Aside from his wicked knife skills, Chopped Canada judge and chef Roger Mooking is just like us: Of his four girls (ages three, five, eight and nine), one of them is a pretty picky eater. Here are his tips for how to deal.
1. Buy one new food every week
“During our big weekly shop, the family picks something that’s never entered the house before,” Mooking says. “It could be a fruit or vegetable, or a different cut of meat or pasta shape. You expand that over 18 years, with 52 new flavours every year, and you’ve done your job as a culinary parent.”
2. Riff on a theme
Your kid doesn’t like bananas—but don’t write off the flavour altogether,” Mooking says. “Try different formulations and textures—she might love a banana chip.”
3. Let them choose
Mooking says he rarely makes the same dinner twice. While that’s not a realistic goal for most parents, he stresses that variety is key. “I try to always put out a nice array of foods so the kids can decide what they want to eat,” he says. “Tacos work well for this; so does pizza and rice or quinoa bowls—you lay out all the ingredients and let them build their own meals.”
4. Get kids involved
From the time she could sit up on her own, Mooking’s eldest daughter would perch on the kitchen counter and watch him cook. “I’d explain what I was doing; I’d show her a knife and tell her it was sharp; I’d tell her to be careful of that hot pot. Pretty soon, she started dumping and mixing ingredients for me. And then, just based on my process, she’d predict what kind of meal I was about to make—she knew it all so well.” His other kids followed suit. Mooking says it’s an investment in time that pays off: He has shown them what he knows and treats them like adults—and now they actually help him out.
5. It’s OK to be sneaky sometimes
Mooking credits his wife for this trick: “She freezes small batches of cauliflower purée and then stirs it into tomato sauce or dressing—it adds indiscernible richness, plus vitamins and nutrients.”
Watch Roger Mooking judge budding chefs on Chopped Canada Juniors Special on Food Network Canada.
A version of this article appeared in our November 2016 issue, titled “Give peas a chance,” pp. 86-92.