'Children's Menu'...The very words beckon a red mist to my beleaguered chef’s brain. Children’s menus are unnecessary, cheapen the establishment and are, quite simply, naff. Surely, now that Britain is basking in a golden age of celeb chefs, influential restaurants and general foodie madness; we can do away with this sad and cheesy little document. Half portions from the a la carte or starters should suffice, no? How condescending to our little people that they aren’t ‘allowed’ to eat the delicacies of which we partake. I’m not even going to touch the hot topic of what many parents are feeding their presumably precious ones at home. There oughtta be laws.
Having a kid really threw me. No two ways about it. My little dude is now 1.5 years on our crazy ol’ planet and it really is a great bit of luck to discover that he is the most handsome, perfect and advanced lad that ever blossomed from the union of two. But, my oh my the challenges. At 1yr he was well past the blitzed pap stage and was wanting some bite to his diet. He refused to wear a bib and ceased to let us feed him. I approach every meal, (my wife deals with far more than I) with trepidation. Is he in the mood? Will it be floor scrubbing and wall scraping for dessert again after the latest foray into self nourishment? I mean, how much banana squishing, raisin tossing, plate flipping and juice pouring can one toddler achieve in a day. Quite a lot actually. As you can imagine, I am pretty keen that he grows up with more than a passing knowledge of food, and, at the very least, a decent palate. As far as I am concerned it nearly goes without saying that he isn’t munching on rich tea biscuits, chips, candy or any rubbish. If we are on the go, we are obsessive over what packaged food to purchase. All of us have to buy the stuff sometimes, just be sure to check out the ingredients. If you start the man off on rice cakes, he won’t hanker for wotsits. At least that’s the theory. There will be enough time later when he has grown beyond our reach for him to indulge in processed crap.So, what does a chef cook for his most vocal and violent little critic? Pretty much whatever the wee man will eat. When you find something that works, and is healthy, it becomes part of your homespun ‘children’s menu’. It really has been strange making scrambled eggs without salt, seeking out the very ripest fruit to puree so as not to have to add sugar, and dealing with the rejection of putting in a heck of a lot of effort to see it swept onto the floor with a smirk. My sure thing is softish scrambled eggs with buttery soldiers. They always seem to do the trick. Other success stories seem to be anything colourful cut into the right size for his little hands to grasp. Ham and roast beef also fare well and yogurt is a must. A warm bowl of porridge in the morning usually does the trick and a firm favourite for sometime has been pureed cauliflower with a little smoked salmon.
I love watching him explore a new texture, examine a new colour. The expressive wonder of his blessed countenance, rolling a bit of melon around his mouth for the first time. It really is all about initial impressions, finding his way around a new flavour. Freud likened these little monsters to pure Id, and I think he may have hit the nail on the head. The snatch and grab constant robberies that occur when, heaven forbid, you might be trying to pop something into your own mouth...it’s all gimme, gimme, gimme. Trickery abounds. When I pretend to covet and hide broccoli, sure enough he screams until I let him have it. ‘Oh, ok, if you must have Daddy’s special overcooked brassica.’
I look forward to his first bit of foie gras on toast. His first juicy steak. His first asparagus and poached eggs. I see these as important and fun as when he first watches Loony Toons or Stars Wars, listens to Beethoven or Led Zeppelin, reads Kipling or Hemingway. It’s my job to lead him to the water, it’s up to him whether he takes a big drink. But if all else fails, a toy with tea usually helps.
Gammon Steak & Green Stuff
½ Just Us Organic gammon steak
Assorted green stuff- broad beans, courgette, peas, green beans, broccoli etc. Cooked just beyond a crunch.
Pile it up and let him pick it apart, throw it around, mash it into the wood grain of the table and hopefully swallow some.
All manner of fruits peeled where necessary and heaped together in a kaleidoscope of I-can’t-resistness.
Surefire Scrambled & Soldiers
Bright yellow yolked free range egg whisked with a little cream and cooked in butter.
Brown buttered toast soldiers.
An edited version of this article can be read in the October issue of Devon Life Magazine