We live in a country where most parents give into their kids’ demands for plain, bland foods, and will even resort to hiding veggies in their meals by blending them in. It’s simply the norm, and most of us accept it as our reality without putting up any sort of fight. But what if there was a way to turn your kids into more adventurous eaters without the tears (from both them and you)?
That’s the concept behind Little Global Chefs, a website founded by Marianne Santee and Sonia Kapadia, two moms (one from Westchester) who are passionate about fighting picky eating. On the site you’ll find healthy, kid-friendly recipes, lunchbox ideas, and tips on how to get your kids more interested in different foods by involving them in the kitchen. Of course, we had to contact Sonia and Marianne to get them to tell us more.
Why do you think parents should stop sneaking veggies into their kids’ food?
First off, hiding veggies is so 2008! People like Jessica Seinfeld popularized this idea and parents flocked to it. Even though it seems clever and your kids will be none the wiser, hiding veggies is a bad idea. Making sure your kiddos get the highest level of nutrition is top of mind for most of us. But we at Little Global Chefs put the ixnay on sneaking veggies into kids’ food, and here’s why. If we’re hiding carrots in muffins or cauliflower in mac and cheese, we’re never even giving our kids a chance to know what these vegetables really taste like and are just perpetuating the picky eating behavior. How can they develop a love for carrots when they think they’ve never even tried it? We’d rather you give your kid the real deal rather than sneaking it into their cookies. And if they only take a bite or two the first time, that’s okay. You’re teaching them about real food, and they’ll get the hang of it.
Incorporating veggies into sauces or other things like that is an entirely different story. We load smoothies and Bolognese sauces with veggies, and our kids are completely aware of what they are eating. In fact, they’re the ones grabbing that fistful of spinach and throwing it into the blender. No hiding or sneaking! The veggies are front and center.
How do you recommend that a parent put an end to picky eating in a 2-year-old? In a 7-year-old?
Don’t panic! It’s never too late to get your kids to eat better and be less picky. But as we know, the difference between a 2-year-old and a 7-year-old can feel like a generation. First step, no matter what their age, invite your kids into the kitchen. Have them help with meal prep, mixing, cooking and plating. The more kids are involved in the process, the more likely they are going to want to eat what they make, and therefore — yup, you guessed it — be less picky! WIN! Since we have kids of different ages, we’ll each address one of the age groups you mentioned.
Sonia: For a 2-year-old, you’re at an advantage because they are still young and can be exposed to lots of different flavors and textures. But having a 2-year-old myself, I know how fussy they can be. It’s important, especially at this age, to stand your ground and set these good habits early on. So, no, we don’t eat cookies for dinner (despite the high-pitched screaming!) and no, I am not a short-order cook. Also, these kids are not too young to be involved in cooking. Seriously. Have your 2-year-old help you make pesto by pulling the leaves off the stems of basil and throwing them into the blender. My daughter Leila, who’s actually only 20 months, has already mastered this. And the more you involve them, the more they will eat, and you’ll start building a lifetime of great eating habits.
Marianne: For a 7-year-old, let’s face it, you basically have a teenager on your hands, right? They can be super opinionated and sometimes really defiant (I have a 6-year-old who’s going on 16!). Picky eating at this age is sometimes a power struggle, so our best advice is to just not engage in the fight. Your kid doesn’t want to eat the delectable new chicken dish you made? Just leave it on the table — oftentimes they’ll come back to it a few minutes later on their own terms, casually saying, “Oh yeah, I guess I’ll eat this,” and then immediately scarfing it down (this scenario literally happened in our house the other day with a chicken teriyaki I made). Also at this age, your kids understand so much more, so you can explain a lot more. They’re also still a little (or a lot) egocentric. So explaining the importance of protein and veggies in a way that is relevant to them will go a long way. “Oh, you want to be faster on your bike? Fish is a great source of protein, which helps you build bigger muscles!” Suddenly that fish looks a lot more interesting.
What do you recommend for super busy parents who don’t have the time to prepare healthy, nutritious meals with their kids every day?
We always encourage you to cook with your kids as much as possible, but we know life is busy and we don’t expect you to cook with your kids every day. Sometimes you have the 30 minutes (and the patience!) to prepare dinner together from start to finish — awesome! Or sometimes, maybe you just give your kid a stir at the batter and send them off while you finish the rest of dinner — well done! But of course there are times when you are exhausted and it’s tough to prepare these healthy and nutritious meals with your kids, and to that we simply say, “Do your best.”
What success looks like is different for every family. If you can prepare home-cooked meals with your kids every night, we want to meet you right now! But if you aren’t able to (like most of us), you can get ahead of the rush of the week and prepare your weekday meals on the weekend with your kids’ assistance. And if some days are totally crazed and you end up picking up a rotisserie chicken on the way home from work and preparing roasted veggies with your kids, then that is amazing, too! You get the idea. Do it when you can. The more you do it, the better off you are. But even if you get to it once every two weeks, that’s just fine, and you are on your way to ending picky eating!
We asked Marianne and Sonia to share one of their recipes with us, and they suggested a pesto that’ll go great with your kids’ pasta of choice. The adapted recipe appears below. And if you’re thinking, “My kids will never eat anything green!” here’s what the moms have to say to that.
Basil Spinach Herb Pesto
4 1/2 ounces fresh basil
1 ounce fresh cilantro
Adult handful of frozen or fresh chopped spinach
Child handful of pine nuts (if your child is allergic to nuts, simply skip this)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt to taste
1. Have your child pull the leaves off the stems of the basil and cilantro, and place them in a salad spinner. Rinse the greens at least three times, then have your child pump the spinner to their heart’s content. This is a fun kitchen tool that kids LOVE. Set the washed herbs aside.
2. If you’re using frozen spinach, place it in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with a paper towel, and microwave on high for 45 to 60 seconds. (If you’re using fresh spinach, skip to step 3.) The spinach should be steaming when it comes out of the microwave. If it is still partially frozen, keep microwaving in 15 minute increments until cooked, then set aside to cool.
3. Have your child grab a handful of pine nuts to throw into the blender. Add the greens, and have your child measure out the cheese and olive oil. Add those ingredients to the blender, plus some salt to taste.
4. Allow your child to turn on the blender, and let it run until you get a paste. If it is too dry, or if you can see pieces of cheese or nuts, add a little more olive oil and run the blender again until all of the ingredients are combined and smooth. Have your child taste along the way, so they can appreciate the flavor and their efforts. Add more salt, cheese, and/or oil as needed.
5. Toss the pesto with warm, cooked pasta until combined. If you have any pesto left over, have your child spoon it into the compartments of an ice cube tray, and store it in the freezer for the next time they want pesto pasta!