Kids, food and the art of not losing your sanity

Here we go. The subject that can keep mothers ranting/stressing/ arguing/ pleading with their beloved children ad nauseam which of course will not aid the process of getting them to eat what you want them to eat.

My Mother who was in the US trying to order breakfast in a diner about a decade ago spent so long deliberating over what to choose due to the overwhelming choice/time of day/unfamiliarity of options that she felt the need to apologise. The waitress cheerfully quipped,  ‘we just want you to have what you want to have’ (you will have to imagine the appropriate accent) and this has stuck with us all as a bit of a joke, but rarely do you ever really get a free choice with food, constricted by time, money, sometimes season, whom else you are cooking/preparing for or what you have left in the fridge.

Kids seem not to have received the memo in this respect and definitely exercise the right to express how they feel if they don’t get their choice and the upshot can be lengthy domestic traumas as mothers attempt to broaden the range of foods consumed. Just to make us all feel better I hardly know anyone who doesn’t have trouble with this in one way shape or form. The pendulum swings from the ‘allergies’ people who are, to a man, cheerful despite not being able to eat all manner of delicious stuff, and are deeply grateful if you attempt to make a something-free cake just for them (I do appreciate choice is not the issue here), to the soooo fussy ones that they might just have to pop home for their own brand of tomato ketchup because you only have Sainsburys Own or only eat particular types of sausages ‘I only like Gloucester Old Spot’ !!!! O.M.G.

It really does make for some testing times at tea.

I don’t think I have any particular pearls of wisdom here although I am starting to wonder if there are a few Golden Rules :

  • Be seen eating the controversial stuff yourself, practice what you preach.
  • Try and eat together as much as you can or stand.
  • Try not to create an air of anticipation if you have ‘hidden’ something in the food. Think Poker Face.
  • Keep it plain, particularly with little kids who genuinely don’t seem to like anything too strong and spicy. (Even strong cheddar can trip you up! It did with us. Grrrr!!!!) Tastes do mature with age it seems.
  • Don’t attempt to pass off something that looks like a dish they like if it isn’t exactly what they like, this almost never works.
  • Don’t worry about individual battles, just concentrate on winning the war.

Some just aren’t into food and this can make bribing and bargaining tricky. In our house we have a nod to my Mother’s mantra ‘eat what’s put in front of you’ for public consumption but we have also attempted to ‘just keep trying’ with unpopular stuff bearing in mind the golden rules and ours can be swayed with the promise of something they like if they eat something they don’t (or pretend they don’t). One friend told me she could have some sweets/chocolate/a biscuit if she had eaten 3 pieces of fruit as a child. This was very clever. Presumably there would be no room left for a treat after 3 pieces of fruit!

Are either of you Gloucester Old Spots?

The ‘just keep trying’ I know sounds a bit pathetic but there is method in the madness – we have been known to hide the offending offering amongst other more beloved stuff. Not in the ‘passing off something as something else’ as above, but genuinely hiding it in casseroles, spaghetti bolognese, crumbles, that sort of thing. Eventually you reveal they have been eating kidneys or celeriac for ages in a casserole and so, in the case of celeriac, you move on to trying it mashed with potato. Or, more realistically, grate carrots into spaghetti bolognese and then move onto visible diced pieces and then once they’ve spotted that, try carrots for real. They don’t take kindly to being hoodwinked but sometimes there’s also relief that they have been eating yucky carrots and they weren’t that bad after all.

There are some very sophisticated hidden vegetable ideas and in fact a blog and book are the product. (I’m now awaiting a comment from someone who knows who she is, who’s going to give us the details). Beetroot in Chocolate cake would be one of mine, and for those desperate to get veg into kids this would definitely be the place to start. Eventually though I suspect one has to attempt to actually expand the repertoire of actual-veg-looking-like-veg eaten and then the gradual increase in visibility of it in a dish is a good tactic to take.

If anyone would like to comment with additional Golden Rules I’d really love to hear them. I’m considering setting up a page about this with the results of any discussion. Perhaps we’ll have a poll!

I won’t post a recipe today as where to pitch it is a bit of a challenge. I’ll add some recipes we have had some recent success with soon, but for some adaptable old favourites try Barely got your hat off Chicken Noodle Soup and Garlicky Breadcrumbs with Spaghetti.

And what did my Mother finally order in that diner all those years ago? Eggs, tea and toast, yummy!

Do we still have fish because it’s Friday? Smoked Mackerel Pate for Leaner Lines.

What a momentous first week of blogging I have had. A few statistics are called for in the circumstances I feel, if everyone can just humour me for a second.

Update: have adjusted recipe description to make it clearer, I hope. 

I’ve had 181 overall views (awesome), best day was 52 views with the Cake Pops post (not surprising), 50 referrals from Facebook (such lovely friends), 4 of my friends commented (big thanks guys), 2 people not known to me very kindly commented about the Granola (just for the record I am a big fan of the stuff, and was pleased to see I was not alone in the universe) and I have 1 follower which I’m extremely excited about and it appears not to be my Mother.

A web-based community.

For those of us working from home it does transform our day and provides some ‘office bonhomie’.

‘Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers’. Alfred Lord Tennyson

This sharing of information and advice used to be all word of mouth, and the passing on of cooking knowhow was of course a generational, family affair.

My Mum is a good cook. I’ve always loved her food, and naturally she learnt from my Grandmother.  Very unassuming, Granny would beaver away in her kitchen producing classic british food that just tasted good and she was always interested in what you were wanting to eat next. Breakfasts of white toast smothered in butter and Marmite, boiled eggs, maybe crispy bacon, nothing unusual, but for some reason delicious and memorable. So I watched her and my Mother, subconsciously mainly, but absorbing the knowledge and skills to give me the confidence to get stuck in.

This point can thrown into sharp relief with the following, for which I have permission to share; I shared a house for a couple of years whilst at college with three other female friends, at least one of whom had received a similar educational background in cooking. So, she and I were hanging out in our student kitchen, a natural place for us to be, when another flatmate/friend arrived to make something to eat. She wasn’t much into cooking at the time, preferring the more usual social activites of an 18/19 year old and was a little prone to the odd culinary mishap, today was such a day and so when she eventually left with a sheepish grin, a hastily made sandwich, thoughts of what she would rather be doing and a mildy resigned air, my companion turned to me and declared with a sigh,

‘Of course, Wigs, the reason you and I can at least give the appearance of being able to cook is because we must have been pretty boring as younger teens and sat in the kitchen around tea-time watching our mothers!’

That wiped the slightly wry smiles off our nerdy little faces as unfortunately I suspect there was never a truer word spoken… So we might have been a little uncool, and in my case reading cookbooks rather than classics, but we had absorbed how to check the potatoes are cooked, test if a sponge is baked and peel the pith and peel from an orange (see veg box fruit salad post!). Although anything can be described in print watching it being performed makes it much easier to learn, not to mention finding oneself actually tasked with checking if the spuds are done, with competent verification coming along behind. I’m not really saying anything new or that this is good or a bad thing, it just seems like that’s the way it is.

Fish Fridays

But the overarching legacy my Granny has left (apart from her copy of Delia’s Complete Cookery Course) is that fact that she was Catholic and so my Mother always had fish on Fridays and this practice lingers on with me.

So, to the recipe for today, this I think may have been inspired originally by the aforementioned Delia, (who I will discuss at length at some other point) but it’s been stuck in my head for years and no doubt tweaked accordingly: take 2 smoked mackerel fillets and flake them into a large bowl or food processor, add to them 125ml or more easily 1/2 cup each of both cottage cheese and fromage frais or soured cream. Squeeze in a little lemon juice and either blitz in the processor, or if you want something less homogenous you can just mash it up with a fork (à la The Fabulous Baker Brothers), add a sprinkling of finely chopped parsley or dill and a little black pepper and lemon zest. Good with toast, bread sticks, carrot or cucumber sticks….

N.B. I think this will work for those on the Dukan Diet, followers of which I seem to be surrounded by at the moment so this is dedicated to all you and my much beloved ex-flatmates. Keep the faith.

Today is Veg Box Day and the Introduction of Unloved Vegetables

Today is veg box delivery day – Hurray!! What a shame the fridge is still half full of the previous delivery, I feel a bit of soup making coming on. A lot of our cooking and eating is governed by the fortnightly appearance, over the garden wall, of our veg box. We have subscribed to one for years now and really do feel lost without it. Not having to think about which veg to buy I find quite a release, drives the small amount of menu planning that goes on here, ensures we are eating seasonally and prevents the peppers-broccoli-mushrooms rut we would be stuck in otherwise.

A lot of my peers also seem to belong to that section of the population which feel they ought to have, do have, did have, cancelled then went back too, couldn’t get on with but nonetheless did try a veg box. Many of us seem to treat veggies like one views medicine, it’s got to done, grimly peeling, chopping, steaming, coaxing kids into eating and endlessly flicking though cook books over. My view, for what it is worth, is that either because I need an antidote to the amount of sugar I work with or because I genuinely like most of them, I really don’t mind the effort involved in coping with them but admittedly it probably has taken years to get into a groove.

I currently have a Riverford box and previously to that when living in Bristol we had one supplied by The Green Wheel who can be located with a bit of searching on their link (Don’t have a website). Green Wheel were completely great, as Lola from Charlie and Lola might say. Reliable, veg was great, you had little treats of this and that, the odd lemon thrown in and Billy and Co really thought about what people might need from their veg delivery. True customer service was a trademark and I was sad to eventually move out of their range. However Riverford are good too and in my experience deliver slightly better quality veg than Abel and Cole the other big player in this field (!).

Now it’s hard to make any of this sound very jolly so I think I’ll have a picture, of a carrot cake (the shed), which happens to have veggies as part of it’s theme.

Unloved Vegetables

I doubt these need much explanation. Chatting to friends about their experience with ordering boxes the main complaint is usually ‘too much of things they don’t really want to eat’. The reasons behind this problem probably range from not liking something, to the dictatorial nature of the veg box to just not having enough recipes to vary how a particular veg box inhabitant might be served up. The unloved vegetables. This theme of using up unloved veggies is sort of starting to take root (!) in recipe books as cookery authors and chefs have worked out that those who buy such books are often veg box recipients too. Box schemes themselves also try to help with this, I for one have never got on that well with most of the veg recipes supplied by schemes. During the week I often want a one pot meal and endless recipes using veg as an accompaniment do not hit the spot. A range of books and authors seems to be the only tactic.

I am planning to try to address this from time to time as I blog to give some ideas for those in despair over too many beetroot, cabbages, swedes, leeks….

So unloved vegetable number ONE – Celeriac

Soup is often an excellent route to take when dealing with unloved veggies. Celeriac I think is relatively versatile, as it can be mashed with potato, mashed on its own, used to pad out casseroles, widely used in salad-y type things and also works very well in soup.

A basic celeriac soup recipe might look like this: Chop an onion, and fry over a medium to low heat in a reasonably sized knob of butter and a little oil until transparent, add a clove of crushed garlic, along with, diced, a medium potato and a medium celeriac, (optionally a sliced leek),  cover and sweat for 10 minutes or so over a low heat. Then add around 1 litre of stock, veg or chicken, actual or from stock cubes is fine. bring to boil and simmer for around 20 mins until the veggies are tender. Blend, add a little thyme or chopped dill or parsley and a couple of good tablespoons or either, fromage frais, crème fraîche, or double cream. Season to taste.

Things one might add here: ¼-½ tsp of truffle oil or garlic oil, or 15-25g of dried mushrooms soaked in boiling water for 20 minutes (add these, drained, with the stock), or 4-6 chopped field mushrooms (again add with the stock), or lemon juice to taste.

The New Covent Garden Food Co. Soup Cookbook  needs a shout out here, brimming with fantastic recipes and lots of inspiration.

P.S. A word about tagging – I am planning to develop my own tagging system to work alongside the more conventional one supplied by WordPress. Unloved veggies will therefore appear as a tag and be used each time I feel I have blogged about a tricky vegetable. Over time I’m hoping this will produce a list of recipes to browse through.


So, the main reason for this blog is definitely personal. I have spent literally years complaining to my better half that I can’t remember the recipe I adapted last week: which author/cookbook was it from, what did I do differently, if it went awry, why?

So I am starting the New(ish) Year with a new resolution to MAKE A NOTE of these things and as we are all things screens here at the moment and more into typing than writing, here I am.

I regard cooking, baking and cake decorating as my life long passion (apart from the significant others in this house) and the only topic I feel even vaguely knowledgeable on. We’ll see if anyone else sees it the same way…

Just to be completely cheeky here’s the business link of mine

or see The Cutest Cakes Facebook page link at the side of the page.

The Cutest Cakes: Classic Cakes

Lilies and Pearls

The Cutest Cakes: Cupcakes

Rosebud Vanilla Cupcake

The Cutest Cakes: Individual Iced Cakes

Miniature Fruit Cake

Details for The Cutest Cakes can be found at or if you click the image on the side bar you will be transported there.