A great way to get children excited about food is to let them cook it themselves or at least get involved with it in someway. You'll be surprised at how many children these days will tell you they want to be a chef when they grow up. We hope this phenomenon owes to more than the Master Chef rage, but even so, it's refreshing, exciting, and a great direction of thought for children.
Food is fun! Take your kids shopping with you to the market and let them feel, smell and touch the different veg and fruit and then decide what to buy. Take them with you when you go to the super market and show them the different types of oils, daals, rices, flour...it's so simple to teach them to make the better choice when they are with you in the grocery shop, rather then enforce it as an after thought at home. As you reach for the extra virgin olive oil, or the whole wheat flour, explain to them why it's better. As you look for the multigrain cookies, tell them why they should consciously choose to avoid the sweet, salty, junky options. It's amazing how quickly they pick up on your habits and imitate them.
The experience of good food as all about the taste - if you are passionate about food it's likely your kids will be too. Make the kitchen your space and not just a place for the help. On a non-hectic day become the mistress of spices... pull out your little jars of spices, pots of herbs and bottles of whatever other fragrant elixirs you use when you cook, and invite your kids to come explore. Make it your ‘activity' for the day. Let your kids smell the spices, play with them, roll them around in their hands and see which smell reminds them of what food. Play the guessing game. Let them pound some spices and make their own special ‘masalas', (which you might feel compelled to use for dinner that day). I do suggest you equip yourself with a good glass of wine or/and that extra dose of patience, you keep stashed away for special occasions, before you take on this task.
By passion for food I most certainly don't mean only passionate about cooking it, but also eating it. If you give your children tasty, healthy food they will automatically never settle for anything less. Take your kids with you when you go out to eat; there are several children friendly restaurants and cafes where your kids can mature their palates and try more than the erstwhile dosa, pasta or pizza. Experiment with food at home so they get experimental with their food habits as well. I am amazed at how many children bring sushi to school for lunch. And I have to say I was stunned with my daughter returned from a play date with a half eaten roll of seaweed, "it was our snack," was the nonchalant explanation.
Finally, the piece de resistance of getting kids excited about food is letting them cook it! Be brave and they'll be fine. The all time favourite thing for my son to make is a simple fruit salad. Totally doable at even very tender ages, the fruit salad offers endless possibilities for gastronomic creativity. The types of fruit, types of knives, and amount of help he receives has changed over the years. A simple butter knife, bananas, peeled apples, sliced pineapples and grapes are enough to get even a four old busy with ‘cooking'. When older, let them peel the fruit themselves; dress the salad with lime, mint, pomegranate drizzle, balsamic vinegar, home-made fruit purees...whatever. Slightly older kids tremendously enjoy making and roasting their own chappatis, or baking pancakes - let them do it. It's far better than turning on the telly to entertain them and it really is a help to you as well. A great way to support your child's enthusiasm for cooking is to let them prepare ‘a special dish' when guests come over; be it a soup, a smoothie, a salad, or a fruit salad for dessert...recipes follow. If you find yourself entirely lacking the time to support your kids in the kitchen, sign them up for an after school cooking class; it's a great way to keep the little cooks' passions going.
Courgette soup/Pumpkin and potato soup/ Leek and potato soup: Let the kids wash, peel and chop the vegetables into cubes. You can help them finely chop the leek and cook it in a little olive oil, until soft. Then throw in the other vegetables, and cover in water till about 3 inches above the veg. Let it cook till almost done. Puree with a hand mixer and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add water to make it into a consistency you like. Simmer for a little bit longer. Lets the kids garnish and serve it the way they like.
Smoothie: Find any fruit you might have in the house. Let the kids wash and chop them. Tumble them all into a blender and whizz. Add yogurt for a change; honey if the kids have a sweet tooth; or milk if they feel like a shake.
Salad: Let the kids wash and chop fresh cucumber, paneer, corn, chick peas, olives or/and any raw, healthy foods they like and tumble it into a bowl. Let them make a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil, salt, honey, lemon juice, pepper. Top with soaked raisins and almonds. Toss it all together and hope that they dig in.