I am a chef. I have been for well over a decade. I co -own a restaurant in Bristol (www.flintyred.co.uk) and love the fast and furious pace of cooking during a busy shift. However, I now have three brilliant kids and the motivation to fill these three little tummys with nutritional, delicious and exciting food is my primary concern. Cooking in a restaurant for people interested in what’s on their plate and what’s more, are paying for it, couldn’t be more different to cooking at 5pm for hungry fractious children. In fact I find the 5pm slot a lot more demanding. It’s not called the witching hour for nothing.
Feeding children food they don’t want to eat is one of life’s most frustrating, time consuming and head bangingly awful tasks. To navigate this troublesome teatime landscape, I think the best solution is to feed kids food that they will like and want to eat.
As a mother who cooks I get an awful lot of parents asking me what I feed my children come the evening. They are often surprised. My kids are not precocious about food, they love the nursery stalwarts of spaghetti bolognaise, the odd sausage and a cottage pie, but they also love to eat meals that are considered a bit more adventurous. Cold spiced Sichuan noodles is a good example. Dull is the ground hog scenario of a shepherd's pie landing on the table every Thursday evening.
Truth be told my three (Grace 7 yrs, Ivy 4 yrs and Dorothy 1 yr) will wolf down the likes of pesto pasta, but they will also eat an eclectic bunch of laughably healthy suppers.
So perhaps it’s me who is the precocious one come supper time. I want my kids to eat their way around the world, albeit on a metaphorical food journey, and all the while sat nicely at the kitchen table. Nothing could excite me less than a lifetime of suppers where mince is the mainstay and a fork the only necessary tool. A few miserable weeks of blending pumpkin and making various baby mush when weaning my first daughter six years ago made concrete for me a food philosophy by which to feed my family.
Vegetables by stealth. Why should the vegetables be something on the side of the plate to endure? They should be a delicious and integral part of the supper. Cooking vegetables well and with creativity is a life skill. It will set you in good stead for very many delicious meals.
Cook a cabbage with bulghar, tomato and garlic and ‘sweeten’ it with cinnamon and allspice, soon enough that cabbage becomes an attractive proposition. Make your own cheese and serve it at teatime with a flattering salad, your children will surely then be over the moon with what’s put in front of them.
Giving children a sense of autonomy when it comes to eating their dinner is key. If you can engage your kids and get them involved with what they will be eating right from them standing there in the veg shop, the butchers, the fishmongers, to back in the kitchen and cooking, even to knowing how to lay the table nicely, these are all crucial to a lovely meal landing right there in front of you.
What’s more, having things to finish and personalise your own supper at the table with a flourish always proves popular with smaller folk. A vegetable and lentil rich soup would be nothing without the Turkish chilli flakes and pumpkin seeds to sprinkle, the yogurt to dollop, the olive oil to drizzle and the flat bread to dunk.
Food. It's terribly important stuff and we'll be eating it for the rest of our lives. So we'd best set about it making it taste the very best it can be.
5 o' clock or thereabouts comes and more often than not I'll tweet my kid's supper by way of a culinary prompt. Not wanting to preach I am instead providing some food for thought.
Elbows down, knives and forks at the ready, and we're off......
The 5 O'Clock Apron "One of the best family cookbooks I've seen in years." (Diana Henry)
Click the link below, or buy it on the Guardian Bookshop or walk into a proper book shop and but it there.
The 5 O Clock Apron Book - Proper Food for Modern Families - is now... drum roll, party streamers, fanfare, glass of wine, long lie down... finished!
Published by Ebury Press February 2015. Lovely photography by Mike Lusmore - see more of his work here..
The process of writing my 1st book has been utterly brilliant and I have enjoyed every moment of it (as, I am sure, have my family and friends - well fed, well photographed and laughing throughout).
All photographs on this page are courtesy of Mike Lusmore and are © Mike Lusmore 2014.