Family food: Why letting kids loose in the kitchen could banish fussy eating


I love my kids. I’m so glad I had them, and even more so as they get older – they’re amazing company, and I adore the challenges they throw at me, and what that does to my life. Truly. But the one thing they’ve ruined for me? Cooking. I used to love cooking. On a Saturday I’d invite friends over, and spend all day preparing lovely dishes. I even enjoyed the ritual of preparing dinner for myself and Jason of an evening, marking the end of the working day with something sautéed, and a nice fillet of fish, or a tasty risotto. But over the years, making family dinners has become something of a chore.


Families lack variety in their meals


It’s not so much that they’re terribly fussy eaters. As kids go, mine are okay – Evan even prefers vegetables to most things on his plate, and, at 14, Maddie knows what’s good for her, so rarely refuses veg unless it’s a tomato. So it’s not difficult to keep them healthy. What they are though, is BORING where food is concerned. They know what they like; I know what they like – so that’s what I cook. Too many times I’ve experimented with a  butternut squash, or a stroganoff in an effort to increase our culinary repertoire, and ended up having to coach them through their plates with a promise to never make it again. And so for the sake of ease – and quite frankly, getting a move on with life – we eat the same things, week in, week out. I don’t mind admitting that it’s turned the whole business of meal-planning, grocery-shopping, and cooking into a complete chore.

I’m not alone. Research commissioned by Young’s Seafood recently found that half of parents only cook 6 recipes from scratch in an effort to create something that all their family are prepared to eat. Almost a quarter rotate the same 4 meals every week to guarantee their child will eat, and nearly a third say they’re reluctant to experiment in the kitchen for fear of their creations being rejected by a fussy eater. Most children regularly leave food on their plates, and parents worry that kids aren’t getting the right nutrients. And despite thinking it would make them more interested in trying new foods, most parents say they don’t get their children to help in the kitchen.

Here’s what most families are eating every week:


Top ten meals British parents make at home

  1. Spaghetti Bolognese
  2. Roast dinner
  3. Sandwiches
  4. Sausages and Mash
  5. Pizza
  6. Curry
  7. Pasta bake
  8. Burgers
  9. Cheese on toast
  10. Scrambled eggs


It’s no surprise then that cooking family meals becomes a drain, with parents regularly resorting to takeaways to give themselves a break. I get it. When I spend a good chunk of time cooking for others, only to have half of it refused, it’s deflating, and easier to just rely on something I know they will eat. The trouble is, I don’t like what that lack of variety potentially does to their diets, and I do worry that they’re not getting as many nutrients as they should. There’s also no doubt that the reliance on so called child-friendly  basics has led to my own diet becoming less than ideal, and I eat far too much unhealthy food as a result.

And it’s a huge surprise not to see fish and chips on this top 10, as it’s such an easy, family-pleasing way to get omega-3 into children’s diets.

Getting kids involved to get them eating better


In a bid to get children excited about healthier food, Young’s Seafood recently invited us to their headquarters in Grimsby to help put together a range of Young’s Chip Shop recipes designed to end fussy eating, and get them more involved in creating meals the whole family will eat. The Youngsters panel spent the day with head chef Serge Nollent creating dishes such as Chip Shop fish tacos, and Chip Shop fish fingers with stuffed peppers. Evan – already a fan of fish, but not usually much of an experimenter – really wanted to get stuck in with the cooking. In fact, all the children on the panel of mini food critics were keen to get hands on, and watching them create the dishes made me think harder about making some more opportunities at home for my kids to help me in the kitchen. At 11 and 14, I’m aware that I need to be teaching them how to feed themselves well now, so they’ll be less likely to reach for the pizza box every night once they leave home.


In fact, they relished the process of preparing the food so much that I actually felt guilty for not giving them that opportunity at home. For me it’s about speed, and mess – I clean as I go, so having to contemplate someone else’s kitchen chaos brings out the control freak in me. But for the sake of their future date nights, and my own health, I’m resolved to let them try from now on. Young’s had brought in a nutritionist, Dr Sarah Schenker, for the day, and the kids were as fascinated with her advice as they were with the process of creating the dishes. To see children understand that the minted crushed peas they’re mashing will provide them with vitamin C to stave off colds is more of a delight than I’d imagined, and that was one side dish that they pretty much all demolished. And why I’ve never thought to make oven chips out of carrots and parsnips is beyond me! Vitamin A to help you see in the dark, anyone?

Recipes that kids love


Of course, the science says that it takes time and repetition for children to enjoy new foods. However, watching the kids on the Youngsters food critics panel, I was really struck by how much they were willing to experiment with foods they’d traditionally refused to try, just because they’d had a hand in creating it, and had learned something about its value to their bodies. All of them loved the fish too, and I resolved to make sure we include more of this healthy protein in our diets going forward.

You can find all the The Youngsters recipes (cooked, tried and tested by children) at, and they’re all simple to make, with a little bit of help with chopping and measuring from an adult. Our favourite was the pea and sweetcorn fritters – in fact, I had to work hard to get one of those for myself, they were such a hit with all the kids!

Why not try this recipe at home?

Young’s Chip Shop Haddock with Fritters and Homemade Beans


Serves 4



  • 100g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 medium egg
  • 100ml whole milk
  • 200g frozen sweetcorn and peas
  • spring onion, chopped
  • ½ tbsp olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 carrot – peeled and diced
  • 400g can haricot beans – drained
  • 3 tomatoes – chopped
  • 200ml water
  • 1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce


  1. Cook the Young’s Chip Shop Large Haddock Fillets ad per instructions on pack
  2. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the eggs and milk and mix well
  3. Pea and corn fritters: Stir in the peas, sweetcorn and spring onion and mix until well combined and season with pepper
  4. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add in a heaped tablespoon of the fritter batter. Press down gently with a spatula and repeat until the frying pan is full
  5. Fry the fritters on a medium heat for approximately 4 – 5 minutes on either side until they are golden brown and cooked through.
  6. Homemade baked beans: Heat the oil in a pan and gently cook the carrot for 10 mins until softened
  7. Add the beans, tomatoes and paprika and cook gently for a further 5 mins until the tomatoes are softened and pulpy
  8. Stir in 200ml water and the Worcestershire sauce and cook for a further 5 mins, season to taste, cover and keep warm
About Young’s Seafood

Young’s Seafood Limited is the UK’s leading supplier of frozen and chilled, own-label and branded fish and seafood. With an award winning Fish for Life programme on responsible sourcing, and 10 Principles of Responsible Fish Procurement, Young’s are committed to ensuring that great quality fish is accessible to all, now and for generations to come.

*Disclosure: I have been paid for my time in attending the Youngsters food panel with Evan, and in creating this blog post. Young’s images, recipes and research facts are included. Other editorial is my own opinion of the day, and our own responses to the recipes. 


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