Catherine Devaney, columnist for Courier’s own menu, is also a busy mother of two daughters. She tells us about her experiences with picky food at the dinner table.
Based in Fife, Catherine runs her catering business Harper and Lime alongside a long list of responsibilities that only parents of young children can shoulder.
From school runs to clubs and weekly shopping, everything in her life revolves around the needs of the little people – and food plays an important role in this.
Catherine, 41, says: “What’s so special about cooking for children is that it can be so incredibly rewarding when they love it, but they can also be so critical.
“Things that you put a lot of effort into can immediately decide ‘I don’t like that.'”
Dundee-born Catherine, originally a solicitor, retrained to become a cook after starting her family. She even worked at the renowned Newport Restaurant under the direction of MasterChef winner Jamie Scott.
In 2018 she founded her event catering business, which mainly offers private dining. As they became more established and bigger events popped up, lockdown came and everything was cancelled.
Realizing after a few months that things weren’t going to open up anytime soon, she began preparing and packaging afternoon teas for customers.
“I don’t like eggs”
In general, Catherine says her six- and eight-year-old daughters are willing to try most foods — but there are often a few sticking points.
She explains, “You get these really fixed ideas. My oldest doesn’t eat eggs. My compromise was that if we have omelets on a Tuesday, we can have Nutella toast on a Thursday.
“We still do this, but she tells me every week, ‘I’m only eating this because we get Nutella toast. I don’t like eggs’.”
She adds that they’re quite adventurous when it comes to trying new or different foods: “I’ve been really lucky because mine usually tries, and I’d probably attribute that to baby-led weaning.”
What is baby led weaning?
Around the age of six months, babies can start to try solid foods in addition to their usual milk.
Baby-led weaning is an approach based on offering the child solid food that they can eat and taste themselves. So there is no need for an adult to offer food by spoon.
As the child matures, they will be better able to hold and chew their own food. You can also see the food in its normal form as opposed to being mashed.
Catherine says: “I’ve done baby-led weaning on both of my girls. It was about introducing them to all sorts of flavors and not getting overly concerned or excited if they don’t seem to like something.”
And she noticed her tastes changing, maybe going back to something they hadn’t liked six months before and eating it with no problem.
She continues: “It really worked for us. We had so much fun because I felt like I was helping them discover food.
“I let them sit as long as they wanted and offered different things. When you look at the photos, they are just gorgeous.”
Cook, eat and repeat
When it comes to planning meals for the week, Catherine says a lot of dishes are repetitive.
She muses, “I wonder if we’re actually making life too difficult for ourselves by putting all this pressure on ourselves not to do it.
“I think it’s absolutely fine to have a little routine with meals that work for your family.”
The family eats spaghetti bolognese every Saturday – a tradition Catherine inherited from her parents.
“We all love it. Some weeks I make it really quick and just throw it together, other weeks it cooks more slowly in the oven. Some weeks I’ll throw in a whole bag of spinach and just stir it in so they get more veggies — or I’ll throw in more mushrooms.
“I think if you grow up in a house where food is given that importance, you learn to enjoy it and you’re around people who enjoy food, you just absorb that.”
Catherine’s Salmon Pan
Catherine’s suggestion for a quick and easy family meal is to make a salmon pan.
She explains: “Fish can be quite tricky as the quality you get in the supermarket is often terrible and the portion sizes are small.
“So I’m trying to go to the fish shop to buy salmon and all I’m going to do is bake it in the oven with a little bit of olive oil and a little bit of salt.
“Then maybe I’ll make a stir-fry with some noodles. That’s just a little olive oil or sesame oil in the pan, then the veggies go in, so probably carrots, some broccoli, peppers, scallions, fresh ginger if I have it, and some garlic.
“I’d also add Chinese five spices and a bit of soy, and that’s tossed with some noodles and goes with the salmon.”
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If you have family stories or dining tips, please let us know.
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[Food writer Catherine Devaney lifts the lid on cooking for her children]