Why getting the kids to eat well needn't be a recipe for disaster
As the chef and 5 O'clock Apron blogger Claire Thomson releases her new cookbook, she tells Ella Walker about her views on parenting when it comes to food - and how she deals with fussy eaters
The chef and author Claire Thomson believes the kitchen table is of great importance in the home. Born in Zimbabwe before moving to London and then Shropshire, she now lives in Bristol with her husband and three daughters.
"The kitchen table is really important to me," she explains. "That the kids exist in the kitchen with me, and that it's not some space that just makes food and washes up."
The 5 O'clock Apron blogger and Instagrammer seeks to make cooking from scratch easy but exciting in her latest cookbook, New Kitchen Basics.
In it, she presents 120 recipes using 10 essential ingredients - chicken, tomatoes, eggs, salad and vegetables, cheese, potatoes, minced or ground meat, pasta, lemon and chocolate.
Thomson says that the aim of her book is not to replace favourite family recipes that incorporate these ingredients. Rather, she hopes to help people feel more confident in the kitchen - and the recipes, she says, are convenient and practical and offer more ideas for the endless conundrum of not knowing what to cook.
Some particularly mouth-watering ideas are chicken roasted with grapes, beef burger with chimichurri and mozzarella, lemon drizzle and poppy seed doughnuts, honey roasted squash, kale and goat cheese frittata, tomato, date and chickpea tangine, and pear, hazelnut and chocolate torte.
And Thomson knows all about cooking for kids. She has three daughters of her own - Grace (11), Ivy (9) and Dorothy (6) - and often has a lot more round for tea.: "I find myself always with extra children, which is really funny," she laughs.
Here are her tips for feeding kids - no matter how many you're in charge of...
Make the kitchen the place to be
"We have a bench along the wall, that I can pop eight children's bottoms on. If I can feed four, I can feed 10."
Don't take any prisoners with fussy eaters (it helps if you're a bona fide chef)
"It's just food and we're really lucky to have the food that we eat, and also, I'm a chef and my husband is a chef, and I know that people would pay money to eat the food that I'm cooking - it's delicious. So if they don't like it, I'm just like, 'come on, you've got two chefs cooking for you. How can you not like this?'"
Flexibility is a good thing
"Grace is amazing, she'll eat anything. She's a vegetarian who likes to eat the odd piece of salami - I think that's perfectly sensible. We've got a friend who's a Spanish supplier and he brings us lovely salami and she's like, 'Oh I like this!' But she won't eat big chunks of meat, which is fine. Dot, my little one, is six and she'd just eat an egg if I let her, and pesto pasta, but I just don't let her because that would be the root to madness."
They're allowed to not like some things, but they ought to try them
"They can have something they just don't like; Ivy doesn't like mushrooms. I don't like Jerusalem artichokes, we'll have that discussion, that's fine."
Don't be afraid to take your kids to restaurants with you
"Eating out is important for children, it's about being civil, learning manners, being polite. Seeing the hospitality industry working hard is important."
The children will survive without McDonald's
"(My kids) haven't had one of those. I'd rather we go and eat falafel."
Sharing dishes laid out on the table is a great way to eat as a family
"How we eat at home is quite a few dishes on the table, often ambient temperature in the summer, that we just graze at and share."
Let them pick stuff out - just don't do it for them
"If one child likes the avocado but not the courgette, I'm okay with people picking bits out, and then incrementally all those flavours will just meld and one day they'll go, 'Oh there's courgette, that's quite nice'. Just be a bit laissez faire and relaxed about it all. As long as they pick the bits out themselves - I'm not going to pick them out for them."
An early tea will mean a lot less snacking after school
"We mostly cook earlier on, because I don't want the children to eat loads of rubbish when they get in from school. And they are starving when they get home!"
Food is meant to be all mixed together - let them know that
"I have no truck with that (kids not wanting certain foods to touch other ones). Food's much tastier mixed up. Even my 11-year-old Grace was saying to Dotty, 'oh it all just tastes the same anyway when you've mixed it all up in your mouth!'"
New Kitchen Basics by Claire Thomson, photography by Sam Folan, is published by Quadrille, £25