« Ignorance is Bliss: Why the French Eat Better Than We Do. | Main | Coping With Party Favor Candy for Kids »

Feed Your Kids Like a Chef—Cooking Optional

If you want your kids to be stellar eaters, start thinking like a chef.

You don't have to cook like a chef—although I'm sure it doesn't hurt if you have the know-how—just think like one.

Bon Appetit recently asked a bunch of renowned chefs what they do to get their kids to eat right.  If, like me, you thought the chefs would talk, first and foremost, about the amazing creations they whip up to dazzle their little delights, you'd be wrong.

Instead, most of the chefs said they:

  • Don't feed their children special "kid" food. 
  • Expect their children to eat whatever is being served.
  • Routinely expose their children to a wide variety of tastes and textures.

They sound a little like the French! Read Early Vegetable Variety: The French Advantage.

The chefs also talked about shopping, gardening, cooking and dining with their children, but these strategies don't constitute the core of anyone's eating "curriculum."

Read the article, Chefs: They're Just Like Us, the Parental Edition

In contrast...

The other day I was eating at Panera, and—sorry Moms for snooping— I noticed that all the mothers were eating some version of soup and salad.  All the kids were eating some version of bread and cheese.

  • A bagel with cream cheese
  • A grilled cheese sandwich
  • Macaroni and Cheese

I'm not saying that chefs don't feed their children bread and cheese. I'm sure that they do. But the uniformity of the feeding choices across all the tables at Panera really struck me.  It made me wonder what we're teaching our kids.

Child-friendly isn’t just a kind of food. It’s a mindset.

I'm not going to talk about the nutrition of bread and cheese.  Suffice it to say that bread and cheese isn’t really a bad meal. It isn’t really a nutritional winner either.   Read What’s the Problem with Cheese? and La Crème de la Crème.

From a habits perspective, though, a steady diet of bread and cheese can be a disaster:

  1. When kids eat a steady stream of bread and cheese, they want to eat… more bread and cheese.
  2. When parents eat different foods than they feed their kids, children learn they should eat differently than their parents.

I know, you're probably thinking you don't feed your child bread and cheese that often. But what about bread and cheese look-alikes?

From what I see, most toddlers eat a steady stream of:

Toast, bagels with or without cream cheese, waffles, pancakes, muffins, cereal, grilled cheese, crackers with cheese, crackers without cheese, crackers that claim to have cheese, plain pasta, pasta with cheese, quesadillas, pizza, cheese sticks, string cheese...

Not exactly the chef's special, and all versions of bread and cheese. Read Pizza. Pizza. Pizza. and The Variety Masquerade.

Chefs know that eating is a matter of math.

Chefs also know that when parents eat different foods than they feed their kids, children learn they should eat differently than their parents. Read Mind Over Matter

What your kids think they should eat is what they’ll want to eat. 

Not should in the broccoli way—you should eat this—but should in the “child-friendly” way—you should want to eat this because this is what kids eat. You can change all that.

Chef Suzanne Goin caters to her kids' taste buds and to their expectations to "sell" them new stuff.

[M]y kids LOVE Asian food so I use those flavors especially when serving something new or that I think they might not love (or that they think they don't love.)

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (5)

lovely post as per usual. I completely disregard kid's menu and make sure that whatever husband and I order will be enough for the three of us (the kid is not quite 3 yet). The choices on the kids menu complely astound me. I wouldn't want to eat that myself. Bonus, my kid is always happy to eat off our plates to be just like mommy and daddy.

April 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNat


I'm with you on disregarding children's menus. There are always much more interesting options for children, either by sharing from parents' plates, as you say, or from the appetizers. Having said that, I do let my daughter order from the children's menu when she wants to because she doesn't want to that often.


April 11, 2012 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

I agree...my now preteen dd never ate off the kid's menu. We always shared with her or ordered a larger adult portion and an extra plate. Today, the only food she refuses to eat is bananas and her favorite veggie is brussell sprouts.

There is rarely anything worth ordering off the kid's menu.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ in VA

It's not so much the food on the kids' menu that appeals to my kids, but the idea of having their "own" plate. I shared with both of them until they hit 3, but now they want their own meals and to avoid waste, that meals the smaller portions of the kids' menu.

We're also weird that they are only now beginning to like burgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, etc. and while we don't buy these often, I'm actually HAPPY they will eat them out because it used to be a real chore to find food they would like. At least most of the places we eat offer fruit sides and such. I don't think it's so bad once in a while. A steady diet of nothing but kids' meals would be terrible, but once a month when the whole family is eating out "treat" food, doesn't seem that bad to me.

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeth


I agree that it's not bad for kids to eat off the children's menu if they don't get those kinds of foods on a regular basis. My daughter enjoys the occasional chicken nugget just like any other kid. However, I would encourage you to cycle your kids through the kids' menu and onto other parts of the menu for variety, and so they don't get it in their heads that that's the kind of food they eat.

Another place to find small servings of interesting food is the appetizer menu. My daughter has always found tempting alternatives there. And, you can share meals but have the kitchen plate the food to make it seem like their own plate. And finally, sometimes you might just insist the kids share. When you have all these tools at your disposal you can solve any situation that comes up.

Thanks for sharing your story,


May 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>