What to cook when your family's hard to please


Kids can be some of the toughest food critics around, right? What they love one week they can suddenly turn their noses up at the next. What’s a parent to do? In a nutshell, not much.

In my experience, it’s more common than not for kids’ food preferences to change like the wind. And as their parents, we can find ourselves tearing our hair out trying to please them. But here’s the thing. We never will please them - not for long anyway. Just when we think we’ve found the perfect meal for all the family, off they go and change their preferences – again. So what’s the answer?

The answer is this: the cook pleases him/herself. Let me elaborate. As anyone who does the bulk of the cooking in a household knows, cooking to feed a family is a dedicated effort, one that takes thought, planning, shopping and time. Often at a time of day when you have a million other things going on, you’re tired, and you’d rather be warming your toes by the fire nursing a snuggle-mug of chai. Or coffee. Or wine. Whatever. The point is, there should be a reward for your efforts, in the form of appreciation from your family, and dining on food you enjoy. Cook food that you love, and you increase the chances that your family will come to enjoy it too - eventually. You create the food culture in your home, rather than handing that responsibility over to your children.

If you’re worried about your little ones going hungry, you can offer some side dishes of fruits or vegetables you know they’ll eat to fill them up, but don’t stop serving meals you love just because they don’t like them. New foods can take a dozen, or even more, tastes to become accepted, and if you don’t ever serve them, you’re denying your family the opportunity to ever enjoy them.

Let them come to enjoy the new foods in their own time, without any pressure or bribing. In the meantime, focus the on words used around the table, firmly drawing the line at complaints about the food you’ve cooked. I sometimes ask my students, ‘If your friend drew a picture for you, and you didn’t think it was very good, you wouldn’t tell them it was rubbish. You'd know that would hurt their feelings. Why is it any different with something they’ve cooked?’ When put like this, most kids realise that their complaints about the food are not very kind, and keep their criticisms to themselves.

Once they understand that they don’t have to eat it, but they do need to consider others’ feelings, the atmosphere around the table usually becomes much more positive. And enjoyable for everyone - including the cook.

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