How to get your kids to eat

When Mar tine Camillieri realized her grandchildren didn’t want to eat what she had prepared, she was forced to revert to creative solutions; the result was a cookbook for kids.

Hebrew cookbook 521 (photo credit: From the book)
Hebrew cookbook 521
(photo credit: From the book)
The pictures in the book are simply magical: a stuffed toy dog eating miniature hamburgers out of an egg carton and munching on french fries made out of carrot sticks; a little deer slicing chocolate hot dogs made out of petit beurre and bittersweet chocolate; a plastic kitten curiously investigating a structure of tiny red sugar apple balls stuck into a half lemon with toothpicks; small mice made from radishes and olives sitting on a huge slice of cheese.
The book I Want To Cook For My Friends, released this summer by publishing house LunchBox, which specializes in creating beautifully designed cookbooks that are as fun to read as they are to use, was created by a grandmother from France named Martine Camillieri, the author of a series of books that integrate art, ecology, recycling and the environment in a fun, playful way.
“I Want To Cook For My Friends was recently translated into Hebrew and published in Israel, three years after the book came out in France, where it was a big success. The book was designed for children aged two to 12 (and their parents, of course) and is filled with cute and mischievous miniature culinary inventions that can be prepared with parents’ help.
They are great for tea parties with dolls, holidays, picnics in the garden or any middle-ofthe- week dinner. The book includes fun tips such as “Put a scoop of ice cream in a glass of carbonated lemonade and watch what happens… The foam grows and grows and grows.
Drink it quickly before it spills over the edge!” The portions are small and pretty – perfect for dolls and children. Their presentation always incorporates recycled items that are normally found around the house: an orange peel can be used as a plate, toothpicks become tiny skewers. Whoever told you not to play with your food? “I wrote this book for my grandchildren,” Camillieri tells me by phone from Paris.
“When we would go on vacation together, they were always very curious about my cooking.
So I prepared small portions for their dolls and teddy bears, in an effort to encourage them to taste new foods – and it worked! If it was good enough for their dolls, it was good enough for them, too.”
Do you think your book will help children who don’t want to eat? Yes. The secret is preparing small portions. Today, everything is way too big for small people.
What’s the most important aspect of your book: recycling, art or food? Recycling and food. It’s very exciting to create things by yourself, especially for children.
Children love to cook, to be in the kitchen and to use different pots and utensils. They’re like toys for them. When they’re in the kitchen with us, they see that cooking is easy, that it doesn’t take very much time and that they end up with something yummy when they’re done! Before you know it, these children will be grownups with healthy eating habits.
It’s also important to teach children to recycle.
If you can show them how to use something in a new way, or to play with something in a way that is different than what it was initially intended for, then it’s easier to explain what recycling is, and this is very important.
The art is not important to me. Anything can be art – it’s just a way of looking at things.
In your opinion, what should children eat? Are you satisfied with what they eat these days? I believe that the most important thing is to eat a little bit of everything, though I know this is not so simple. I try to prepare vegetables and offer them at the start of every meal. After that, I let the children eat whatever they want. At this point though, their stomachs are pretty full, so they can’t eat much unhealthy food. I am shocked when I go to the supermarket and see what large families have in their carts. Of course, it’s not these people’s faults, but the industry’s. I wrote a book about this too, called Wild Food.
What do you think about the children’s menus restaurants offer? I think that children need to eat the same things as adults – just smaller portions. The recipes in my book are the same recipes you would find in a regular cookbook, just with a different presentation. The real problem is that adults now eat junk food like their children do. Of course, children shouldn’t be eating chips and candy either.
I Want To Cook For My Friends includes numerous dessert recipes, but I tried to keep them healthy and always suggest using local products and organic fruits and vegetables in season. In the Hebrew version, I included recipes connected with the Jewish holidays, since even for secular Israelis – especially parents of young children – they are an integral part of life in Israel.
MARTINE CAMILLIERI is not the only one who knows that parents these days don’t know what to feed their children, and that sometimes they need a bit of direction to raise children who eat healthfully and will continue to make good choices as adults.
Yael Tal, a cook, pastry chef and culinary consultant, offers workshops called Parents Cook, which teach parents in just a few sessions how to properly feed their children regardless of their ages. She explains how to cook easy and quick meals that kids will love, with fresh ingredients and a minimal amount of processed food.
Tal has risen to the challenge of overcoming the helplessness many new parents feel when trying to decide what to feed their children. In this day and age, when way too many people subsist on felafel, pizza and subsidized lunches at restaurants near the office, it’s no wonder that when it’s time to prepare cooked zucchini and carrots for their baby for the first time in their life, they have no idea what to do.
On her website, Tal talks about the one and only time she ever felt helpless in the kitchen. It was when her daughter, Ella, was born five years ago. After working as a pastry chef for years in restaurants in Israel and around the world, she realized she had no idea what to feed her daughter.
She was bombarded with an endless number of questions: Where to start? What should she puree? How could she avoid junk food? How could she prevent her child from becoming overweight, and get her used to eating healthy foods? In an effort to answer these and other questions, she joined forces with nutritionist Sarit Atiya, who has extensive experience treating children and adolescents. Together, they constructed Parents Cook, a series of workshops divided according to the age of the children, which helps parents learn how to cook for their children.
“The Parents Cook workshops attempt to teach parents how to get their children accustomed to eating well from their first bite,” Tal says. “The question is how to get children used to eating food other than schnitzel and mashed potatoes. This is a lot of work for the parents. The secret is to offer children a diverse array of foods.
They should only eat a small amount of sweets and junk food. It’s important that they are given the opportunity to experience a wide variety of flavors, except for a few off-limits items.”
What are the off-limits items? We are totally against giving children sweetened drinks – all of the juices and drinks that are marketed as children’s drinks. In every small bottle there are three to five spoonfuls of sugar. Children should be used to drinking water and not sweetened juices. It’s much easier to instill good habits in them when they are young, rather than trying to correct this later on.
In practice, how does one do this? Just don’t buy these drinks or have them around the house. This doesn’t mean that you have to be extreme about it. If you’re out at a restaurant or at a birthday party, you can let your child drink juice.
We adults also like to treat ourselves when we’re eating out, but at home they should only be drinking water.
How do we deal with our children’s endless requests for candy? How do we say no? My approach is that there’s no need to be extreme. It’s fine to buy children an ice cream when you’re out, but it doesn’t have to be the biggest one there. And you should take the time to prepare apple slices before going out, instead of buying a bag of chips at the corner store.
It’s also important not to keep these kinds of foods at home. Children form habits from what they do at home. For example, in the workshop we put a lot of emphasis on the importance of eating meals together as a family. If it’s not possible to have dinner together as a family every night, it’s worthwhile doing so at least a few times a week.
A child who grows up in a home with a healthy environment, where a wide variety of healthy food is eaten will grow up to be an adult who makes correct decisions regarding nutrition. But I don’t believe in being extreme. I don’t think people need to use only quinoa or whole-wheat flour.
I believe in diversification, and in the workshops I offer parents extremely simple recipes that are really easy to follow.
OVER THE last few years, people have begun talking about “food for children.” Entire shelves in supermarkets are filled with products marketed especially for children and most restaurants offer children’s meals, which usually comprise schnitzel, hot dogs or pasta. And of course, this is an example of our society’s belief that there is a very clear distinction between food that is suitable for children and food that is not.
“I always say that, in my opinion, there is no such thing as food for children,” Tal says, trying to dispel this myth, which without a doubt is a modern invention with significant economic ramifications. “Children eat whatever they find available at home. They should be eating in a healthy environment.
Their diet should include vegetables, fruit, fish and meat. There is no such thing as food for children. The food you give your children is the same food you eat. But you can make small changes, such as making it less spicy.”
Is it a good idea to include children in food preparation? Yes, children love eating food they helped prepare. Take them with you to the grocery store and let them pick the vegetables themselves. Do the cooking together, because then it will be much more fun for them to eat the food.
What are parents’ greatest misconceptions regarding children’s nutrition? The “schnitzel myth.” We shouldn’t be so crazy about schnitzel! Many mothers think that if they give their children schnitzel, it’s the same as if they gave them meat. This is simply not true. It’s just chicken breast. There’s no iron it and it’s fried in oil, which is also not healthy.
Parents need to understand that chicken is not meat. Forty percent of children in the greater Tel Aviv area suffer from iron deficiency because everyone in Israel eats only chicken. Children eat chicken all day, when what they really should be eating is turkey or beef. Children under the age of three are undergoing accelerated brain development, which requires a tremendous amount of iron.
Most people don’t know this, but the first chicken soup parents prepare for their babies and puree should be made from turkey and not from chicken. Parents today suffer from an incredible lack of awareness. By the way, because of the issue of iron, the Health Ministry recommends refraining from giving babies dairy products until they are at least 12 months old.
In France, for example, it is not suggested to refrain from giving babies under 12 months dairy products, but in Israel, the Health Ministry was concerned that the moment babies are given dairy products, they will suffer from iron deficiency. It’s not the dairy products themselves which are harmful – it’s just that they contain no iron, whereas breast milk and baby formula do. So, the authorities decided that until babies are one year old, they need to receive the full amount of iron they require for development.
What do you think about parents who raise their children vegetarian or vegan? It’s problematic. I’m not telling anyone how to raise their children, but when children are at an age when their bones are growing, they need to receive all of the required nutrients. It’s not that vegetarian and vegan foods don’t contain iron, but our bodies absorb iron from meat much better than they do from vegetables.
Why are there so many children who don’t like to eat, and what can we do about it? I think the main problem is the mothers, not the children. Healthy children naturally feel when they are full or hungry, and we “Jewish mothers” are always trying to stuff them with more and more food. Children eat when they’re hungry. They should be left to decide for themselves how much to eat and if they need to eat at all. It is our responsibility to decide which foods to serve them. If a child doesn’t eat, it’s a sign that he’s not hungry. That’s if the child is healthy, of course.
I’ve been asked many times how much a child of a certain age should be eating.
I don’t deal with amounts, because each child is different. We should trust their natural feeling of fullness or hunger. And if we, the mothers, run after them with food, we’re only going to do harm. If a child is not hungry, we must leave him alone; he’ll eat when he’s hungry. Many times a mother will stuff one more spoonful into her child’s mouth. The amount of nutrients a child receives from this last spoonful of meatballs is not worth the feelings of stress connected with food that he will develop as a result.
And what if a child refuses to eat a specific type of food, such as tomatoes? Don’t force him to eat it. Just make it available for him to taste when he’s ready.
If you put tomatoes on the table every day and he sees you eating them, at some point he’ll also want a taste. If there’s a specific food that a child doesn’t eat, it’s not a big deal. You just need to make sure that he’s not skipping over an entire food group. If a child doesn’t eat tomatoes but he eats other vegetables, it’s not a big deal. And anyway, you could just give him ketchup.
Ketchup? Are you serious? This is another myth – that ketchup is some terrible thing that you shouldn’t give your kids. But the truth is that it’s not nearly as bad as people think. If a child doesn’t eat tomatoes, he should eat ketchup, since it also contains lycopene. Of course, children shouldn’t eat too much ketchup since it also contains a lot of sugar, but contrary to popular belief, ketchup also contains nutrients.
What’s your opinion about children’s meals at restaurants? They always offer the same thing.
Yeah, I have a bit of a problem with these meals. I’m proud to say that when I go out with my family to a restaurant, sometimes my daughter orders a steak. She is not interested in the schnitzel or hot dogs offered as children’s meals – and she’s only five. It’s important for children to eat a variety of different foods and it’s a shame that so many restaurants offer the same children’s meals.
However, since going out to eat in a restaurant is special, I allow her to eat things there that I wouldn’t at home, like sweetened beverages and desserts.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.