When I heard about Fanae Aaron’s “What Chefs Feed Their Kids: Recipes and Techniques for Cultivating a Love of Good Food” (Globe Pequot Press, 2011), I was eager to get reading. I was curious to know what chefs cook at home and thought I might find some tips and a plan for helping my finicky 9-year-old expand her culinary repertoire.
Turns out, chefs are a lot like the rest of us. Some of them are OK with McDonald’s once in a while; some are fine with their kids grazing throughout the day; and some even play the “airplane game” to get little ones to open their mouths for a bite of food. Aaron, an art director for films and commercials whose interest in feeding children was born soon after her son was, did her research.
TIPS FROM CHEFS
Excerpts from Fanae Aaron's "What Chefs Feed Their Kids":
Cathal Armstrong, chef-owner of Restaurant Eve and three other restaurants in Alexandria, Va.: "We try to find the perfect meal for our kids as opposed to saying 'this is our family meal.' " Meals that work for everyone can be constructed by using simple strategies like serving sauces and condiments on the side and offering foods family style so each person can select the food she prefers.
Josiah Citrin, chef and co-owner of Mélisse in Santa Monica, Calif.: Citrin's wife limits after-school snacks and then will steam broccoli for their children before dinner. "We always start them off with the vegetables before as an appetizer, so they eat them when they're hungry," Citrin says.
Linton Hopkins, chef-owner of Restaurant Eugene and Holeman and Finch Public House in Atlanta: "Before you get seconds in anything, you have . . . to eat that first plate completely. Also, you can't leave the table until you've tried at least two bites of everything."
Within the first five pages we meet a natural health expert; chefs from Boston, New York, Kansas City, Atlanta and Tampa; an infant-feeding specialist in Los Angeles; and a biopsychologist in Philadelphia. On the pages that follow, they — and many, many others — chime in on subjects ranging from their children’s food preferences to their takes on when it’s OK for kids to drink sodas to what they pack for school lunches. The book, while lively, makes a reader feel as if she’s at a busy playground with all the parents talking over one another as they swap stories about eating, cooking and their kids’ quirks at the table.
Chapters by age group
Creating healthy meals is a common thread throughout the book, which is broken down in chapters according to age, from infancy to adolescence, defined here as ages 8 to 11. You won’t find vegetables snuck into recipes for pasta sauces or mashed potatoes, though.
These chefs want their children to appreciate the flavors and textures each food has to offer. Aaron shares recipes for dishes ranging from fresh pea and spinach puree for babies to whole-grain sesame scallion pancakes with tofu for toddlers to Goan shrimp curry for older kids. The photographs, taken by Viktor Budnik, make it all look delicious.
‘Good’ and ‘real’ ingredients: Yes, lard, and peanut butter and jelly too
Chefs, we learn, create meals for their children with “good” and “real” ingredients. One Southern chef makes biscuits for his family using lard. “It’s just a matter of, is it good lard?” he explains. “Were these happy pigs?” A chef in Los Angeles who packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day for his son’s lunch said it was OK because he used “good” peanut butter and “good” jelly.
Keep looking for the word ‘organic’
Oddly, nobody in the book utters the word “organic.” It’s almost as if it’s been purposefully edited out of the text. Yes, organic foods can be hard to find, are expensive and may not have been proven to be healthier, but I’m pretty sure we don’t want to be giving our babies pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics and growth hormones with their millet-cauliflower purée. A chart of foods with the highest pesticide residue could have been handy here. (You can get the Environmental Working Group’s guide to the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean 15” here.)
Instill an understanding of food
Aaron gives many, not all of them entirely novel, tips for fostering a love and understanding of food in kids. Take them to farmers markets, have them participate in cooking a meal, make them taste something before allowing them to declare they don’t like it. If they are not so sure about something, one chef says, get them excited about a dish by calling it your “famous” chili or pot roast or pasta. Bring young children to restaurants so they can try new things, let them see their parents enjoying a good meal and teach older kids to read food labels so they know what they’re eating.
I’ve done many of the things recommended in “What Chefs Feed Their Kids,” and I still have a picky eater. While my daughter may balk at some of the book’s recipes, many sound good to me. If they meet resistance, I can always employ another of Aaron’s tips: “Step away from it for a few days, and then maybe bring it back and try again later.”
Top photo composite:
Fanae Aaron. Credit: Flint Ellsworth
Book jacket photo courtesy of Globe Pequot