• Stir It Up: French babies don't get picky
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     | April 18,2014
     
    Photo by Rina Nurra

    This combination of macaroni, ham and truffle is one of the French dishes that can inspire your child to eat a diet of diverse and healthy foods. The photo and recipe are from “Cooking for Kids” by Alain Ducasse.

    Back in 2009, the book “French Women Don't Get Fat,” by Mireille Guiliano, had many of us wishfully thinking that if only we could add more foie gras and chocolate croissants to our diets, we'd shed those unwanted pounds. Now another French food writer has come to rid the U.S. of a scourge: children who are picky eaters.

    That person is multiple Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse, whose new “Cooking for Kids” suggests introducing children from 6 months to 2 years of age to a variety of foods that would challenge many an American adult: foods such as squid, fennel, duck, figs and quinoa.

    “Their taste is formed very early in life,” writes Ducasse. “It's imprinted on the brain and lasts for the rest of their lives.”

    Ducasse speaks from experience. He has three children; the oldest, a boy, is 5. “He has been eating this way since he was very little. He's tasted everything, and he's very open-minded,” Ducasse said via email. “He loves raw fish, vegetables and 100 percent dark chocolate.”

    Ducasse wrote the book, he said, because “I feel that giving children a taste of healthy and natural food at a young age is an international issue that has been overlooked.”

    No doubt he's right. But look around you and identify the picky eaters in your life, and they are just as likely to be grown-ups, who will tell you without a hint of embarrassment that they don't like lamb (“too lamby”), fish (“too fishy”), goat cheese (“goaty”), dark greens (bitter), a host of spices, turnips, kale and eggplant, and a zillion other foods.

    So it would be refreshing to find a toddler willing to eat Ducasse's Sardine, Crudites and Pistou Sandwich, an 8-month-old who would happily chow down on Parmentier of Duck and Sweet Potato, or a 6-month-old swilling a Belgian Endive, Potato and Chervil Puree.

    To many American parents, this might sound far-fetched, if not downright laughable. But this book — written in consultation with a dietitian — offers an opportunity to parents of young children who want to expand the entire family's palate, with an emphasis on a varied and healthy diet that includes raw and cooked vegetables, smaller amounts of animal protein, and even less sugar, salt and fat.

    At the very least, it offers food for thought. Many of the dishes, such as Macaroni With Ham and Truffle and Tagine of Lamb With Dried Apricots and Couscous, should appeal to eaters of any age.

    There's no reason to relegate children to a steady diet of mac and cheese, chicken fingers, pizza and hot dogs. It's demeaning and limiting, not to mention unhealthy. Let's leave the “kids menu” to those picky grown-ups.

    Bring on the duck parmentier.



    Macaroni, Ham and Truffle

    (For 12 months and older)

    Yield: 1 or 2 servings

    1 ounce elbow macaroni

    1 teaspoon butter

    1 ounce ham, cut into small pieces

    1 teaspoon jarred black truffle pieces, cut very small

    1 teaspoon truffle juice from jarred truffles



    Bring a small pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Drop in the macaroni and cook until very tender (a little longer than the package directions). Drain the pasta and return to the saucepan. Add the butter and stir to melt. Stir in the pieces of ham, truffle and truffle juice. Transfer to a plate and serve.



    Tagine of Lamb and Dried Apricots With Couscous

    (For 18 months and older)

    Yield: 1 or 2 servings

    1 ounce couscous

    1 cups water

    1 teaspoon olive oil

    small red onion, peeled and finely diced

    1 ounce lamb, cut into very small pieces

    3 dried apricots, cut into raisin-size dice

    2 teaspoons raisins

    cup vegetable stock or water

    3 saffron threads (optional)

    1 teaspoon sliced almonds



    Put the couscous into a heatproof bowl. Bring water to a boil and pour over the couscous. Cover bowl and let sit for 15 minutes.

    In a small skillet, heat oil. Place onion in skillet and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add the lamb and cook about 1 minute, turning the pieces to cook on all sides. Add the apricots, raisins, stock and saffron (if using); stir well. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.

    Remove pieces of lamb from the pan. Transfer the onion-apricot-raisin mixture to a blender and puree.

    To serve: Spoon the couscous onto a plate. Make a little hollow and place the puree in the hollow. Add the lamb and sprinkle with the almonds and serve.

    (Recipes from “Cooking for Kids” by Alain Ducasse; Rizzoli, 2014)



    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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