, but a gentle man. I want him to be able to see the difference between something that has real value and something that doesn’t.
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Thursday, June 13th, 2013
Want your kid to eat broccoli and brussels sprouts? Paul Lindley, a British father of two, created Ella’s Kitchen in 2006 to do just that. His goal was to encourage his daughter to explore new foods and, hopefully, banish picky-ness. The organic baby food creator just released The Cookbook: The Red One, which just might get your kids to like their veggies, too.
Q: Why did you write this cookbook?
A: Involving children with cooking and food at an early age can help shape their future relationships with food. The Cook Book: The Red One features fun ideas and creative activities that allow little ones to experience healthy foods outside of mealtimes, from getting creative with vegetable prints to playing at a “Cool Kiddie Café.” We offer ways for children to learn more about fruit and vegetables using all their senses, to help them develop healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.
Q: What is Ella’s Kitchen? What products do you offer and how did you get started?
A: I launched Ella’s Kitchen in 2006 to help babies and toddlers enjoy eating healthy food. I had an understanding of what makes children tick from being a parent myself, as well as from my experience working at Nickelodeon.
I was inspired to set up Ella’s Kitchen by my own experiences in weaning Ella. I passionately believe that all kids should have the opportunity to discover that healthy food can be fun, tasty, and cool.
At Ella’s Kitchen we believe that little ones eat using all of their senses, and therefore it was important for us to produce foods that not only taste great, but are bright, tactile and fun. We always approach healthy eating from a child’s perspective and take simple, natural ingredients to create foods and packaging that really connect with kids and their parents – helping them through the entire weaning process.
Q: There is a large element for children in this book. The illustrations are playful and fun and there are drawings to color. Why was this important to include?
A: We always approach everything we do from a child’s perspective and our cookbook is no different. The book is for the whole family and the easy instructions, clever shortcuts and fun activities allow little ones to engage with healthy foods outside of mealtimes. It’s all about getting children hands-on and messy in the kitchen from a young age.
Q: Why is organic, fresh, and homemade so important to you?
A: Organic food is better because it comes from carefully monitored sources with high standards in quality but habits—both good and bad—are formed in the earliest years of a child’s life. It’s crucial to start a healthy diet from a young age. Develop healthy eating habits by getting your little one involved in food; let her help during the cooking process and make yummy homemade dishes together.
Q: How and why did you get into food and cooking?
A: I’ve always loved cooking. Even as a child of 6 years-old, I used to help my mum make surprise birthday cakes! Then when Ella was born, I—like any parent—struggled at times to get her to eat certain foods. So I designed games to make mealtime fun. In our home, meals have always been messy, noisy, interactive events. The whole family enjoys the experience of creating dishes together. Sitting down to enjoy them always makes me smile.
Q: Your personal inspiration came from your children, Ella and Paddy. Did they help in the creation of the book? Did they create any recipes?
A: Two of the recipes in the new cookbook are my family’s own, including Ella’s Dad’s Sweet + Sour Prawns and Ella’s Mum’s Easy Chicken Curry. We first made the chicken curry when Ella was just three years old and she’s loved it ever since, as it’s mild, sweet and creamy. Ella and Paddy were involved in tasting lots of recipes when we were experimenting with ideas!
Q: Ella, now 13, wrote the book’s Foreword and has been in the kitchen since age 4. Does she have goals to pursue cooking professionally in the future?
A: Ella’s favorite school subject is Food Technology, so you never know! At this stage in her life she’s busy having fun with her friends. All we wish is that when she grows up, she does something that she’s passionate about and believes in.
Q: Your recipes are family-friendly, but some have unexpected flavor combos—do you have certain chefs or books that you look to? Where do you find culinary inspiration?
A: The inspiration for our recipes came in lots of different forms; from real mums and dads, friends and family, and our ever-so-clever recipe developer Emma Jane Frost. Our team of nutritionists selected and approved every recipe to ensure that kids have balanced meals to help them grow.
Q: You have tips on preventing picky-ness, but what advice do you give parents who already have picky eaters?
A: Help your kids use all of their senses when exploring new foods—this will teach them to love healthy food from the start! The key is to be patient and persistent. Little ones have three times as many taste buds as adults, which leads to a taste intensity of up to 10 times that of an adult. As a result, both sweet and bitter tastes are exaggerated, often leading to immediate rejection of brussel sprouts and broccoli. It can take 10 separate experiences of a new taste before it’s accepted, so don’t give up after the first couple of times! Keep going and your little one will eat up their vegetables in no time.
Q: Growing up, who did most of the cooking in your family? What was a typical weeknight meal like?
A: I grew up in Sheffield, England and it was my mum who did most of the cooking. Her crispy Yorkshire puddings were a big favourite in our house – whether filled with sausages and gravy during the week or as part of a family roast with meat and loads of veg at the weekend. I can still hear the crunch they made when I close my eyes now!
Q: If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be and why?
A: It’d have to be my mum’s Yorkshire puddings now that it’s in my mind – Mmmm! There are so many different things to fill them with that I’d never get bored. Ella and Paddy love them too and I’m sure we’d have fun experimenting with new things to put in them!
Q: What other important things should our readers know about you or the book?
A: At Ella’s we always try to look at life from a child’s point of view: with an open mind and with all our senses. My strong belief is that the more a young child is involved with his or her food, whether that’s choosing it, preparing it, playing with it or eating it independently—the more likely he or she is to give it a try and go on to enjoy it!
Interview has been condensed and edited.
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