You might assume that professional chefs pass along genes that include an adventurous palate and taste buds welcoming of all vegetables. It turns out that kids will truly be kids when it comes to food. Even parents with mad culinary skills face challenges when it comes to their tiniest critics. We invited a few local professionals to share tips for feeding and inspiring little eaters.

Dara Schwartz
Chef/owner of Darista Dips

Kids: Two, ages 3 and 1

Challenge: Her older son welcomed all foods until age 2 and then developed a toddler’s all-too-common preference for carbohydrates (noodles, rice, etc.).

Approach: Schwartz took advantage of a toddler’s natural inclination to “do it themself” by turning her son into her kitchen helper. He eagerly agreed, exploring ingredients as he blended, plated and proudly served his family the dinner he made. From infancy, Schwartz would let her kids use their hands in whatever they were making, saying the mess was worth it. “They’d have purple and pink [from beets] all over their hair and may not even eat it, but usually they do,” she says. 

Advice: Schwartz advises parents to take the one thing that your child will eat right now and incorporate a nutritious ingredient. For example, her beet purée can be mixed into homemade or jarred applesauce, yogurt or pasta sauce for vibrant color. She also uses the purée as a base for smoothies or to mix into her no-bake Cocoa Beet Brownie Bites (see recipe at right). Schwartz says she doesn’t sneak ingredients, preferring to be upfront with kids, especially when they are helping in the kitchen. “We sometimes have preconceived notions of what kids will and won’t like, but if they see the ingredient go in and they like the end product, they’ll have positive associations.”

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Patrick Marker
Chef/co-owner of Alqueria Farmhouse Kitchen

Kids: Two, ages 7 and 5

Challenge: His youngest changes his preferences on a whim and refuses to eat foods of certain colors.

Approach: “Pre-kids, I was under the assumption that if we gave them well-prepared food, they would accept it,” says Marker, who recalls seeing another family’s 2-year-old eating sushi. That is “not our reality,” he says. While his eldest is slightly more adventurous, a stubborn streak makes it challenging to get his younger child to try new foods. “But when he finally does, he likes it,” Marker says. The chef focuses on giving both of his children good choices and acknowledges, “it can be frustrating, but it pays off.”  

In opening his own restaurant earlier this year, Marker and co-owner Jacob Hough rejected offering a specific kids menu. Instead, Alqueria modifies its comfort food dishes such as roasted chicken with vegetables and signature burger. When his own kids visit the restaurant, his employees know to leave the chopped rosemary, parsley and thyme off his son’s fries because, well, they’re green.

Advice: YouTube can be a benefit. As his kids have gotten more interested in cooking, their natural fondness for online videos has worked in Marker’s favor. “They watch YouTube videos about food and then ask me to make things like ramen and sushi,” he says, laughing.

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Stephanie Kincaid
Executive sous chef (and former pastry chef) at Barcelona Restaurant

Kids: Two, ages 7 and 4

Challenge: Schedules make it difficult for the family to eat dinner together.

Approach: “Family meals are very important when we’re home,” says Kincaid, who is navigating a schedule adjustment following her promotion at Barcelona. Now that she’s on the night shift, she prepares meals ahead of time to send with her kids to the babysitter. She also gets creative with leftovers, turning last night’s plain rice into fried rice or paella. Crowd-pleasers like breakfast for dinner and pizza serve as starting places for experimentation. Kincaid tries to keep a variety of ingredients on hand, reinforcing that often you have to “try multiple times,” before kids embrace a particular ingredient.

Advice: Kincaid’s kids love coming into Barcelona, and they dine out frequently. She credits their interest in eating out and good behavior to having started early. She echoes her former colleague Patrick Marker on kids menus, opting to let children order appetizers as their entrée. “It allows them to try new things and share,” says Kincaid, who continues the practice at home by offering smaller portions, especially of new items. “Let them ask for more if they like it instead of overwhelming them,” she says. 

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Travis Hyde
Chef/owner of Sweet T’s Southern Style Food Truck & Caterer

Kids: Two, ages 13 and 12

Challenge: Hyde’s kids have particular tastes and ravenous teenage appetites.

Approach: Growing up with a dad who has been cooking professionally their whole lives, Hyde’s kids have developed high standards, and they even call him out when things are overcooked or under-seasoned at home. So Hyde has gotten his kids in on the act, teaching them detailed preparations for his signature mashed potatoes, which are steamed instead of boiled, run through a ricer and then folded with cream, butter and garlic. His eldest took to baking but eschews box mixes for recipes from the cookbooks of Hyde’s idols such as Thomas Keller, learning that “a true baker measures only in grams.”

 “They’ve learned patience,” Hyde says, adding that a family motto is, “if it’s worth eating, it takes time.” And the lesson applies outside the kitchen. “If you want it done right, it’s going to take time, which applies to school projects and chores just as it does to cooking,” he says.

Advice: Hyde’s family loves Thai and Indian dishes, which are a great way to increase his kids’ vegetable intake. “One trick has been curries,” he says. “If I put squash separately on the plate, my oldest dramatically acts like she’s gagging. So I incorporate it into the sauce, often a coconut base with green beans, onions and carrots.” The idea extends to dishes like a hash with butternut squash, cabbage and peas, which Hyde’s kids are far more apt to eat than raw vegetables or a green salad.