kids

Former Masterchef winner Adam Liaw on what family dinners look like in his house.

Consider what it might be like to have a professional cook in the family. There’d be a fridge stocked with fresh ingredients — probably organic. Gourmet recipes plucked from the imagination, rather the back of the pasta packet. Oh, and the kids’ lunchboxes would look like those ones on Instagram. #lunchboxinspo #bento #parentguilt.

Right?

Not so much, says Adam Liaw.

Watch: When it comes to lunchboxes, there are two types of people…

Video by Mamamia

“Certainly I’m not making gourmet restaurant-style meals every night,” the cook, author, food columnist and television presenter told Mamamia. “A simple piece of grilled fish or something is more than enough.

“And my son is more likely to get Ikea meatballs in his lunchbox than he is anything gourmet or fancy.”

In fact, on his popular Instagram account this week, the Masterchef Season 2 winner posted a dinner featuring just two ingredients: pork and garlic shoots.

As a father of three young children, he’s intent on leveraging his following to take the stress out of family meals.

“I do post pictures of dinners, but I think people having envy or shame or competitive instinct around what food they feed their family is really not what it’s about at all. It’s just to try and give people easy solutions,” he said.

“I think if we all just tried to cook a little more simply we could achieve our goal, which is having a decent meal to sit down to with the family.”

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Adam laments that this has become a rarity in Australian households. He and his wife, Asami, have managed to create room for it in their own, and he now considers food and cooking secondary to the opportunity dinnertime presents for connecting with his kids.

“It’s literally one of the only times we get to talk about things as a family; we talk about what we did in our days, we get to understand what’s happening. I can’t think of any other time I’d know what my son’s friends were up to, or what my daughter is looking forward to the next day,” he said.

“I think we’re creating a forum to have that discussion, to understand the kids more. And also, I think it’s vice versa; I think my kids understand me more, so I’m not just the parent telling them what to do, when to put their socks on, when to pack away their school bag. They get to hear what I’ve been doing during the day and what life as an adult is like and, hopefully, that prepares them.”

He’s aware that might sound idealistic.

For many parents, dinnertime is synonymous with conflict and chaos. It means rushing home from work to prepare three separate meals because one kid reckons carrots taste like vomit, another only likes white food and the eldest wants to put cheese on everything.

Adam’s advice for fussy eaters.

Adam’s advice for dealing with picky eaters is simple: Texture is more important than flavour.

“Kids are far more receptive to texture than anything else. So seasoning your food well and making sure it has a decent texture is really important to kids,” he said.

“So if a kid doesn’t like a particular vegetable, I will serve it to them in a different way. Say they don’t like boiled carrots, maybe they might like raw carrots that are cut really finely. Or they might like to take a whole carrot and eat it like a rabbit. To a kid, those are three completely different experiences.”

This kind of persistent trial and error is essential to broadening a child’s palette, Adam says.

Adam with his two eldest children. Image: Instagram.
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"Kids process food differently to adults. If we say we don't like something, it's because we've tried it 15 different ways and decided that we don't like it. If a kid says he doesn't like something, he's probably only tried it once. So maybe he needs try it those 15 different ways."

Chances are, they'll change their mind somewhere along the way.

Ultimately, the only thing food should be is tasty and simple.

"If you are stressed out after cooking an elaborate meal for a dinner party then sit down with your guests they're not going to like it. Imagine how it is when you're doing that with your family every single night.

"Cook something simple. If you don't want to cook something simple, get takeaway. More important than what you made for dinner is actually the chance to sit down and have that time."

That opportunity is something he appreciates even more keenly following his work with disadvantaged children in southeast Asia.

Adam's other passion project.

On tonight's season-launching episode of Dateline on SBS, Adam explores the impact of a charity in Hanoi, Vietnam, called KOTO, which works to break the cycle of poverty by teaching life-changing hospitality skills to at-risk teenagers.

There, he encountered young who'd been robbed of their childhoods, and for whom things like food and family have an entirely different meaning.

"Most parents understand the importance of providing their children with a bed to sleep in and enough food to eat. But plenty can't and that's incredibly sad," Adam said.

"But also I think every parent can take home an understanding of what a child needs emotionally to feel value in themselves. And so certainly trips like this one [to Hanoi] don't make me feed my children more food, but it does impact the way I look at my children and look at their sense of value."

Dateline airs tonight on SBS at 9:30 p.m. Aram will also compete in Celebrity Mastermind on Saturday 22 Feb.

Featured image: supplied/SBS.

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