Wolfgang Puck is a hard name to miss. It’s not only unique, it’s everywhere—connected to 15 fine-dining restaurants, over 80 Wolfgang Puck Express food shops, a catering service, and kitchen products from cookbooks to canned soup. This legendary chef’s company motto is “Live, Love, Eat,” and it’s easy to see where it came from.
Food for Puck has always been a family affair. He grew up in a small town in Austria with a professional chef for a mother, and he’s passed the culinary passion he developed as a child down to his four sons. Ranging in age from 2 to 14, his boys are as crazy about the symphony of flavors they get at dinnertime as their dad. “My youngest son goes straight for the zucchini, and he loves broccoli and asparagus,” Puck says. “People are shocked when they see that my boys eat everything—and that they especially like smoked salmon pizza.” What’s the master chef’s trick for getting his boys to try so many different foods? Step into his kitchen . . .
Encourage your kids to imitate you.
They’re going to do it anyway; it’s natural, so capitalize on it. If you’d love them to check out Thai food or get more greens, model that behavior. They’ll want to be just like Mom and Dad, and they’ll gobble it up. “My two youngest boys try to imitate everything I do,” Puck says. “When they see me eating vegetables or salad, they want vegetables and salad, too.” Trying to force your children to eat a food typically results in bad feelings, making mealtime a chore and a battle. Instead, allow your kids to become curious about foods and develop their own interests. Let them wonder why you like something and then taste it to find out.
Make one dinner for everyone.
“One of the most important things you can do is avoid making separate meals for children and adults,” Puck advises. If you raise a child to think that there are special foods for kids (like macaroni and cheese or chicken fingers), they’ll believe that, and chances are they won’t be as willing to try anything else. You don’t have to stop making these foods entirely, but try not to present them as an option at every meal. “If kids are really hungry, they’ll eat just about anything.”
Offer variety, the spice of life.
From the very beginning, expose your little ones to as many flavors as you can, a little bit at a time. Add tiny bits of new seasonings to tried-and-true dishes, like basil or onions to spaghetti. “I either cook or bring home something different every night, so my kids eat salmon, fried rice, lobster, and more,” says Puck. “We also keep a big bowl of fruit on the table, so the kids can pick their own smoothie ingredients.”
Share the excitement of food.
Invite your children to help you cook—it’s an honor and a great learning experience. Eating out every once in a while, when your budget allows, can also be a wonderful way to get kids excited about new foods, if you do it right. Go on the early side before kids get tired and the restaurants get busy. Choose a family-friendly place where the food is served quickly—kids get distracted easily, and when there’s too much stimulation, they get frazzled and start to misbehave. “It’s also important to eat together at home regularly before taking children out to restaurants,” Puck advises. “You can’t expect them to know how to behave at a table if they’ve never done it before.”
Teach children about what’s on their plate.
Take your kids to a grocery store, farm, cheese shop, bakery, or farmers’ market, so they can see where their food comes from and what it looks like before it lands on the table. At a supermarket, take advantage of the produce aisle instead of heading straight to the candy or snacks section. Kids will love exploring the enchanting collection of shapes and colors. Teach them how to tell when a fruit is ripe or which bumps and bruises to avoid. When they feel like little experts, they’ll be more willing to eat what they helped you choose.