Live webchat with chef Lesley Waters

Fussy eaters | Birthday cakes | Celebrity chefs | Meals on a budget | Polenta cake recipe | Asparagus recipe | Muffins recipe

Lesley WatersThis is an edited transcript of a live webchat with celebrity chef Lesley Waters on 13 May 2009. A mum of two and team member on Ready Steady Cook and This Morning, Lesley has first-hand experience when it comes to children's eating habits. 

Fussy eaters

Letter QTrinityIsLovingHerLittleRhino: Hi Lesley, Big fan of yours. I have a nine year old and a four year old who don't like foods touching each other and won't try new things. Any advice?

Letter Alesleywaters: This seems to be a common problem for these ages. The big tip is not to give up and to be patient (sorry) – they say that you need to introduce one new food at a time and that can take eight to ten attempts for a child to decide whether they like it. Try to serve the new foods with one of their trusted favourites - don't make it an issue, just serve and keep trying! I know it's incredibly hard, but why not try serving in separate dishes? If the nine year old has a friend or family member who they admire and eats well, try serving a nutritious meal together so they can attempt new stuff. Hope any of this helps - I have my fingers crossed for you.

Letter QCMOTdibbler: Why do all children's cooking things have to be for sweet things or in stupid shapes? I'd like more recipes for normal foods that are more prepare-and-shove-in-oven/minimal-stirring that I can cook with my nearly three year old. And I hope very much that this will be inclusive of recipes for children who are gf/df/ef. If you have a recipe tip for gluten-free pastry that stays together without the constituency of cardboard, I'd be very happy.

Letter Alesleywaters: I'm with you on all the crazy children's recipes! Absolutely right - we need to teach our children to cook proper food, without the smiley faces! Check out some of the recipes I created for the Shiny School to give you a flavour of what you can create at home. PS: still working on the damned gluten-free pastry - haven't quite cracked it yet!! But have a look at the recipe for the GF polenta cake. You can replace the lime with orange or lemon juice.

Crusted lime polenta cake
Serves 8-10
225g / 8oz unsalted butter
225g / 8oz caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
225g / 8oz ground almonds
juice and zest 3 limes
115g / 4oz polenta flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
butter and flour for greasing
For the crust
juice of 2 limes
3 tbsp caster sugar
Preheat oven to 160 C/325 F/gas mark 3. Butter and flour a 25cm/9in loose-bottom cake tin.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar using an electric whisk until pale and light.
Gradually beat in the eggs. Stir in the vanilla extract and ground almonds.
Fold in the lime juice and zest, polenta, baking powder and salt.
Spoon into the prepared cake tin and bake for approximately 1 hour 15 minutes or until just set and golden brown.
Meanwhile mix together the ingredients for the lime crust in a bowl.
When the cake is cooked, prick well using a skewer and pour over the lime crust mix. Allow cake to cool for 15 minutes in the tin.
Remove from the tin and serve still warm or allow to cool completely before slicing.
Serve with mascarpone or coconut ice cream.

Letter QJulesJules: I'm with CMOT on the bung-it-in-the-oven type of cooking please - no carrot sculptures! (And CMOT, have you looked at Pig in the Kitchen recipe blog? Dairy, egg, nut and gluten free, plus pretty pictures and entertaining to read). My dds don't like anything where the food is mixed up together - stir fries, paella, egg fried rice etc, so it's hard to sneak in extra veg. They do love soup, but I can't make soup every day. Any tips?

Letter Alesleywaters: Completely get the soup kitchen point - ha! Why don't you serve recipes such as the stir fries in a 'deconstructed' way, using separate little bowls of veg, noodles etc and let them help themselves. Pretty simple, but children really enjoy picking and controlling the portions themselves.

Letter Qsquilly: My dd is eight and a little fussy with food. She went through the stage of not wanting food to touch when she around five, and she's gone from a very limited diet to a just limited diet. She'll now eat meatballs (but only one variety), pasta, potatoes, chips (but she likes lots of salt, which I'm trying to discourage) cucumber, carrots, cheese, but she won't mix foods. Do you have any suggestions on how I can get her from single-food groups to mixed items and recipes? She has recently started to eat chocolate cake/muffins that are home made, but it's a new development.

Letter Alesleywaters: Hi squilly, this actually seems to be common issue with children of a certain age (see above). Why not adapt my carrot and beef mini meatball recipes (log on to Shiny School for download)? As she already eats carrots, try substituting another veg such as courgettes - it's a sneaky way to ensure your DD receives a variety of vitamins. Now she's five she can start helping you in the kitchen, which is a great way to introduce new foods if she can help prepare them! Is she helping you bake muffins, cakes etc in the kitchen? This may explain why she's recently started eating them.

Letter Qilovesprouts: My little boy will only eat soft foods. If we give him anything to chew he spits it out. He will eat cheese sarnies, yoghurts, spaghetti etc. If he has anything with lumps in he gags. How can I get him to eat different foods?

Letter Alesleywaters: I think that home-made soups are a really good way to ensure they receive all their vitamins and minerals. Or serve up a smooth veg sauce on his spaghetti? Gradually introduce chunkier textured flavours. From experience, this is something you DS will grow out of, so don't worry too much.

Letter Qletswiggle: One of my children won't eat any fruit or vegetables. I have two other children, one of whom loves veg, and the other fruit. What shall I do? I thought it might be the bitterness or acidity, but it's not as he's taken to pouring vinegar over everything else with great gusto. Any suggestions (not carrot sculptures, which they are not interested in at all).

Letter Alesleywaters: Totally with you on the bloody carrot sculptures! Try mixing veg in pasta sauces, stews, curries, meat bakes, pies, fishcakes and soups rather than serving as a separate portion. Also roasting potatoes, parsnips, peppers or squash in the oven with a little honey and olive oil to sweeten them up and make eating a little 'sweeter' and interesting. Re fruit, why not try dry fruits such as apricots or raisins just as a snack, or stirred into a yoghurt and drizzled with honey? Good luck.

Letter QShannaraTiger: Both my dc are really bad at eating protein. Dd (5) will eat Richmond sausages, fish fingers and baked beans. Ds (2) only eats fish fingers. They both love peanut butter, especially on rice cakes for ds. They both like potatoes and some veg but not fruit. Please help, I'm very worried ds will starve if he goes off fish fingers.

Letter Alesleywaters: Funnily enough, I was talking to a friend with a similar problem as her DS only eats chicken nuggets and fish fingers - no fruit, veg or any nutritious food type. It's lucky your children are looking to the omega-3s and veg. One tip (if you have time) is to make your own fish fingers so you know exactly what's in them. All you need is chunky strips of fish - salmon, pollock or plaice - tossed in a beaten egg and rolled in fresh breadcrumbs. Place on a non-stick baking tray and spray over with a little olive or sun flower oil. Bake in a hot oven at 200C or gas mark 6 for around eight minutes. Or go to the Shiny School website and see my no-fuss salmon fishcake tutorial. As far as the sausages go, why not try a veggie option? They're high in protein and contain less salt/fat. My son also has an issue with eating fruit, however he loves to make his own smoothies when he arrives home from school. Great fruits to whizz together are soft fruits such as bananas, strawberriess or canned fruits with natural juice, with a splash of milk or natural/flavoured yoghurt - a handful of ice and hit the switch. This is something you can do together and experiment.

I went to a children's healthy eating workshop and the expert said the portion size should be the size of their palm. But as I'm a chef, not a qualified nutitionist, check the Food Standards Agency website for a specific breakdown.

Letter QProstetnicVogonJeltz: Can you come around here and sort out my DD? She is 11. She will only eat gluten-free muffins, gluten-free crackers, pizza (as long as only small amount of tomato base and only cheese topping), chips, roast chicken and roast potato. That. Is. It. I have tried. Truly I have. Help.

Letter Alesleywaters: It must be tough, children can be difficult at the age of five, but when they get to 11 you've really got your work cut out! Of course I'm going to say this, but I truly believe that getting your DD involved not just in the cooking but the choosing of the food/shopping and prepping - to spark interest, if she feels part of the full process and can own what she eats! Building on the roasted potatoes, mix with other similar options such as sweet potato, new potatoes (with skins), thick potato wedges, parsnips, carrots roasted in the oven with a splash of oilve oil. Also try a pot roast chicken with bucket loads of veg and slow roast together. Get her to make her own pizzas using flatbreads, pittas or even naan breads, squash on cherry tomatoes with sweet corn and top with half-fat mozerella. Although we need to encourage good cooking and healthy eating at home and beyond - nothing replaces a balanced, nutritious meal, especially at DD's age! A food supplement can act as safety net to support this. Hope that's of some help to you. All the best with it!

Skillet asparagus with poached egg and chillied spring onions
Serves 4
450g / 1lb asparagus
3 tbsp olive oil
½ bunch of spring onion, very finely shredded into strips
1 red chilli, de-seeded and cut into slivers
4 very fresh eggs
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Pre-heat oven to gas mark 6 / 200C.
Snap off woody ends of asparagus and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Preheat a griddle pan. Add the asparagus to the pan and griddle for 1-2 minutes then transfer to a hot oven for a further 3-4 minutes or until just cooked. Meanwhile heat the remaining oil in a small pan. Add the spring onion and chilli and gently fry for 1-2 minutes until softened.
For the eggs, bring a shallow pan of water to the boil, add the vinegar. Crack each egg into a cup and gently tip into the water. Reduce the water to a simmer and poach the eggs for 2-3 minutes until just set (using a slotted spoon to bring the white together if necessary). Lift out the cooked eggs with a slotted spoon and rest the spoon briefly on kitchen paper.
Divide asparagus spears between four plates and top with a poached egg , spoon over the chilli spring onions and serve at once.

Letter QAmapoleon: My question is much the same as the others. I have two kids, one aged six and two, neither are very adventurous, so I'd just like some inspiration please.

Letter Alesleywaters: Hi Amapoleon, we've got some great food on the Shiny School website, do have a look. Even though the recipes are broken down into different age categories, there's loads for you to try on all the family. Getting inspiration for healthy family food does not only have to happen in kitchen. In the summer holidays, take the family out on a fruit picking trip to show how, for eg, strawberries are grown. If you have a little outdoor space at home how about growing your own veg? Potatoes, carrots and peas are good to start with or some lovely smelly herbs they can nurture themselves. Also, it gets them outdoors in the fresh air.

Letter QAmapoleon: My dd is very fussy but she loves asparagus, have you got any recipes please?

Letter Alesleywaters: Here's a great asparagus recipe. I like to roast or griddle the asparagus instead of steaming. For a more child-friendly version, serve with scrambled or boiled eggs and replace bread soldiers with aparagus tips to dunk. Enjoy!

Letter QRhubarb: Hi Lesley. I'm having a real problem with my five-year-old DS. We've brought both him and his sister up to eat healthily and whilst she does, he's a real struggle. He'll barely touch his packed lunches at school and always makes a fuss at teatime. He refuses to try anything new and even things I know he likes, he'll say he doesn't like them. He's only interested in sweet things and is always asking for snacks. We refuse to give in but getting him to eat healthily is a real struggle. He'll happily help me at mealtimes but then he refuses to eat what he's helped me to make! However, put a cake in front of him and it's a different story. I'm worried about the amount he doesn't eat. Have you any tips?

Letter Alesleywaters: I take my hat off to you, because you're doing all the right things! Apparently, children at this age can be very difficult about food. They can sometimes struggle to take on new textures and flavours, but always they see how far they can push the boundaries. Check that he's not filling up on snacks, but I would put it down to his age, stay firm and carry on doing what you're doing.

Rhubarb: We have confirmed with the school that he isn't snacking and he certainly doesn't get snacks here unless it's fruit. I was just concerned that this has been going on for a while and when you consider that he's going through a school day on the edges of his sandwich and nothing else, and then eating a mouse portion of tea, you do worry. But he does have a decent breakfast and we do keep pushing the fruit and veg. Actually, he did say he wants to be a chef when he grows up, I do hope he sets his sights higher than McDonalds! Many thanks for the reassurance, Lesley! You have actually made me feel much better about it.

Birthday cakes

Poppy seed and lemon muffins
Makes 12
225g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
225g unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs
225g caster sugar
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp blue poppy seeds
50g ground almonds
2 lemons, zest only, reserve 2tbsp lemon juice for topping
For the topping
Reserved lemon juice
150g mascarpone cheese
100g cream cheese
4 tbsp lemon curd
200g raspberries
Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
Line 12 muffin moulds with cases.
Put flour, baking powder, butter, eggs, sugar and milk in a food processor and mix well.
Add poppy seeds, almonds and lemon zest and pulse the processor until mixed in well.
Spoon mixture into muffin cases, approximately ¾ full.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until just firm. Cool for 5 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack and leave to cool completely.
To make the topping, mix the lemon juice, mascarpone, cream cheese and lemon curd together. Spread over the top of the muffins and decorate with the raspberries.

Letter QPorpoise: Have you got a really good, foolproof recipe for a kids' birthday cake? Preferably with lots of icing and Smarties...

Letter Alesleywaters: These little poppy seed and lemon muffins make great individual birthday cakes. Top with your Smarties etc, but I think they look better fresh berries. Stick a candle in each so everyone get a chance to blow out a candle. 

Celebrity chefs / Ready Steady Cook

Letter QCarmenere: Did you find it a struggle to be one of the first female celebrity chefs? Were the blokes kind, patronising or hostile? And which of your colleagues do you rate?

Letter Alesleywaters: Yes it was and is still tough sometimes. Some were kind, some patronising, but most of them were lovely! Really rate Brian Turner, Paul Rankin, Ainsley, James Tanner and Nick.

Letter QBEAUTlFUL: I love your recipes but could you please try not to get so stressed during the end bits on Ready, Steady Cook, as it makes me get tense just watching you. 'Sieve that!' 'No! Pile it on the big plate!' 'Oh give that here, you inept minion, I'll do it myself' etc. Ask Haliborange to sort you out some soothing Vitamin B Complex. My nerves can't take much more.

Letter Alesleywaters: Hello Beautiful, you're right, but it's bloody stressful The guys at Haliborange are sorting me out as I speak. Thanks for watching!

Meals on a budget

Letter Qmuggglewump: What would you particularly recommend for a very small budget? DD (seven) is not fussy at all but I always worry my value range food will be bad nutrition-wise. Neither of us are hugely keen on pulses, although we do eat them, but is there anything you can suggest

Letter Alesleywaters: muggglewump, nice to hear from you. When buying meat and fish and so on, my feeling is quality rather than quantity - pad this out with lots of seasonal ingredients that will be at their best and cheapest. Also futher extend with store cupboard ingredients such as pasta, rice and beans.

muggglewump: Thanks for answering Lesley. I do that already but it's good to have it confirmed.

And finally

lesleywaters: Thanks for all your questions and comments. I've tried to get through as many as possible. Over and out.

Lesley's taking her knowledge and passion for children's nutrition to parents by hosting the first ever cook-a-long for parents on the web. She has created three fun cook-a-long recipes, encouraging children to enjoy themselves in the kitchen, get their hands messy and learn about cooking healthy, nutritious meals and the benefits of a healthy diet. Designed to suit three different age groups, 4-6yrs, 7-9yrs, and 10-12yrs, Haliborange Shiny School gives parents ideas and tips on how to have fun and learn something new as a family whilst providing nutritional advice. 

Last updated: 9 months ago