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Getting kids to eat well + two Indian recipes

Getting kids to eat well + two Indian recipes
deena kakaya

Deena Madhvani is a food writer who also runs cookery classes. Her recipes have influences from the world, with a strong Indian personality. You can find more of her recipes and meal ideas on Great British Chefs. Here she shares her thoughts of introducing new flavours into children’s diets.

‘He will probably never be much of an eater and will probably always be a bit slimmer’.

Health visitor observing my toddler

‘Leave him, he’s probably not hungry.’

Too many annoying know-it-all’s

‘Don’t give him options, give him 20minutes and if he doesn’t eat it, leave him’.

Expert advice from a nursery nurse

‘My boy is only 8 months old but wears clothes for 12-18month olds and is on the 91st percentile.’

Far too many mums at many baby groups

I believe we live in a culture where bigger is better and unfortunately this seems to apply to babies as well. It’s as though that primitive survival instinct has taken on a whole new meaning. It begins from the moment a baby is born; we see public updates announcing a hefty birth weight as some sort of advantage. So when my child refused to eat, I worried.

I worried because I wondered if there was something wrong with him.  I fretted over whether I was doing him an injustice and whether I was a rubbish mother because I couldn’t even nourish my child. I was nervous about his health and well being and I wished he would just be like his little friends that shoved any food item into their mouths eagerly.

Some children need encouragement to eat

In the way we teach our cherubs to walk, speak, brush their teeth and sit on a potty, some children need more encouragement and coaching with food. I can’t claim to have cracked it with my boy. He’s a funny one. I often joke that he’s the reincarnation of a Gujarati villager because he won’t eat a sandwich but he will eat a spinach curry with chappati.

I think it is a myth that children generally prefer bland and simple flavours. I had a  complete ‘aha’ moment when a friend sighed and reminded me that my boy had experienced all these strong and exciting flavours whilst he was in my tummy and then he was on my flavour-packed milk for 14 months. Why would he want to eat steamed carrots? Now, if your child loves steamed carrots and simple flavours then fantastic! I kind of wish mine did — it may make life simpler. However some little ones may want the stuff they’ve tasted for months.

Our son wants to eat what we eat

My little boy observes what we eat and sometimes wants it. Children are smart. My boy and I eat together at all meals and he sees me enjoying tasty dishes. I try and cook the same meal for all us and just cut the salt and chilli for my boy so that he feels involved.

As adults many of us enjoy variety and we are enthused and invigorated by novel food introductions.  We have our favourites but newness is refreshing. So then why should this be different with children?  Keep those little taste buds engaged and lively by introducing new flavours, foods and spices. I know this sounds like hard work, but it could be something as simple as adding a new spice to pasta sauces or a presenting a differently flavoured hummus.

Variety is important

It sounds ridiculous now, but I’d offer just one or two items at meal times and if he stopped eating I assumed that he was done. Now, I offer variety within a meal. Again, this can feel tiresome at the thought, but it need not be. For example after my son finished his kidney bean curry and rice today, I gave him steamed broccoli and baby corn tossed in heated sesame oil and then he had a bit of orange.

I’m not for the practise of pushing little ones to eat foods they don’t like on that day.  It can take many introductions to a particular food before it is adopted, but on that day if the readiness isn’t there I don’t penalise my child by letting him go without a meal.

Baked spring rolls of butternut squash, courgette and paneer

spring rolls

My boy prefers to feed himself, especially when we are out. He also loves crispy foods and I want him to eat nutritious food. This recipe works for my boy and his friends, so I’m happy. I freeze them and whip them out when I’m in a hurry or simply to include as part of a varied meal.

Ingredients for 30 rolls

200g butternut squash (trimmed)
One medium courgette
100g paneer
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp oil, or a knob of unsealed butter
One small-medium red onion
15 sheets of spring roll pastry
3tsp lemon juice
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder

If your child is old enough to eat added salt, do so per guidelines.


1. Grate the butternut squash, courgette and paneer in one plate and leave it to a side
2. Heat the oil, or unsalted butter in a pan and add the cumin seeds and turmeric. Allow the seeds to sizzle before adding the onion.
3. Sauté the onion until it is soft before introducing the grated vegetables and gently mix it together with the onions. Be careful not to break the paneer
4. Add cumin powder, coriander powder, paprika, lemon juice and gently stir again. Cook for 5-7 minutes on a low-medium flame and then take it off the heat and allow it to cool.
5. To assemble the spring rolls, take a single spring roll sheet and cut it in half, vertically. Take a tablespoon of filling, place it about 2cm from the bottom with a couple of centimetres gap on each side and then roll, tucking the sides in. Try not make a firm and fairly tight roll.  If you make it firm and tight, it won’t split in the oven when you bake them.
6. Bake in the oven at 180degrees until the rolls are crispy and catch a lightly golden colour.

Yoghurty spinach and red lentil dhal

spinach and red lentil dahl

I don’t know why kids like yogurt, but they do. Mine won’t eat it off a spoon (of course) but enjoys it in this thick and comforting dhal that even my husband and I love to eat. There’s enough of this tangy and mellow dhal for a few batches here, so you can freeze it.


100g red lentils
100g spinach, finely chopped in a food processor (to almost purée consistency)
1 cup of plain, natural yoghurt
1 tbsp gram flour
100ml warm water
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, minced
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
4-5 curry leaves
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin power
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp garam masala
2tbsp groundnut oil or a knob of unsalted butter


1. Start by boiling the red lentils until they turn to a mushy consistency. It should take about 20minutes.  When the red lentils are almost mushy, add the cumin and coriander powder
2. In the meantime, mix the yoghurt and gram flour, to a smooth, paste-like consistency and leave it to the side
3. heat the oil in a pan and add the cumin seeds, curry leaves and turmeric, then allow the seeds to sizzle. Mix in the onions as sauté until they are soft. Then add the ginger and garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes
3. Add the yoghurt and gram flour paste, mix it quickly and then add the water and stir until the blend is consistent.  Stir in the garam masala.
4. Add the spinach and simmer for about ten minutes.


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Anneli Faiers

Thursday 31st of October 2013

Deena, what a lovely post. Great recipes and a very calm and balanced approach to feeding a child. It's such a tough thing to do. I really don't know anyone who has an easy ride with their kids. It takes time and perseverance and reading posts like this remind us to keep on keeping on and that we are all 'normal' x

Alex wilcox

Wednesday 30th of October 2013

Thanks for this article Deena and Britmums. We had a similar problem with our now 3 year old 2 years ago and the agony and visits to doctors and health visitors seemed to get us nowhere. One of the biggest problems we faced from other mums was the pressure around our daughter hitting growth milestones,,,9th,,25th, 50th and so on. We worked hard as parents and managed to get our daughter to eat by distracting her with TV and Toys. The recipes are wonderful and we will be trying them for sure.