The chefs’ kids are all right

Posted on 14 September 2015

Even some of SA’s top chefs find their children picking at their food at times. Luke Dale-Roberts, Andrea Burgener and Reuben Riffel share their tips on getting kids to follow a balanced diet.

‘Eat your veggies and you’ll grow big and strong.’ It’s funny how we used to hate hearing this as kids but now find ourselves repeating it to our children – often to be met with a tantrum. However overused the phrase might be, it’s a conventional wisdom that is actually true: good nutrition – which includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables – has been proven to promote physical development in children and has also been linked directly to healthy brain development. But try telling that to little Timmy who refuses to eat his peas. If it makes you feel any better, even chefs sometimes struggle to get their kids to eat healthily – but they have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Luke Dale-Roberts
Luke is the executive chef and owner of The Test Kitchen in Cape Town, which recently earned 28th spot on the coveted World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Luke says his son Findlay (8) has a healthy appetite for fresh fruit and vegetables, and he doesn’t believe in forcing him to have anything he doesn’t like.

‘I remember as a kid choking back the tears when I was forced to eat lumpy semolina, so I’ll never inflict that on Findlay. One’s palate evolves over time, and if your child doesn’t like something now, it doesn’t mean he won’t enjoy it in a few years’ time.’

Andrea Burgener
Chef-patron at the popular Johannesburg eatery The Leopard, Andrea believes kids will be kids. She allows her children, Jim (12), Holly (10) and Thomas (6), to have treats every now and again – within limits. ‘I make them packed lunches with healthy foods and let them have something from the tuck shop once a week,’ she says. ‘I think if you deprive them of junk food completely they’ll just gorge on the stuff when they’re out of your sight.’

At home there are firm rules. Fizzy drinks and white bread are no-nos, and she incorporates lots of veggies into their diet. ‘Even when we have pizza as a treat, there are vegetables on the side.’ And how does she handle it when one of her kids doesn’t want to eat something? ‘If they don’t like something on their plate, I tell them to have some fresh fruit instead.’

Reuben Riffel
This executive chef of the eponymous Reuben’s restaurants in Cape Town, Franschhoek and Robertson is father to Latika (5) and Max (2). ‘Kids are weird,’ he laughs. ‘Latika has quite an adventurous palate and enjoys sashimi and olives. Max has an aversion to anything sour and likes simpler foods.’

Reuben and his wife, Maryke, started their children on the right track from the start, steering clear of processed baby food and instead puréeing vegetables and fruit. They also don’t keep any sweets or fizzy drinks in the house. ‘Since they didn’t grow up with sweets, their palates aren’t used to it so when there’s something sweet at a party they’ll only eat a little. It’s the same with takeaways. They don’t know KFC or McDonald’s, so they don’t crave it. We sometimes have fish and chips, but I make it from scratch.’

Reuben has devised a clever way to get his children to try new foods. ‘I’ve noticed that my kids are often curious when they see me eating something new,’ he says. ‘I’ll make a big show about how delicious it is and then they often want to try it themselves!’

Now that’s a clever trick we can probably all use with our brood. Who knows, even little Timmy might be swayed…

Dangling the carrot
Struggling to get your kids to eat their vegetables? Try these tips…

1. Try, try and try again
Your child’s palate can’t evolve if he or she isn’t exposed to new tastes regularly. Research shows that your child often needs to try a new food at least eight times before taking to it. If you’re giving young Sarah asparagus for the first time and she’s turning up her nose at it, tell her she only needs to take one bite. Try this several times over the course of a couple of months. She might end up liking it!

2. Get creative
Children are visual creatures and often eat with their eyes first. Create a fun pattern with vegetable crudités or make a smiley face with peas for eyes, half a round of butternut for a smile and a sliver of red pepper for a nose.

3. Go cloak-and-dagger
If all else fails, a bit of sneaking could work. If your child loves spaghetti bolognaise, add some grated carrot, baby marrow and pumpkin to the mince mixture. If mashed potato is a favourite, also try cauliflower mash.

The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

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