Firstly, I don't believe in cooking special meals for children.
I've seen parents actually ask their children what they would like for dinner. What is that?
The kid gets used to the routine and starts saying no to everything unless it's ice cream. Or maybe ravioli with meat sauce if you're lucky.
Hey - put the food in front of them, don't enter into any discussions should they say 'I don't like that' and simply remove the plate after a period of time. As for 'Eat that or you'll get no dessert', don't even go there. You don't negotiate with terrorists.
Whew, I can't believe I just said that.
Lest you think I'm a tyrant, let me assure you I'm not. Most of the time.
I even like to have a little fun with food and children, like making 'face meals'. As long as the adult calls the shots.
The other night, the girls came over to stay. It was one of those 'what's in the cupboard' nights, and we weren't going out for pizza, so I had to use my imagination.
I had some fresh ground beef from which I made small meatballs, adding finely chopped onion and capsicum, an egg, a little salt and pepper, a good dash of tamari and a slurp of steak sauce, forget the brand, Caribbean, I think. I threw in half a cup of wheat germ for health's sake. That stuff can go undetected in all sorts of foods; meatloaf, bolognese sauce, etc.
So I'm rolling out these little balls of meat in flour, giving them a good coating. Shanra, 2, watched.
- Come and give it a go, I said.
They can be quite dexterous if they're the slow, deliberate kind of child, which Shanra is. She gently pushed the meatball through the flour with little dimpled hands until it was all white. Then another. And another. She'll make a good cook, to be sure.
I cooked the meatballs in a little oil and then assembled the children's 'face meals' like this: quarters of Lebanese flat bread on the plate. That's the face, V-side pointing towards you. Meatballs for eyes. Quartered boiled eggs for eyebrows. Half a cherry tomato nose. Florets of broccoli ears. Two-minute noodles for a shock of blond hair. A 'shoulder line', or necklace, of cold halved salad potatoes. And a snowpea mouth. Beautiful.
They didn't eat the snowpeas, of course. But additional eyebrows, eyes and ears were called for. And more hair.
That's another rule: while negotiations on the contents of their plates will not be entered into, they are alwayswelcome to extra helpings.
Eat, eat, eat!