When his toddler turned out to be a picky eater, this Food Network chef and serious foodie was devastated to say the least. Here, Duran shares five things he's learned about getting kids to eat a healthy variety of foods starting at a young age.
In addition to cooking, Chef Duran enjoys reading with his young son.
If you know me well, you know that I’m not the most spiritual person in the world. That said, I believe God (or any higher being you choose to believe in) has an awesome sense of humor. Not the “knock, knock” joke type of humor, but more of an ironic and unexpected one. After all, we can’t let our expectations in life lead us to disappointment without a good laugh.
When my son was born over two years ago, I was excited from the start at the idea of cooking for him, but I had to patiently wait for the obligatory 6-month breast-feeding phase to be completed before I could start processing some ingredients for him. At first everything seemed fine. His first mashed food was avocado and he devoured it—at least for the first couple of days. I began purchasing baby food cookbooks (haven’t we all?) and started spending more hours processing his “gourmet” mashes than my own foods. Little did I know that the battle was about to begin.
It didn’t take him long to understand that he had choices, and what he didn’t choose was Daddy’s food. Fruits, cereal, and milk were his favorite. Period. “It’s just a phase,” is what I was hearing from other parents, but what I saw was their own infants enjoying a simple bowl of spaghetti and meatballs in one sitting while mine stuck his tongue out. I was expecting to find the headlines of a newspaper the next day screaming “TV Chef’s Son Hates Food!”
One evening, as my son was barely touching his bowl of fruit, my friend’s same-aged son sat down and began vaporizing an entire watermelon. This kid wasn’t eating little diced pieces of the stuff; he was holding adult-sized slices of the melon and pounding through it. He was a real-life Very Hungry Caterpillar and I was seething with envy. All things food is who I am, and I felt as though a cruel joke was being played on me.
One day, however, I pulled out these awesome mini pots and egg pans made by IMUSA. They’re small enough for my son to get a good grip on and quite durable, so they can withstand his mighty beatings. I pulled out an egg, cracked it into a bowl, and asked him to place it in the egg pan. It fried perfectly. I flipped it and placed it on a plate. He was mesmerized. I grabbed a piece of buttered toast, dipped it in the cage-free bright yolk, and asked him to take a bite. Would he indulge in the breakfast of gods? He bit into the toast, and for the first time ever I heard him say loud and clear: “Mmmmmmmm!” I could almost hear a choir of angels in the background.
After this initial success, I continued playing this cooking game with him. I let him use a mortar and pestle (or molcajete) to make guacamole, and he devoured it! He pressed on the quesadilla maker to make the cheesy triangles (his favorite shape), and then—gloriously—he ate them. I felt that I had finally cracked the code on the picky eater.
It still can be a battle to feed my son at times, but I assume I’m not alone. As long as I keep him curiously (and safely) involved in the preparation process (we made meatballs last night!), he seems to enjoy eating some of the recipe. It gives me hope and keeps me praying for a less picky daughter some day!
Duran's Top 5 Tips for Cooking with (Picky) Kids
1. Include your kids in the prep. No matter what age, your kids can help you put a meal together. The younger they are, the simpler the task should be, even if it’s literally passing a meatball to be placed on a cooking sheet.
2. Take them shopping. Show your kids where you purchase your food (especially if you shop at a farmers’ market). You can make the experience interactive by having them touch and smell fresh ingredients. Along the way, explain to them why certain foods are better than others in terms of nutrition. After all, they’re smarter than you think!
3. Plan in advance. Choose a recipe that has steps that your children can help you with, and remember to always teach them to clean up.
4. Get dirty! The kitchen can be a fun place and ingredients tend to spill off their tiny hands. Let them know that it’s part of the fun, but also remember to teach them about food hygiene.
5. Colors! Colors! Colors! Kids respond to bright colors. Integrate them in healthier foods and see how they respond positively.
Safety tip: While cooking with kids is educational and fun, leave the complicated dishes for another time. Simple dishes will keep everyone’s attention and be more interesting for the kids.
George Duran is a Venezuelan-born chef and entertainer known for his Food Network show Ham on the Street and as the host of TLC’s Ultimate Cake-Off. Duran attended culinary school in Paris and is the author of Take This Dish and Twist It (Meredith Books, 2008). He lives with his wife and 2-year-old son in Brooklyn.
George Duran's Top Recipes for Cooking with Kids
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