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How do I get my children to eat healthy food

25 April 2009 788 views No Comment

First, I was the single woman about town, grabbing food on the run or at work (Cold Feet: great show, but food fit for your dog). With money to burn and time to indulge myself, eating out was the norm and not a treat.

Then came a boyfriend, Dan, and with him cosy nights at home, cooking. The longer we were together, the more we shared our love of all things edible. Then, after I had cooked a particularly good lamb shank, he popped the question: “Will you give me that recipe? Oh, and will you cook for me for the rest of our lives?” Or words to that effect. On a sugar high from the raspberry soufflé, I said “yes” to both. Very quickly, a small human started to grow inside my body. I stopped cooking and started to eat liquorice. When our new baby flatmate arrived — a little girl called Parker — Dan took over the cooking while I was left feeling like an overworked dairy cow, longing for the time when my daughter would want something on the menu other than me.

When that moment came, I read every book on the market, watched videos and scoured the internet, all to discover the secret of producing “a good eater”. Finally, I came to the conclusion that the best route through this maze of advice was to wean her on fresh, organic produce, varying the tastes as much as possible. Even at an early stage, I introduced her to lots of herbs, rye and spelt breads, and wonderful tastes that made her mouth open like a baby bird’s.

And what do you know? It worked. She loves food; well, most of it. Luck or judgment? I’m not sure, but it does make sense, I suppose. Now, while I was busy turning my daughter into a foodie, I had neglected my own culinary needs. Dan’s favourite lamb shanks were a thing of the past because the last thing I wanted to do after preparing Parker’s meal was start on ours.

Over the next couple of years we worked, travelled and moved, and, just as Parker reached an age where we could all enjoy the same food at the same time — bang. Another human bun in my oven: Sonny, a baby boy.

And that’s when the real journey began and I realised that I wanted us all to enjoy the same food and to eat it together. So I started working out meals around all of us. Not separate ingredients, age-dependent. I know so many people who hate shopping because they are not looking forward to cooking the same old thing from their dull grocery list. They are bored and can’t think what to buy for the week ahead. What about this? Monday: I could get pizza for Parker, jars and fishfingers for Sonny, and a takeaway for us. Well, meatballs for everyone sounds easier. Also, I reckon it’s cheaper to all eat from the same pot. Live off the leftovers and the smiles that will come your way after a good meal. Look, the Italians can do it. Why can’t we? In fact, the whole of the EU seems to have clung on to ancestral dining habits. So stop the clock and bung a chicken in the oven. It’s time to eat, talk and be merry.

Food brings people together. I am not suggesting that a moist muffin turns a mad, dysfunctional family into the Von Trapps, but food makes us happy, healthy and . . . full.

Now, I know that none of us has any spare time, that money is a constant issue for most people, and that not all children eat well, or indeed eat anything. I know that pre-prepared jars seem easier and that doing it “the cookbook way” seems frankly unrealistic.

But this book is meant to offer suggestions and inspiration.You don’t have to do it every day. It’s there to get you in the swing; to get organised, write lists and find 15 minutes to knock up something that you are proud to see go into your kids’ mouths. Food as fun, not fuel. And here is the bonus: it can be delicious, not only for them, but for you, your family and your friends. For really impressive grown-up recipes, please feel free to use proper cookbooks from the big boys.

The idea behind these recipes is to cook food from which you can remove your babies’ and kids’ portions if need be, before adding the more challenging ingredients for yourselves; or better still, all tuck in together. One delicious meal for all of you. I am living this. It’s easy.

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