Raising Healthy Eaters Self-Help Advice

Written by Jennifer Strailey

Successfully whetting your kids' appetite for good food isn't as hard as you think. Three chefs share their advice.

A chef once told me that her young daughter would complain when she ordered a pizza delivered for dinner. Her daughter felt cheated, she said. Talking while making dinner together was a near-nightly mother-daughter routine, and anything less was just take-out.

Advice on Cooking with Kids
Liz Strahle, who leads weeklong cooking camps for kids 7 to 12 in Carlsbad, Calif., says the earlier kids learn to cook, the better. Here are her tips:
Young children (age 2 and up) can contribute by tearing lettuce, measuring and stirring.
Always use plastic knives with young kids.
Turn a box upside down, draw burners on it and use it to discuss and practice oven safety.
Related Stories:
The Twix School Lunch
Big Portions, Big Problems

You don't have to be a chef to raise kids who take an interest in good food. But it definitely helps. To find out how to entice young people to have more adventurous palates, we spoke with three hot chefs who know what it takes with tykes.

Who: Greg Higgins, chef/owner of Higgins Restaurant & Bar in Portland, Ore.

Kid credentials: Taught hundreds of elementary school kids how to make everything from bruschetta to the Indian dal.

Key to cooking with kids:"Stick to the basics. Make it simple and approachable. Focus on assembly rather than caramelizing syrup or kneading bread dough. Teach them about quality ingredients and how good they taste on their own, so they make the correlation between the ingredients and the dish."

How to get kids interested in food:"The most important thing is to make food tangible. Kids think cooking is a grown-up thing and they get turned off because they think it's not their domain."

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Raising Adventurous Eaters


Who:Jody Adams, chef/owner of Rialto in Cambridge, Mass.

Kid credentials: Mother of two kids (10 and 4) who will "eat almost anything."

Cooking with Kids
Start with making pancakes, muffins and scones-things that are easy, hands-on and offer nearly instant gratification.
Help kids see food as more than a necessity. Talk about food as culture. Tell the story behind recipes. Use cookbooks with lots of pictures.
With older kids, set a routine. Ask them to make the salad every night by a certain time.
It's hard to find cooking classes just for kids. Instead, find an adult class that will let you bring your child along.

Food for Thought:
The Twix School Lunch
Big Portions, Big Problems

Key to getting her kids to eat adventurously: "From the very beginning my kids sat at the table. They never had a highchair. I never cooked them a special meal. They ate whatever we were eating." (When they were really little, Adams pureed the food she made for herself and her husband and fed it to her kids).

How she makes food fun: "This time of year we go to the farmers market. There's always a story about the farmer who sold us the greens and why he didn't have tomatoes this week because of the rain. There's a continuous thread. There's a story to the food instead of something that we just bought from the supermarket."

Making meals about more than food: "Sitting down to dinner, for many people, means focusing on what the kids are putting in their mouths. But it's not just about the food; it's about sitting around a table as a family. The food is just a part of that."

What to do when kids won't eat: "Kids don't necessarily eat on a 24-hour cycle," she says. Her kids ate on a 48-hour cycle. They'd eat less one day, and twice as much the next. "That's OK," she says, "as long as they don't substitute the healthy foods with junk."

Who: Kathy Cary, chef/owner of Lilly's in Louisville, Ky.

Kid credentials:Mother of two kids (15 and 11) who've been happily eating in fine restaurants since they were toddlers.

Key to getting kids to eat adventurously: "Fast food is dumbing to the taste buds and so many kids think that that's what food is all about. You have to expose them to really good food. Take them to fine restaurants and travel with them. Don't limit yourself to restaurants with kid's meals."

How to get kids to eat good food: "Tell them they don't have to eat everything, but they have to at least try everything—and have an opinion of it. They have to take a bite to find out if they don't like it."

How she makes food fun: "Show them where food comes from," she says. "When my kids were 2 and 6, they didn't like tomatoes, so I took them to a farm and they were eating the little teardrop tomatoes off the plants with these smiles on their faces like they were eating candy."

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