Cat Cora’s Tips and Tricks For Getting Kids to Eat

06/06/2010 at 05:00 PM ET
Amanda Schwab/Startraks

Raising four boys while managing a busy career is a team effort for Cat Cora.

The celebrity chef tells WebMD magazine that she has surrounded herself with good people, both at work and at home.

“If it weren’t for my partner, Jennifer, I would not be able to do all I do,” Cora, 43, reveals. “She does so much.”

The couple — for obvious reasons — approach dinnertime with enthusiasm and to that end Cora says Zoran, 6, Caje, 3, Thatcher Julius, 13 months, and Nash Lemuel, 10 months, have been exposed to a wide variety of tastes and textures from an early age.

“Jennifer and I introduced spices — ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg — when the children started eating rice cereal to help develop their palates by balancing the savory with the sweet,” she explains.

Getting the boys involved in meal planning has helped them feel “invested” in their food choices, Cora adds. “Don’t want broccoli tonight? OK, how about carrots? Great … The more you do it, the more they get used to it.”

Hopefully, everyone has had their say in the process!

Cora says that once a dinner has been decided upon, there are no deviations. “In the evening we cook one meal; This is dinner, that’s it,” she reveals. “After that, the kitchen is closed.”

Should someone refuse to eat, Cora says she reminds them that their hunger is only temporary. “I say, ‘OK, guess we’ll be having a big breakfast in the morning!”

“It only takes one or two times and they get it,” she continues. “My kids are just like everybody else’s out there. It’s hard when they’re younger than, say, two-and-a-half to do this, but after that age they’re able to understand.”

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emily on

Good ideas 🙂 Kids won’t starve themselves to death. They will learn pretty quick to eat what is put in front of them. Also, love the cinnamon and nutmeg idea in the cereal. Variety is the spice of life

Mrs. R on

I 100% agree with EVERYTHING Cat said!
It’s exactly how our house works too.
I have never had an issue with either of my kids rejecting foods. My 10 month old even eats steamed mashed artichoke hearts with a pinch of curry powder! My 3 YO eats EVERYTHING… not every day, not all the time, but we just keep offering it all, and keep soliciting her input on meals, and when we have those inevitable nights where she’s put off what’s on her plate, she gets a slice of bread with PB instead. We roll with it, knowing the next day, she’ll probably eat up the leftovers.

harley on

LOL, that’s how we were raised. My brother and I only refused broccoli and cauliflower (in our late 20s we still do lol). We didn’t starve to death, we just adjusted our eating habits. Mind you, most kids fight back on food to get what they want by pushing boundaries. Love the spices idea! I’ll give that a shot for sure.

crimpe on

I love this couple. And as for the food tips – makes sense to me.

Caroline on

I love her philosophy about feeding her kids. My husband is a picky eater, and probably because his parents taught him to be this way. At least Cat and Julie’s kids will be able to decide likes and dislike for themselves. Way to go!

robinepowell on

One advantage to being chefs, they can be creative with their kids’ foods at a young age. 😉

Marla on

Amen!! I love watching her. My motto is that I am not a short-order cook. I make one meal too, and if my boys (almost 3 and 5) don’t eat it, then, too bad.

My boys have a great palate. Broccolini, proscuitto, fresh mozzarella, braised short ribs, gorgonzola polenta… They’ll eat it all. I don’t assume that they won’t. And, they have to at least try everything. Also, I involve them in cooking, which makes them more likely to try and like it.

Your kids will not starve if they miss a few meals. Good nutrition and eating habits are so important.

Carrie Campbell on

I have a picky 7 year old in the house and then a 5 year old who would eat the kitchen table if you served it to her.

We implemented “buffet” style meals. Everything is presented on the table and the kids have their choice as to what they want to eat.

The only rules are that they can not have anything else aside from what is on the table. We do theme nights (Italian, Mexican etc).

7 year old loves it…no more stress around food. 5 year old is in her glory!!

Mommy and Daddy are happy there is no battle and every one is eating healthy! 🙂

Pinkdancer on

Just wondering, how do they have a 10 month old and a 13 month old? Did they each have one?

Kristen on

@Pinkdancer- yes each woman gave birth to two boys each.

I have never understood how most people feed their children. I breastfed my kids so they ate whatever I ate. When it came time to feed them solid food I did not used bland jar food; I continued to feed them what we were eating- just chopped up fine and they were able to eat it without an issue. They all have wonderful eating habits now and are rarely picky about things.

Kira on

This is how I was raised. My mom would always say “this is NOT a diner!” We either ate what she served or drank our milk and waited until breakfast the next morning. Luckily, she always had SOMETHING we would eat on the plate, whether it be plain rice or the biscuit on the side…we never realized until we were adults that she would put veggies in the cornbread or chopped up fine in ANYTHING that had sauce like spaghetti or gravy. When she saw women were coming out with cookbooks about this she was like “I’ve been doing that for YEARS!” lol

Alanna on

PinkDancer- Yes, they were both pregnant at the same time. With eachothers eggs as I understand it. Maybe this will help.

KC on

I think some people are being pretty judgmental of parents of picky kids. I was extremely picky as a child and my parents didn’t cow-tow to what I wanted, but that didn’t change the fact that I was a picky eater. Neither my brother nor my sister is picky, so it was nothing my parents did. Some kids are just picky eaters and forcing them to eat things that they hate causes more problems than solves them. I’m not picky anymore and I credit it to the fact that my parents let me explore at my own rate rather than force things on me.

Alanna on

@Kristen- Jen carried the elder three boys. Nash is the only one that Cat carried.

kmb on

Yes, this is how we were raised! Our household was not a restaurant, you ate what was made, and if you didn’t like it you didn’t eat at all (when we got older we were able to assemble a PB&J or something if we wanted, but our mom didn’t do it for us). As a result, we ended up with 3 non-picky eaters. I have a friend who was raised, spoiled, where if he didn’t like the meal prepared for dinner, his parents didn’t make him eat it, rather just made him whatever he wanted. And as a result he’s extremely picky, refuses to try anything new, and literally only eats a few things. Cat and her wife seem to be doing a great job with their little ones! Kudos!

CelebBabyLover on

What Cat and Jennifer are doing is pretty much what my dad (the cook in our family) did when my brother and I were kids. He didn’t go as far as to put spices in baby cereal, but once my brother and I were old enough for table foods, he didn’t put in the same spices he would have if he were just preparing the food for himself and our mother.

As a result, food containing garlic, onion powder, etc. was actually NORMAL to my brother and I, and we didn’t try to avoid eating it! 🙂

Anna on

I was a picky eater and still am a bit. Always afraid to try new things. But as I’ve grown up I’ve noticed that it’s not my fault at all! My father is far worse than I am!

Luna on

I have an almost 9 year old (b), twin almost 6 year olds (g), an almost 3 year old (g), and a nine month old (b). Aside from the baby, they all eat whatever we eat. The motto is ‘you eat what we’re eating or you don’t eat until morning.’ My one daughter’s favorite food is stuffed mushrooms, which she tried at a party once. I love it because I have friends who are short order cooks for their children and it just doesn’t work. I believe firmly that there shouldn’t be 1001 mac n cheese, hot dog, pizza dinners and then mom and dad have something else. If I make penne pasta in an alfredo sauce with bacon/chicken or bacon/shrimp, they have to at least try it.

Lauren on

My mom is the pickiest eater known to man, and I think that has alot to do with why I ate so basically growing up. My dad would be too tired to cook when he got home from work, and as a result I had my comfort foods I liked-mostly anything involving pasta and/or cheese :)-and that was it. It wasn’t until college when I went to a new city and then studied abroad that I started in with sushi, lamb, shrimp, etc. Now I can go into basically any type of restaurant and find something I like. So while I think Cat and Jennifer are doing the best thing by introducing new tastes so early, there is hope for parents of picky kids! As long as they’re constantly exposed to new foods, eventually temptation to try them will be given into.

SY on

We have the same rules in our household eat what we eat or go to bed without dinner…My kids are now 6.5 and 9 and they will eat pretty much anything. Their favorite foods are sushi, goat cheese pizza and chicken korma and they get a serving of fruit or veggies at every meal. I wish I’d known about the spice trick in the baby food, would have loved to try it. It’s funny, some of the things my kids refuse pretty much everytime are mac n cheese, grilled cheese and PB&J (they love peanut butter, they would rather have a turkey sandwich w/tomatoes and avocado).

KRM on

KC–Thank you very much for your comment!
My son has been diagnosed with sensory integration dysfunction. My side of the family is very accepting and works with us. However, my husband’s side says we are spoiling him and just need to “force him to eat or have him go to bed hungry. It will only take 2 or 3 times and then he’ll learn to eat what we serve.” There are times when we are eating chicken, and he has to leave the room because the sight and smell makes him nauseous. We have NEVER stopped offering him the food we eat, and sometimes he will try it. But we have been dealing with this for 6 years (he is almost 10). He is old enough now that most of the time he will make his own meal. He takes a multi-vitamin, drinks lots of milk and his doctor says he is right where he should be on the growth charts. Plese don’t judge everyone the same way please!

mari on

I totally agree with not making separate meals for children and I am so thankful that hubby is not a picky eater either. In fact, when dating, guys who wouldn’t try different foods were a total turn-off for me.
My oldest is a great eater, while my 2nd is just starting solids and I can tell a difference. I am hoping she will get better and I am trying the spices in the cereal tonight!
Good for her and her wife. I wish them all the best with 4 boys!

Erika on

Well, I’m a picky eater and I think sometimes it is the parents and sometimes it isn’t. When I was very young, I was not picky at all- I would try and eat almost anything, whether I liked them or not. Once I turned 6 or 7 years old, I stopped eating a lot of foods that I didn’t love- it was a control issue for me, I wanted to be in control of what I was eating and my parents couldn’t physically force me to eat. They didn’t make separate meals, I just had to eat something they had or wait until the morning. They didn’t really punish me or anything though, just wouldn’t let me have other foods. It did help, I have to say. I am still just as picky, but it did get me more used to eating things I don’t like and dealing with it.

My friend on the other hand, had parents who completely screwed her up. She would see certain characteristics and decide not to eat the food, and would scream and make herself throw up, so they gave in. If she didn’t like the texture of something, they made her completely different meals, every single night. If the color didn’t appeal to her, it was no problem, they made something else. She still to this day, in her 20s will not eat things because of the color or texture and doesn’t even try things. That was completely her parents fault and it could have been prevented, had they just dealed with it.

Mary on

This topic is sensitive to me because I have a picky eater and my sister does too. For us, it goes beyond being stubborn and not wanting to try new foods, it’s about texture of food that our sons just can’t get past. So I can totally relate to KC’s response. It’s been a tough road for both of us but I’ve always learned to not force him or starve him, I think that would aggitate the situation. Both of them have come a long way and will eat a handful of different foods that they used to reject ie. apples, strawberries. But for the most part, any kind of pasta, anything slimy are just impossible for them to eat. They didn’t turn into picky eaters, they have been since they started solids. They both responded OK to pureed foods but when we switched to any kind of texture, forget it. Wasn’t happening. For my son it was dry foods only and yogurt. As he gets older I will try to push different kinds of foods but he’s five and I just don’t want to force it, he’s healthy and that’s all I care about.

Sarah M. on

While I do agree with this philosophy in general, there are exceptions. Children who have major issues with certain textures or tastes (I’m still that way and I’m 27) or children with medical issues that makes it so they just CAN’T handle certain foods don’t work well with this philosophy. And sometimes it is the parents, sometimes it’s just the kids.

I nannied for a 4 year old that would eat mac-n-cheese for EVERY meal, EVERY day, if possible. His dad loved to cook, and used tons of different ingredients when he’s cooking (he’s also the main cook for the family). The mom, on the other hand, would just make him whatever he asked for and didn’t care if he tried new things. While the dad tried to get the kid to eat other things, the mom undermining his efforts made them useless. So, mom is making him a picky eater. In other cases, both parents are adventurous and the kids will only eat a few different things and would rather starve night after night than try anything new. In which case, it’s nothing to do with the parents and everything to do with the kids.

l.c. on

My daughter is one of the best eaters I know, and she’s 4 years old. She loves all vegetables and fruits, as well as grains– and authentic ethnic food.

The biggest trick is that her “baby food” was in fact cooked by me. I steamed/pureed all of her food– including fresh herbs/spices, and excluding salt– and would freeze them in ice cube trays, pop them out, vacuum pack… I knew that my child would be introduced to a wide range of flavors and knew exactly what was going into her food, how it was prepared, and was positive that it was organic because I made it. It would take me an hour a week.

She craves/requests seaweed salad and handrolls with brown rice. She loves hummus and baba ganoush. She will even eat spinach because one thing she was introduced to very early on was “creamed spinach” made with goats milk yogurt. And will eat vegan & vegetarian food as well. She’s not picky as a lot of kids because eating this way is the norm, not the unusual.

If you consistently feed kids chicken nuggets, pizza, “mac n cheese”, french fries (and etc) that’s all they will want, and really, what good are you doing their minds– let alone their little developing bodies– if you give them junk masquerading as food???

shalay on

One day last year, I ate asparagus in front of my co-worker and she asked, “What’s that?” Turns out, she had never tried olives, broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, soy sauce, alfredo sauce, creamy soups… and the list went on and on. I was SHOCKED that she had lived in the USA all her life without ever trying, or sometimes ever seeing, some of the best and most recognizable foods. All thanks to her parents, who she claimed only fed her pizza, chicken fingers, burgers, and Mexican food her whole life. NEVER introduced vegetables, different fruits, or other cuisines. I made it my mission to introduce her to new foods, but being an adult, her palate was so used to the same bland foods, that it took a very long time for her to get used to, let alone like, anything else. I couldn’t believe that her family would do such a disservice to her in the long run.

When I have children, I plan to feed them whatever my husband and I eat from early on. If they truly don’t like a certain food that they’ve repeatedly tried, then I’ll understand (after all, I’ve hated peanut butter and bananas all my life). But they WILL try different foods and I will not cater to their every meal request.

CelebBabyLover on

In my post from last night, I naturally meant to say that my dad DID put the same spices in food he cooked for my brother and I as he would have if he was just cooking it for himself and our mother.

Diana on

I have a picky eater and I am curious how some of you get your kids to at least try some things; the hardest part with my son is getting him to try things! I think there are so many things he would like if he just tried them but I don’t know how to make him try them! If a kid refuses to try something you can ask them over and over but you can’t exactly force them!

Christine on

Interesting thread, and I like that everyone seems respectful.

I have 5 year old twins. One will try almost anything, although he doesn’t like most of it. The other has Sensory Integration Disorder, and many food textures bother him. So yes, they’re picky eaters, but its not for my lack of trying, and I’d never let them go hungry.

Dee on

Growing up we didn’t have a choice of eating. Whatever my parents cooked thats what we ate. I hate okra, carrot and beet juice and my lil behind was not leaving the table until I ate every last bite because well….there was no more cooking for the night.

My hubby has a daughter and the way I see him with her I really worry about our own child who will come into the world in a matter of days.

I do not believe in asking a kid…what do you want to eat? I believe that you as a parent should get up and make them something to eat.

By a certain age you know what your kids like and dont like and even if they hate veggies you find some ways of incorporating them in the meal so that they have a healthy balance. But sitting there and asking, you want a banana, a muffin, a yogurt, an egg and every response is no….drives me up a wall.

Usually I have to take the bull by the horn, get up and say well, today its waffles, with syrup, milk and apple slices and that’s that. Too bad if he gets annoyed.

My brother hated carrots growing up and she would grate the carrots really fine and incorporate it in macaroni and cheese dishes….he thought it was cheese and ate it all up!!!! LOL

Isa on

I was a very picky eater and my parents never really forced me to eat the things I didn’t like,well they tried to make me,but they would give up after awhile,and now that I’m an adult I like pretty much all kind of foods.So I agree with KC on this.