OK, I get it. The kids are coming to the yacht for the holidays.
This totally freaks me out. As a professional chef, when I hear children will be part of the group coming onboard, the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up and a dumb look comes across my face: Shut the front door.
What do you feed children? What do they like? Do they think like grown-ups?
Literally, I panic at the sheer thought of children being onboard. It’s not that I don’t like them — I simply adore them — but I just don’t know what to feed them. At least, I think I don’t.
I am not sure I have ever gotten it right after all these years. I mean, what if they don’t eat hot dogs or hamburgers? What if their palates are more refined, as most are today? Do they eat the same thing as their parents? Even at the estate, I watch the children’s eating habits to see if I hit the mark.
When I was a kid, Morrison’s cafeteria was my idea of a varied diet. I remember just having stacks of small plates on my tray and never eating it all, especially the green stuff.
Lucky for me, I have had some really great kids onboard during my career on yachts. Most of them had sophisticated palates. One loved thinly sliced cucumbers with aged balsamic vinegar. Some of them did not eat the standard kids fare of mac ‘n cheese but would rather have quinoa with veggies, dragon fruit sorbet or Greek yogurt with fresh fruit.
Then there are the kids who want hot dogs and french fries for every meal or worse, some sort of pressed meat that is supposed to be chicken but actually looks like something you drove over in your driveway that morning on the way to work.
Parents will say their child eats the same things they do. So I serve them the same thing, but by the end of the meal, the food is scattered, mashed up, fed to the dog or thrown into the plant on the back deck where the gardener discovers it days later. My guess is they don’t eat what their parents eat. Most of the children seem starved when they leave. After one charter, several of the boys onboard were thrilled about losing weight.
Typically, I deal with strict diets. Most of these are also aimed at children. I see children with attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, lactose and/or gluten intolerances and even diabetes. Specific foods are used to help alleviate their symptoms.
Specific foods also aggravate their symptoms. I am disgusted to see parents drive through fast food place. How can they think about serving that kind of food to a child? When I was growing up, the idea that food could cause or bring on such problems such as ADD or ADHD was not known. Today, all sorts of problems come from processed foods, gluten-loaded foods and foods high in saturated fats.
If we are not careful preparing our little people’s food, it can wreak havoc on their systems. We need to teach children about healthy eating habits so that they will develop a healthy lifestyle for life.
So what does a professional yacht chef feed little people? Do you give them special treatment or do you feed them normal little tyke food out of a box? I would love to hear how other chefs do it.
If I were feeding a kitten or a puppy, I would prepare the best so they had a fighting chance to develop into stronganimals. I prefer to feed children the same way, preparing the absolute best so that they have a fighting chance at a long and healthy life.
Here are some tips from Mom (real moms, not me) on what to feed a child onboard:
1. Instead of the usual chips and dip, try cut up organic carrots and other vegetables with hummus for an afternoon snack. Cut them into animal shapes if you can.
2. Instead of the fatty mystery meat hotdog, try a natural substitute for the hotdog such as Gimme Lean products.
3. Introduce the children to funny face salads using lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and black olives.
4. Don’t give them processed sugar first thing in the morning. Cut up fresh fruit so it’s easy to eat, and offer yogurt.
5. Try gluten-free bread instead of regular bread. Gluten has shown to present a lot of medical conditions over time.
6. Instead of the beef hamburgers, try a burger made of protein such as beans or grains.
7. If they don’t like veggies, dice them up small and serve in a sauce.
8. Puree vegetables and add them to other foods.
9. Invite them into the galley to help prepare their meals. Explain the benefits to fresh foods, when you got them or other stories about the meal you are preparing. Make it fun.
A 5-year-old sat on a stool in the galley once and helped me make veggie burgers, never knowing she was making a burger with ground up vegetables that she disliked. She loved it.
After a lot of good experiences with kids, you would think they wouldn’t make me so nervous, but little people still cause the hair on my arms and neck to stand up.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 20 years. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.