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New Family with Kids - Help Me Devise Menus

Here's the skinny... I am a woman in my late 40s who never had children. I went to cooking school and am very adept in the kitchen, but have only cooked fairly adventurously for me and my relationships for the past 25 years. Never cooked for kids.

I've started dating a man with three children and the relationship is getting serious, but I know nothing about what kids like. For example, I will make myself Moroccan preserved lemon with chicken or a lamb tagine, Thai green curry, or Provencal fish en papillote. These have gone over well with my men as well.

The kids are 10, 13, and 14 and they have a nanny who cooks them frozen fish sticks, basic spaghetti from a jar, hot dogs, boxed macaroni and cheese, and frozen pizza. They won't eat chicken because they raise them. The extent of the vegetables they will eat includes frozen corn and frozen peas. Serving frozen vegetables just seems alien to me...

So far, I have made them REAL spaghetti and meatballs as well as teriyaki chicken (which I learned they wouldn't eat), and Swedish meatballs - all from scratch. Except for the chicken, they loved what I made but I need to start coming up with some new ideas.

I was a kid who would eat anything but these kids are a bit more sheltered so it may take a while before I can be really daring with them, but would love ideas from other families...

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  1. Awesome! Mazel tov on the new family! How about involving the kids in the cooking process. They're old enough to learn basic safe knife skills, saute skills, etc. Ask them what they'd like to cook (apple pie? a trifle? a lasagna? paella?) and do it together.

    1. Wouldn't this be a wonderful opportunity to spend time with the children and just ask them outright what they like? As the conversation continues, you could perhaps throw in a suggestion here and there. And don't be dissapointed if they don't like as great a variety as you do. That's pretty normal.
      However, most kids like brocolli salad, the one with the bacon and cheese and mayo dressing. Nothing wrong with more spaghetti. Breakfast for supper: pancakes, sausage, bacon or ham, eggs, any style, and juice.

      Grilled cheese and tomato soup. Chili with corn chips, diced green onion, shredded cheese and sour cream. Hamburgers with oven fries or baked potatoes. The old fashioned chef salads with meats and cheeses. Taco salad (tons of recipes on line for this).

      Hope this helps a little.

      1. Start with homemade versions if things they like. Roasting vegetables like carrots brings out sweetness and is a good start. Fried eggplant rounds dipped in tomato sauce is also a kid pleaser. Veggies on pizza gets people trying them in small doses. Letting them be invoked gets them trying food. Mexican is usually a hit with kids. Ask them whatever want to try. Make homemade dish sticks with various types of fish.

        1. If you start with homemade versions of what they like and establish yourself as a good cook, it is likely they start trying most things you make. Pizza is a good place to start -- you can have a variety of toppings from simple to gourmet and let them each make their own. They may be entrigued by the exotic way you top your own if they have "safe" fallbacks available. Then you can have a good salad to start introducing more veggies. If they are involved in prep, they are more likely to try stuff. It is not difficult to turn kids who are mostly get the frozen stuff.

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          1. re: maxie

            This is some of the best advice here, actually. This has worked on my step sons, who sound a bit like what you described- sheltered but not horribly picky. Once they trust what you can do with food, they'll be open to trying things in small steps. But if they know every time they come to the table there is gonna be something "weird and gross" then they will turn off to even the good stuff and may even reject your spaghetti.
            My kids tell me all the time that they hated tomatoes until I 'made' them. All I do is throw them in salad, or sprinkle them with basil and parm, but I'll take it ;)

          2. My sons always ate the same things I did, allowing for personal preferences. My opinion is to just treat them as you would any adult whom you want to feed. See what they like, involve them in choosing and cooking the meal, if your relationship is close enough and casual enough for all of you to feel comfortable in the kitchen together.

            When he was 13, my younger son already loved to cook, and made us the most delicious gourmet meals. His older brother was the baker and dessert maker. The boys don't like all the same things that I do, but we keep one another's preferences in mind when we cook for the whole family. As the other posters said, just ask them - maybe asking them what they don't like would narrow it down for you and still allow you to come up with interesting dishes that you would like to eat, yourself. If you ask what they DO like, that limits you to the answers they come up with from their unadventurous background.

            I concur on the other suggestions on this thread, and please, please add your own favorites to the list. These kids aren't youngsters anymore - they can handle some sophistication in their food.