When people say they enjoy cooking, they’re usually talking about lovingly prepared slow roasted things with herbs and spices in them. When you put it on the table, your guests don’t make vomit faces (not in front of you anyway). Instead, you get the warm glow of appreciation washed down with loads of wine. Yep, after a bottle and a bit, even the most basic cook can kid themselves that they’re Nigella with better norks.
I’m pretty sure they’re not talking about cooking for kids. Which means separating frozen veggie burgers with a screwdriver while nursing a toddler through a meltdown because you turned off the telly halfway through the Aquabats. Then burning the burgers because you were trying to put a wash on and clean the bathroom at the same time. Then cursing yourself because what kind of a mother gives their kids burnt vegetable protein discs for dinner anyway? You should be cooking Annabel Karmel’s 5 a day butternut squash bake in the shape of a clown’s face, you IDIOT!
Cooking for children is fraught with difficulty. I’ve tried so hard to cook interesting things for children, but I always hit a brick wall. Some kids might have adventurous tastes and eat langoustines like other kids eat Quavers, but I’ve never met any of them. All the children I know think that cauliflower cheese grills are highly exotic.
And they’re not even fussy eaters. They scoff boiled broccoli, but introduce any vaguely interesting ingredients to their regular food, like cumin or parsley, then there’s mutiny. WHAT’S THAT GREEN THING? HELP I AM BEING POISONED! THERE’S A FUNNY SMELL! CALL THE POLICE! UNIDENTIFIED SEASONING! UNIDENTIFIED SEASONING!
Oh, sometimes you can get round them. A hidden vegetable here, a dish cleverly renamed, anything deep-fried. But the charade never lasts for long. They can detect naturally grown produce like a sniffer dog, and it always gets left at the side of the plate like it was a piece of poo.
The worst thing is the reception you get when you put the food on the table. Instead of oohs and ahhs, it’s often ‘ughs’ and ‘ewwwwws.’ And then there’s that face, the face of dinnertime betrayal, the face that says ‘how could you DO this to me, Mummy? How could you give me this…roasted pepper?’ It’s a killer. No matter how loud you scream at them to just eat it, their refusal to love your cooking is really depressing. It’s enough to make you want to just chuck a bag of Tangfastics at them instead of bothering to keep them alive with actual vitamins and stuff.
And even if you’re one of those confident culinary Mums who strides through the kitchen like a colossus and makes magic out of a packet of dried split peas and a 3 day old tub of hummus, you’re never immune to the constantly changing tastes of children.
You might stumble upon a brilliant dish that they’ll eat and ticks all the nutritional boxes, but they’ll find a way to moan about it. NOT AGAIN, they’ll cry. Then they’ll somehow become averse to it - or even worse – pretend that they’re allergic. I know kids that are ‘allergic’ to so many things they should live in a bubble and only be fed sterilised food supplements. It’s funny how children never seem to develop any mysterious allergies to Oreos, isn’t it? And they’ve got more E numbers than a 90s rave.
So the only thing to do is keep it simple. In my experience, the less effort you make, the more they imagine you’ve toiled over a hot stove. I’ve had five star reviews for sausages and baked beans, and raptures over fish fingers. A special dish I ‘prepare’ called Green Pasta is my kid’s all time favourite – it’s just spinach and ricotta packet pasta lovingly drenched in a spoonful of pesto with a few peas and some grated cheese thrown in. One day, when he’s a teenager, he will be waxing lyrical to his friend about his childhood green pasta, and only then will he realise it was piss easy, took about 3 minutes to make and was Buy One Get One Free at the Co-op.
But try to get too elaborate, and there disappointment lies. Unless you’re making Rocky Road or chocolate puddings, a complicated recipe will only lead to anguished wails of ‘WHAT’S THAAAAAAAAAT?’
Of course maybe you have one of those kids that eats anything. Maybe you’re regularly rustling up jalfrezis and laksas and living it up with lobster thermidor on a Wednesday. Maybe the act of feeding your child something new and exciting makes you feel wonderfully happy and warm. GOOD FOR YOU. As for the rest of us, cooking dinner for kids is an advanced form of torture. But hey – at least we get to eat all the leftover burnt oven chips…