Many parents will recognize this moment: You work hard making something new, something delicious and uncontentious, maybe even a dish you loved eating as a child; you then cross your fingers, say a little prayer, and place it in front of your kid. What happens next is as predictable as a game of roulette: a loud NO!, a shy yes, a willingness to try after some firm encouragement, or even, with some luck, your child just tucks in and gives it an enthusiastic go. You never know!
In our house things are more predictable now, I am happy to announce. Max, who’s nine, and Flynn, aged seven, have finally passed their most fussy period. They eat most things. On a recent trip to Paris they surprised us, in a good way, by trying snails and actually enjoying them. A huge milestone that my husband and I love taking credit for. “Our boys are so adventurous!” we boast. (The fact that they still won’t touch a raw tomato is kept quiet and is, obviously, their own fault.)
But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. I recall feeding them olives at age one and how proud I felt when they loved them! But I also remember the disappointment when they rejected any fish or seafood, most vegetables, and anything dotted with herbs by the time they were two. For a chef that’s devastating, but I tried not to let it get to me.
My husband, who does the majority of the cooking in our house, and I made sure we regularly had them try new things. Our strategy was not to focus too much on what they wouldn’t eat and instead to cook delicious and nutritious food that our little royal highnesses were “willing” to eat and then expand on those.
Mejadra is a great example. This dish, common throughout the Arab world, is something that I had lots of growing up in Jerusalem. My version stars lentils, rice, and fried onions, but variations might include other legumes or bulgur. It’s a Palestinian staple that’s also popular with many Jewish families. What made it so appealing to me as a child, and to my own children now, is the addition of fried onions—lots of them! The sweetness and rich creaminess (or crunchiness, depending on how you cook them) that they bring turns this into pure comfort food.
So as soon as we discovered that they loved mejadra, served with spoonfuls of Greek yogurt, we created more “mejadras”: some with peas, with chickpeas, with barley, with corn, with couscous, with beans; whatever was small and quick to cook, we added it.
Mejadra is now the basis of many dishes that appear on our dining table. I won’t tell you that they are always a success. There are still plenty of reasons for our boys not to eat what they are served, even if it’s something they absolutely adored just a week before. But I am happy to report that it does eventually get easier, one grain of rice at a time.