Interview with Chef and Parent – Mark Morales
Ever wondered why your child is not eating their lunch? Or how you can help your child create a better relationship with food and variety?
Served caught up with Chef, father, amongst many other talents, Mark Morales who is inspiring the nation – and their kids – to eat healthily!
What are the three typical challenges parents face when trying to prepare their kids’ lunchbox?
- The lunchbox itself – size, shape and colour matter.
- Keeping it attractive – when it looks good your kid is more likely to eat and enjoy and have a good experience out of their lunchbox.
- What food to give them – get ideas from books and Pinterest
How do you as a parent overcome these challenges?
- Lunchbox solutions: choose practical ones with compartments of different sizes. I currently have one with a large compartment to pack a sandwich or a pie for example. And another box with three compartments, which makes it much easier to make the lunchbox diverse and colourful.
- Attractiveness: keep the lunchbox varied and diverse. Include a variety of fruit, nuts, grains (millet quinoa, rice), and a treat. For example, I try to give her raw carrot sticks, cauliflower, and a variation of fruit.
- Experiment: Don’t give your child the same thing day in day out unless they ask for it. When they do, introduce a new or different ingredient with what they are asking for.
- Don’t give up! Sometimes I add something new and my daughter will ignore it the first time, even the second time and maybe the third time she will have it. Sometimes you need to be adventurous – give your child a lot of options.
- Patience and Observance! Don’t ask your child too many questions and be aware of what they usually like. For example, my daughter didn’t like quinoa as I didn’t introduce it to her when she was young. I had to put extra effort in making it pleasant for her. I know she likes ricotta so I mixed it with the quinoa and she started eating it. So knowing what they already like and use that same ingredient to introduce another.
It’s very important to start when your child is young. You can’t give them pasta and bread only until they are 5 and then expect them to start eating vegetables and fruit. It should start when they are young. If that doesn’t happen it may be harder to include a healthy variety of food later in their lunchboxes.
What are the must-haves in your pantry for quick and easy lunchbox snacks / meals?
- Variation of fruits (like 4) depending on the season.
- Nuts – pecan, almond
- Dried fruits – like raisins.
- Small cakes made with wholemeal flour or wholemeal cookies
- Organic readymade Smoothies
- Gluten-free bread with cheese
- Nachos (treats)
- Bars – healthy ones!
- I always have something she loves, like Pesto – I mix it in with a healthy grain like rice or millet or quinoa…
My daughter likes different things at different times so be aware of this too; Sometimes the time of the day or season matters.
What is the main priority for you when preparing your daughter’s lunch box?
My priority changes… It’s always been about making sure she is eating something healthy. It’s important for me to listen to my daughter’s requests and find a good balance – giving her something she really loves (even though its not necessarily healthy like a small chocolate bar or a packed fruit juice) with more healthy varieties like carrot sticks, apples, blueberries, grapes etc .
I want her to enjoy her food and feel full and focused, full of nutrition
How strict are you regarding giving pre-packed / convenient foodstuff and if there are any, what are your exceptions?
They make life easier but it’s important that not the whole lunchbox is ready packed items. I try to buy the healthiest organic bars and a smoothie for example and add up fresh items.
Be aware of how often and what you buy. I try to avoid foods with palm oil and hydrogenated fats and lots of preservatives – it’s easy to fall for them at the convenience store. I prefer to go to organic health stores weekly, buy less but better quality. These days there is more choice and not so expensive.
What are your top tricks for keeping it exciting for your daughter?
- Make it colourful and attractive
- Diversity – Kids have small stomachs and love to snack! The more things I give my daughter the more likely the lunchbox comes back home empty.
- I ask her what she wants to make sure that I don’t give her something she really doesn’t want.
- If your child keeps asking for the same thing – include it but get creative using that same ingredient.
Tip: Give them what they want and add things. For example, if I find that she is eating too much pasta I will cook the veg completely and blend them into the sauce so at least I know she still consuming her carrots for example.
What does your daughter say about her lunches? Nothing better than a review from the consumer herself!
“I like when you give me extra food as snacks because I don’t eat my snack at ‘clubs’. I also like it when you give me nachos!” Gita, Age 7.
Her suggestion: “when you pack fruit don’t chop it all up and mix it together as it gets mushy and I won’t eat it!” Gita, age 8.