Thanks to my Aunt K, this past November I was wandering around what seemed like a big kids food version of the all-stars science fair, more commonly known as the NYTimes: Taste of T event. My primary goal was to get in contact with these prominent chefs for my latest entrepreneurial endeavor, I’m In The Kitchen[dot]com (coming soon!), but mainly found myself gorging on the creative tasters of said culinary geniuses. The event happened to take place in the beautiful Architects & Designers building and as you “sampled haute cuisine” you were “invited to explore the ultra-luxe showrooms boasting innovative product and design ideas in kitchen, bath, appliances and home furnishings” (their words, not mine). My mind began to wander, as it tends to do, and I began thinking about the ridiculously awesome kitchen I would one day design for my very own home when I was forced out of my day dream because I had actually bumped into Fanae Aaron’s booth. My embarrassed grin was met by her welcoming smile and my eyes quickly diverted to her intriguing cookbook title propped up on the table and the nutrition side of my brain took over and I thought, wait, what DO chefs feed their kids?. As I bit into my second of the much welcomed healthy lite bites of her red bean and walnut spread atop a crostini, we had already covered my background as well as her own and swapped information. A few email exchanges later, we had set up a time for us to have a more formal conversation about her book, her love of food and her son, and what brought her to this point in her life. The conversation continues here.
Fanae Aaron, author of What Chef’s Feed Their Kids, was never a picky eater as a child or a culinary school graduate, but as a lifelong food enthusiast when it came time to feeding her son Cody, she saw things a little differently. After popping open her first jar of baby food, she took a quick taste and simply tossed it; it just didn’t feel right nourishing her growing son with something so unappetizing. So she went straight for the pros and asked some of the best chefs in America what they feed their little ones.
In today’s world, healthy eating is unfortunately associated with restrictions but for children they want to eat what the other kids are eating too. How do you address that with your son and do you ever let him indulge, especially when it comes to birthdays and special occasions?
We eat healthy all the time and restricting some foods is inevitable, we really restrict sugar. When we are out and about and his friends are eating lollipop after sweet thing after sweet thing I turn to him and say “you know we dont eat that stuff [because] it’s going to make you sick.” I try not to be un-fun about it but since we’re restricted in that front we are so broad on other fronts. He loves tacos so we make breakfast tacos all the time. Actually, for infants sugar is an analgesic but when does that end? If we teach our children to be soothed with sugar, when they are 25 years old they will still reach for that slice of blueberry pie or pint of ice cream when they are feeling down, and that turns into a downward spiral. But you can’t say no all the time, you have to be on the same food team so just find what works best for you.
In society it’s customary to eat something sweet for birthdays and special occasions and we are lucky enough to live in California where there are some restaurants that make healthy versions of his favorite sweets. We love Cafe Gratitude because they make a healthier milkshake that has a low glycemic index, uses agave instead of sugar and has no dairy in it. I admit I give him cookies but I just try to make more wholesome versions of them. I make him feel “food special” and he knows that I’m working hard cooking for him. I think that’s the most important thing to do with your child- sharing the cooking and shopping experience. For dessert I’ll bring the mango to the table and cut it in front of him. Food creates relationships and harbors rituals, we go to the farmers markets and speciality food shops together that way we are spending quality time together and sharing something that is just ours.
You mentioned involving your children in the cooking and shopping process, have your culinary skills rubbed off on Cody? And I know growing up my mother would always ask us what we wanted for dinner and we would always say “whatever’s fine”, and now that aggravates me to no degree when I cook for my family and friends. Is Cody articulate about what he wants to eat that night?
He loves hanging out with me in the kitchen, he especially loves to help when we make pumpkin and zucchini bread– cracking the eggs, pouring the flour and using the hand held mixer. But between those things there are a million steps I need to do that he either doesn’t want to do or is too young to do so I always have a side project for him- the salad spinner or playing with a bowl of flour. He can go back to being involved when he wants and jumps in and out in accordance with his attention span.
Cody is an extremely articulate 5 year old, but at that age they are so in the present and do not carry a catalogue of they they want so it’s important to give them a list of things and then he tells me which one he likes. I’m trying to build a culinary vocabulary with him so when I first put something down in front of him I ask him “is it lemon-y enough? or is it cheesy enough?” Every child needs that transition and it’s a way for him to taste it and give me feedback on what he likes.
What seemed to be the biggest hurdle when you were writing this book and was there any hesitation with your son trying all of these different foods? I can’t imagine a kid asking for such healthy options like steamed black cod opposed to chicken fingers! What are your secrets!
I only have rudimentary cooking skills and I was really learning the foundations of cooking while I was teaching him to eat. As his eating skills progressed, my cooking skills did too. I made sure to reach out to different kinds of chefs with a range of cuisines and talents; chefs recipes aren’t something an average cook can understand so I did a lot of research and a lot of trials. It stretched my cooking skills and I really had to be able to trust the recipes as everyone who follows a recipe in What Chefs Feed Their Kids should feel comfortable with doing as well.
It’s hard to get your child to eat healthy and crave healthy options, that’s the entire drive behind this book. It’s about how we can educate kids and eventually enable them, when they are old enough, to make better choices for nourishing themselves. But it isn’t a secret that it’s difficult. I always used superhero’s as an example, they create a positive food association with healthful foods like spinach and it tended to go over a lot better. Creating confident, happy and healthy relationship with food is my goal and once you do that it’s contagious. You build pride in your kid.
So, what’s for dinner tonight?
I really love the shaking beef recipe, it’s delicious and fast! If I know that I’m not going to have a lot of time at the end of the day, I marinate it in the morning and stir fry it when I get home!