Kids WILL Eat Real Food

by Chef Bobo on April 30, 2009

Chef BoboRecently, I was catering a dinner party on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The party was a birthday dinner with about 25 adults. The location was in a beautiful apartment with a rare huge kitchen. This was great for those of us who were preparing the food for the dinner. It gave us plenty of room to cook a delicious meal that featured roasted rack of lamb, blanched green beans and an aromatic rice pilaf all served after a few rounds of hors d’ouevres. Plus people at a party always love to hang out in the kitchen. The guests for the dinner were all adults except for one little boy, about 9 years old, who came with his mom because she couldn’t find anyone to care for him while she was at the party. The kid was curious and spent a lot of time watching us cook. He was rather shy and didn’t try to talk with us, he just watched. At one point when I was heating up the green beans and had taken the rice pilaf out of the oven, he asked his mom, “What’s he making?” I got excited about his curiosity and was about to offer tastes when she replied, “oh, it’s just green beans and rice, you don’t like that.” I was stunned and speechless.

Mom then removed some frozen processed chicken nuggets from the refrigerator which she had brought along to feed him. She put some of them on a plate and put them in the microwave oven to heat them up. I noticed that the processed nuggets had been made in the shape of miniature drumsticks and they had an unnatural orange color. When she took them out of the microwave the acrid smell of processed food competed with the aromas of the rice and the roasted lamb. She gave them to him for his dinner. “Mom”, he said, “I need ketchup!” She looked in the refrigerator and found a bottle and gave it to him. He proceeded to completely cover those lifeless little nuggets with the ketchup. (That took me back to when I was a kid and I poured ketchup over any food item that I didn’t like just so I could eat it.) She then turned to me and asked if we had any bread he could have. I quickly and eagerly offered one our wonderful whole wheat French rolls from one of the best bakeries in the city. He smelled it, tore a piece off and ate it. He obviously liked it. I was thankful that he was getting a little protein and some healthy nutrition from the roll which was made from whole grains, not processed flour.

For the past 7 years I have been cooking for about 500 kids per day. We cook food that is prepared from scratch using only the freshest ingredients. I have learned during these years how much kids love fresh green beans and rice pilaf which are always well cooked and seasoned. I felt pain when the little boy’s mom told him he wouldn’t like it. I knew that he would. I also knew that he would probably love one of the juicy little lamb chops that I cut from the roasted rack of lamb. It’s a pity that he didn’t get the chance to taste them because he was being taught that he wouldn’t like them. Mom, during the dinner that night, ate 6 of the lamb chops came back 2 or 3 times for more green beans and rice and eventually came to tell me it was the best meal she had ever eaten.

We need to be careful in telling kids what they do and don’t like. On any given moment their curiosity can change their willingness to taste just about anything. Food that is fresh, cooked and seasoned well, doesn’t taste like the canned or frozen foods that are often prepared for kids. Kids are excited by the bright colors of freshly cooked food and with the way it looks and smells and are usually willing to give it a try. It’s just one more step in helping them to develop a palate that precludes the awful tastes of processed food and the sugars that are used to cover those awful tastes. Kids need to be fed for nourishment not for filling them up and to keep them quiet. I think a better answer to that little boy’s question about the food I was preparing would have been “he’s making green beans and rice, maybe he’ll give you a taste if you say ‘please’.” I would have hopped on that and given the kid a really nice meal.

That night, that precious little boy’s only nutrition was from the two whole wheat rolls he eventually ate (he asked for a second one). But those rolls may have been the best food he had ever eaten.

About the Contributor: Chef Bobo is a regular contributor to the NYC Firm Schools Blog in the area of area of school lunch and children’s food.

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