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Book Review: What Chefs Feed Their Kids

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As a first-time mummy and foodie, I’m interested in instilling a love of good food from infancy. My twins have recently ventured into the world of solids. They’ve eagerly polished off everything offered to them in the last month – mashed brown rice, organic rice cereal, carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, avocadoes, broccoli, apples, bananas, pears, papayas and even prunes.

I’m starting to realise that feeding children requires resourcefulness and creativity. It will be hard to keep them away from fast food forever, but I hope that a good early foundation will ensure they’ll always prefer fresh food to processed produce. I’d like them to eventually enjoy the variety of vegetables and fruit that we enjoy as part of our daily diet. I want to feed them in ways that would not only nourish them, but also excite their palates and senses.

For these reasons, I enjoyed reading Fanae Aaron’s What Chefs Feed Their Kids: Recipes and Techniques for Cultivating a Love of Good Food. When her son Cody started feeding, Aaron had wondered about things like: How do chefs tackle the challenge of cooking for children? Would a child raised by chefs enjoy eating even vegetables, which most kids dislike? What kind of things do chefs do to introduce their children to eating?

Aaron took the seed of a good idea and grew it into this unique book. She interviewed 20 award-winning chefs who are also parents, collecting not only their personal recipes, but also their personal stories. Aaron discovered that “for chefs, every meal is a new beginning – an adventure – and that attitude translates to how they feed their kids.” The profiled chefs all fed their infants fresh vegetables and simple foods, regarding these as “the building blocks of flavour” as “babies have palates that are pure and uncontaminated; and so need to be given clean and fresh foods first.” Their stories show us how we can educate our kids to eventually make better choices about nourishing themselves.

I like that the recipes relate to meals that can be served for the whole family. While many parents feed toddlers separate meals of bland foods, chefs bring their children to the table with them. For example, the purees are a pared-down part of an overall recipe that the whole family can eat, with suggestions for additions or modifications for older children and adults. There’s also a good mix of Asian, Western and Mediterranean style dishes. Some recipes I found interesting are “steamed black cod with ginger broth, lime, and noodles” and “Japanese pancakes”.  The chapters are helpfully categorised by age groups, with recipes that get progressively more sophisticated.

I learnt that babies actually have 10,000 taste buds compared with adults’ 6,000, and many infants have taste receptors on their tongues as well as the soft part of their palate and cheeks. Also, that there’s a window of opportunity to introduce children to novel foods that supposedly closes after they are weaned and before they turn two. Did you know that fat is very important to babies’ mental growth? Apparently skinny babies often don’t flourish because the fatty acids meant for brain development are being used to keep them warm.

I picked up some useful feeding tips as well. For example, the American Dietetic Association recommends that babies chew and crush on a spoon with their gums while eating as this teaches them to eat slowly and to be patient; lowering their risk of choking. Different preparation can also sometimes make particular foods more appetising to your baby. For instance, some foods like cabbage and asparagus have sulphides in them and when cooked, can smell bad to children who are sensitive to odours. So, these are best served to babies when they are cooled down after cooking to minimise their aromas. Moreover, parents can help kids build a vocabulary around food – kids will enjoy the authority of tasting and declaring something is sour, salty, bitter, sweet etc. Another good tip is to have your kids eat with friends whose kids eat well.

There are several good quotes by Cynthia Epps, an infant feeding specialist. Epps says it’s better to serve food family style in the centre of the table rather than on individual plates. Then, if kids see you taking a serving of something and enjoying it, it will pique their curiousity and will be more likely to try it because it’s their own idea to take some. She cautions parents not to emphasise their dislike for certain foods, as it will influence their children and cause them to prematurely reject those foods before giving them a chance. It’s also important to be honest with kids, not to trick them into trying something.

Food writer M.F.K. Fisher summed it up best, “It seems to me that our three basic needs for food, security and love, are so mixed, mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.” I hope to learn how to establish a close bond with my children, so that they will trust me enough to take a taste of any new food. I think that in today’s global environment, a tolerance for trying new foods as well as the ability to eat broadly across cultures are important life skills to have. If our kids have early experiences of eating well, they may become inspired to eat with greater enthusiasm as grown-ups.

Li-Hsian recently left a career in corporate communications to become a full-time mum to twins. She is learning new things daily as she tries to balance the romance of motherhood with the messy realities of her latest role.

Image credit: Amazon.

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