What 14 of the Country’s Top Chefs *Really* Feed Their Kids
Chefs: They’re just like us (…with maybe a little more salmon roe and a little less chicken nuggets).
Contending with picky eating is practically a parental rite of passage, and it can feel like a long road to get kids to embrace “grown-up” foods. But if anyone has it figured out it has to be professional chefs — right?
That’s why we tapped 13 of the country’s top chefs to find out what they really feed their kids (spoiler: sushi does make the list, but so does ketchup!) and what their secrets are to expand their children’s palates.
1. Curtis Stone, chef and owner of Maude in Beverly Hills and Gwen Butcher Shop & Restaurant in Hollywood and father of Hudson, 7 and Emerson, 5
To be honest, kids are a chef’s toughest critics. Hud is a little more adventurous than Emerson. He is my first, so I was super excited about getting him to try everything and developing his palate. Emerson knows what he likes and isn’t afraid to tell you.
In general the boys eat what my wife and I eat. I encourage them to at least try everything and if they don’t care for a food to revisit it later, reminding them that our tastes develop and change. They like all the things kids typically like to eat (pasta and chicken fingers), but we push for fresh fruits and vegetables and some protein, and we limit sweets to special treats.
They love sushi and bulgogi. But our whole household is anti-papaya. I’m not sure why but none of us have a taste for it.
Chef tip: Growing our own vegetables, even if it’s in a small garden, really gets my kids excited. When kids actively participate in preparing meals, they feel like they have some control and are more excited to try new things. I think the ‘try everything at least once,’ motto is a good one for expanding their culinary horizons.
2. Sheldon Simeon, chef at Lineage and Tin Roof in Maui, Top Chef finalist and father of four kids, ages 12, 10, 8, and 5
I would describe most of my kids as good eaters, with my oldest being the most adventurous. They have the courage to try everything at least once to decide if they like it or not. They love soup and rice. Something like Lauya, a rich beef bone soup. Another favorite dish is hamburger curry (think: beef goulash flavored with Japanese curry). They also love ikura (salmon roe). Going out for sushi is an absolute treat for us. My kids don’t hold back on ordering ikura nigiri!
Chef tip: In our household we respect food with the highest regard. We remind our kids on how fortunate we are to sit and have a meal together.
3. Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth, chefs and owners at Root & Bone in New York City and Miami, parents to Bryce, 7, and Sunny, 3
Both girls started out very adventurous, and as they’ve gotten older and tasted sugar, chocolate, peanut butter, and Nutella they have become “negotiators,” to say the least. We do our best not to serve something different for the kids.
At restaurants we rarely order from the kids menu but do often need to substitute menu items to get through a meal. Bryce loves artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, and green beans. Sunny loves spicy indian food, soup, and pasta, and has a big appetite for Thai food. They both like salt and properly seasoned food.
Chef tip: Stand strong behind “It’s this or nothing.” If they know we’re available to go and cook something else, then our kids hold out. It becomes a stand-off to see who flinches first. Take them to the farmers market. If my kids actually meet the farmers, I talk about it later when cooking: “Farmer Tom who spent all day in the fields harvesting this wouldn’t waste these tomatoes” Remind the kids of how much work went into growing and making the food.
4. Genevieve Gergis, Co-Owner and Executive Pastry Chef of Bestia and Bavel, author of Bestia: Italian Recipes Created in the Heart of LA, and mom to Saffron, 5
Saffron is very adventurous and very not at the same time. She loves almost any kind of green vegetable, and all proteins, from omelettes to pork chops. She does not like typical children’s food. Believe me, I have tried. Like macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, pizza, chicken fingers — she absolutely refuses to eat any of them.
She likes anything super briney and salty as well, like olives and anchovies. Currently her favorite thing to do is to load up a crunchy green leaf salad with pickled cabbage, raw beet slices, celery, carrots and cucumbers. And of course, to finish, a bowl of vanilla ice cream or panna cotta.
Chef tip: Don’t exhaust yourself. In almost all cases, except for the most picky eaters, if what you place in front of them isn’t spicy or too complicated, they will eat it if they’re hungry enough. Saffron does not like macaroni and cheese, but if it’s all she has, she will force down a few bites. Also, don’t be above bribery. A promise of a popsicle or ice cream after the meal can move mountains.
5. Joseph Conrad, executive chef at Oak Steakhouse Alexandria in Virginia, father to twins, age 7
I have twin boys. One is a super adventurous eater and the other is more reserved. I have been feeding my children a wide variety of foods since they were toddlers, and I feel that has gone a long way to helping them feel comfortable eating many different things.
Our children eat the same things that my wife and I have for dinner; we do not make them a separate meal. Some of their favorite things to eat are pizza, sushi, and BBQ ribs. One of my children will not eat cheese unless it’s on pizza, and the other likes to eat vegetarian because he loves animals.
Chef tip: Make your kids try what you’re serving for dinner, and keep offering new and different foods. This will keep them from just eating fish sticks and chicken nuggets.
6. Nicholas Tang, chef at DBGB DC, father to two kids, ages 3 and 18 months
My kids are really adventurous eaters. They will usually have whatever the adults are having for dinner, unless if it’s spicy. We go through a pint of berries every two days. They also love fried rice and dishes served with rice — like gumbo — and grilled corn on the cob. Both children went through a phase of not eating bananas. The older kid doesn’t like eating green vegetables unless they are in large chunks, so we don’t cut his broccoli florets into tiny pieces.
Chef tip: Let them taste vegetables before they are cooked to teach them how it tastes. We have also started making ‘smoothies’ in the morning that consists of banana, blueberries, strawberries, dates, spinach/kale and yogurt. The kids love it, and it allows me to feed them fruit and leafy greens.
7. David Bancroft, executive chef and owner at Acre and Bow & Arrow in Auburn, AL and father to Walker, 8, and Kennedy, 6
My kids are picky. We try to make them try what we eat, but often times we ask them what they would like. Kennedy’s favorite foods are chicken fingers and ketchup. She will dip her fingers in ketchup. Walker does not like any condiments. He’d rather dip his chicken finger in blood than ketchup! His favorite food is rare steak.
Chef tip: It’s important to get them involved in the cooking process. If they ask if they can help, although it may be inconvenient, make time for it. You make time for storytime, so commit to making time for cooking. Kids become more willing to try food when they see the process.
8. Zach Engel, executive chef at Galit, father to Margalit, 2.5
Margalit is one of the most adventurous eaters I’ve ever encountered. She loves avocados, berries, and yogurt of any kind, but she especially loves the labneh at my restaurant. She walks in and asks the cooks to make her a plate right away. I think her favorite food is octopus. She had a squid ink campanelle pasta with octopus bolognese at Avec a couple months back, and she wouldn’t share.
Our philosophy has always been putting a variety of foods in front of her and letting her explore. She enjoys sitting down and eating, which we emphasized a lot. We also take her out to a lot of restaurants, and she is a huge ham. It’s exciting for her to eat new things and engage with all the people around her.
Chef tip: Cook your kids the foods you really like to eat or to make. You should tell them how much you love eating it. A meal is a truly shared experience and every person, young or old, wants to feel connected to others. Your kids will want to be part of your experience.
9. Jimmy Papadopoulos, executive chef at Bellemore in Chicago, father to Leo, 7, Mack, 5, and Elliana, 4
Leo is our ‘Indiana Jones’ of eating. He will try anything from oysters on the half shell to beef tartare. He loves when I make mussels (white wine, garlic, butter, herbs and bread) If it was up to Mack, he would only eat things that contain enough sugar to burn a hole in an iron pipe. He will crush a medium rare steak. Elliana lives life as one big snack attack. She will eat breakfast, and then, moments later, be in the pantry looking for a snack. Her favorite food is scrambled eggs. Recently, I taught her how to make them, so she will routinely say, “Daddy, I love you more than scrambled eggs!”
Having three kids who are all so different with what they will eat makes dinner times three times as stressful. Over the years, my wife and I have always exposed the kids to everything we are eating, but kids still develop their own opinions. Our strategy is to plan relatively simple meals so that we know the kids will have an easy time eating with us and not elicit pre-dinner tantrums — from us when they refuse to eat the paella we spent the past four hours working on!
Chef tip: I think the most important thing is to give it time. Let your kids see you and your spouse enjoying a meal together, and teach them the importance of eating as a family to slowly break down those ‘foreign food’ fears.
They’re usually pretty good eaters, but it depends on their mood. In general, Luca is more adventurous than Gaia. We know what they like and dislike, so we plan our meals around that. That said, they definitely have more sophisticated palates than their friends, even if sometimes they just want to eat like kids.
Luckily, they love vegetables. Broccoli is their favorite, but they also eat brussels sprouts, peas, green beans, and mushrooms. They love pasta with sea urchin. I have a photo of Luca sucking on a raw shrimp head when he was two. It was one of my proudest dad moments.
Chef tip: Try to get them involved in meal preparation and cooking. Make them your little sous chefs. And never, ever let them get used to eating overcooked pasta.
11. Ray Garcia, chef at Broken Spanish in Los Angeles, father to one son, 6
My son is not picky but he is far from adventurous. When he was younger he was a lot more open to eating whatever was put in front of him. As he got older he started to develop preferences. As much as possible we try to feed him whatever we are eating.
For items that he doesn’t want to eat we always ask him to at least try it and acknowledge that he may not like the dish or flavor yet. Unlike many kids his age, he doesn’t like peanut butter. However, he does love duck confit. He also likes fruits of all types, grilled and braised meats, soups, and grains, but
Chef tip: This might sound obvious but make the food taste good. If you overcook and under-season vegetables, it’s hard for anyone, child or not, to like them.
12. David Féau, chef at Church & State in Los Angeles, father of four kids ages 24, 22, 10, and 8
My kids were all raised on eating well — it is the primary expense in our household! They were picky at a younger age, like most children. My kids eat like adults. We never feed them from kids’ menus in restaurants, and it’s the same at home: They eat everything and try everything, from all food cultures. Burgers are their number one, followed by crèpes. My daughter cooks amazing pancakes, and we all love to eat them.
Chef tip: I always cook with the kids. We get them involved in shopping and planning a family lunch, breakfast, or dinner. We try to create an interest and push their natural curiosity around trying something new.
13. Dale Talde, owner and chef at Goosefeather in New York, and father to son Everest, 14 months
Everest is a machine. He’ll eat anything you put in front of him — kimchi, blood sausage, you name it. We are blessed he’s not picky. Our approach is to give him relatively healthy food, but to basically give him what we eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He loves fruit, watermelon, peaches, rice, and peas. He doesn’t like bell peppers.
Chef tip: Honestly, I just cook things that we like to eat and give him those things.
14. Marie Aude Rose, chef at La Mercerie Café in New York City and mom to two kids, ages 7 and 5
I cook simple French food at home but we’ll take them to a Korean restaurant or Indian or Lebanese to get them to understand the different cultures of food and the different tastes. If you ask my daughter her favorite food, she’d say boeuf bourguignon, while my son would say steak and french fries — and would definitely mention a Vacherin (meringue with ice cream and hot chocolate sauce). They’ll eat veal sweetbreads, but curiously they don’t like hamburgers.
Chef tip: Offer fish, meat, vegetables, rice, pasta without too much sauce so they understand the taste of products, and be consistent with having them taste everything.