Confused Over What to Feed Your Kids? Cook for Your Family like the Chefs Do

Fanae Aaron's book tells us how chefs deal with challenges every parent faces.

By Christy Hobart

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 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.

Are chefs OK with their kids going to a fast-food restaurant?

Aaron, an art director for films and commercials whose interest in feeding children was born soon after her son was, did her research. 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.

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. 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.

What "good" and "real" ingredient does one chef use for biscuits for his family?

Chefs, we learn, create meals for their children with "good" and "real" ingredients. 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.

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.

What is the book's surprising take on "organic"?

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."

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Ask the chef: Should you try to find the perfect meal for kids or just call it 'the family meal'?

Cathal Armstrong, chef-owner of Restaurant Eve and three other restaurants in Alexandria, Va.: 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.

Ask the chef: How do you get your kids to each vegetables?

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.

Ask the chef: How tough are you about making your kids eat the meal before dessert?

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."

Zester Daily contributor Christy Hobart is a food and shelter writer in Los Angeles.

Top photo composite: Fanae Aaron. Credit: Flint Ellsworth. Book jacket photo courtesy of Globe Pequot

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