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Mealtime mission: Food writer Catherine Devaney lifts the lid on cooking for her children

Food writer and Menu columnist Catherine Devaney talks about mealtimes with her young family.
Menu columnist Catherine Devaney talks about mealtimes with her young family.

The Courier’s own Menu columnist Catherine Devaney is also a busy mum of two daughters. She tells us about her experiences of picky eating at the dinner table.

Based in Fife, Catherine runs her catering business Harper and Lime alongside a lengthy list of responsibilities that can only belong to a parent of young children.

From the school run and clubs to the weekly shop, it’s all about looking after the needs of the little people in her life – and food plays an important part.

Catherine, 41, says: “The thing about cooking for kids is it can be so incredibly rewarding when they love it, but they can also be so critical.

“Things you have put loads of effort into they can decide in an instant ‘I don’t like that’.”

Food writer Catherine Devaney.
Food writer Catherine Devaney.

Originally a lawyer, Dundee-born Catherine retrained as a chef after starting her family. She even worked at the renowned Newport Restaurant under the watch of MasterChef winner Jamie Scott.

In 2018, she set up her event catering business mainly offering private dining. As she got herself established and bigger events began to pop up, lockdown arrived and everything was cancelled.

Realising after a few months that things weren’t about to start opening up any time soon, she began making and boxing up afternoon teas for customers.

‘I don’t like eggs’

Generally, Catherine says her six and eight-year-old daughters are up for trying most foods – but there are often a few sticking points.

She explains: “They get these really fixed ideas. My eldest won’t eat eggs. My trade-off was we can have Nutella toast on a Thursday if we have omelette on a Tuesday.

“We are still doing it, but every week she tells me: ‘I’m only eating this because we get Nutella toast. I don’t like eggs’.”

She adds that they are fairly adventurous when it comes to trying new or different foods: “I’ve been really lucky because mine will usually give things a go, and I would probably credit the baby-led weaning with that.”

What is baby-led weaning?

Around the age of six months, babies can begin trying solid foods as well as their usual milk.

Baby-led weaning is an approach based on offering the child solid foods that they can pick up and try themselves. So there is no need for an adult to offer food by spoon.

As the child matures, they become more able to hold and chew their own food. They can also see the food in its normal form as opposed to it being mashed down.

Catherine says: “I did baby-led weaning with both my girls. It was about introducing them to all sorts of different tastes and not being overly worried or fussed if they didn’t seem to like one thing.”

A little boys feeds himself spaghetti and vegetables in his high chair.

And she noticed how their tastes changed, perhaps returning to something they hadn’t liked six months previously and eating it with no issues.

She goes on: “It really worked for us. We had so much fun because I felt I was helping them to explore food.

“I would let them sit for as long as they wanted and offer different things. When you look back at the photos they’re just adorable.”

Cook, eat and repeat

When it comes to planning out the week’s meals, Catherine says there are many dishes on repeat.

She ponders: “I wonder if we actually make life too hard for ourselves by putting all this pressure on ourselves not to do it.

“I think it’s absolutely fine to have a wee routine of meals that work for your family.”

The family eat spaghetti bolognese every Saturday – a tradition that Catherine inherited from her parents.

“We all love it. Some weeks I make it really quickly and just throw it together, others weeks it gets a longer slow cook in the oven. Some weeks I throw a whole bag of spinach in and just stir it in so that they’re getting extra veggies – or I put more mushrooms in.

“I think if you grow up in a house where food is given that importance, you learn how to enjoy it and you’re with people who enjoy food then you just absorb that.”

Catherine’s salmon stir-fry

Salmon stir-fry

Catherine’s quick and easy family meal suggestion is to throw together a salmon stir-fry.

She explains: “Fish can be quite tricky as quite often the quality you get in the supermarket can be awful and the portion sizes small.

“So I try to pop to the fish shop to buy some salmon and all I am going to do is oven bake it with a little bit of olive oil and a little bit of salt.

“Then I might do a veggie stir-fry with some noodles to go with it. That will just be a bit of olive oil or sesame oil in the pan then the veggies will go in, so probably carrots, a bit of broccoli, peppers, spring onion, fresh ginger if I’ve got it and some garlic.

“I would also add in Chinese five spice and a bit of soy and that will be tossed up with some noodles and that will go with the salmon.”

Get in touch

If you have family mealtime stories or tips to share, please let us know.

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