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TV Chef Phil Vickery Talks About His Tips For Fussy Eaters, Family Life With Fern Britton And His Least Favourite Food

03/08/2011 06:23 | Updated 22 May 2015
TV chef Phil Vickery talks about his tips for fussy eaters, family life with Fern Britton and his least favourite foodPA

When TV chef Phil Vickery discusses fussy eaters, he speaks very much from personal experience. He's step-father to his wife Fern Britton's three children from her previous relationship and the couple also have a 10-year-old daughter Winnie, so he's seen it all around his very own dinner table.

Talking to Phil, you quickly pick up that he took on the step-parenting role (he married TV presenter Fern, now 53, in 2000 having meet her on the This Morning set) with the same gusto a grown-up diner, at least, might eat his finest culinary creations. He refers to Fern's three with both affection and as 'my sons' (in the case of the twin boys, Jack and Harry, now 17) and 'my daughter' (Grace, 14).

"It was all a bit of a learning curve with them at first - I didn't have any kids at that time. And then when we had our daughter together there were some 'moments' too. I remember Harry, who was eight at the time asked 'when this baby comes out, are you going to love it more than me?'"

"You just have to go with it. One day I thought they'd say, 'You can't tell me what to do, you're not my real dad,' but they never have." He seems a pretty cool kind of guy to have as a step-dad - laid back and relatively young for his age (he was 50 earlier this year) but not so much that it'd be embarrassing.

So when he describes one of Fern's offspring during our interview as a 'fussy sod', he does it affectionately, although there's a hint of frustration and bewilderment in there too.

I mean, it's one thing if a child turns down the average parent's pasta bake, but quite another when you've been a Michelin-starred chef and regularly appear on programmes such as This Morning and Ready Steady Cook. Not to mention the ten cookbooks he's had published.

With this in mind we were curious to find out Phil's tips for parents dealing with their own 'fussy sods':

1. Don't make meal times a battleground.

"There's no point creating aggro. Ascertain what your children like and then don't force them to eat things they don't. If you force feed them something, they'll hate it." Indeed this is the very reason why Phil's most hated food is...gingernut biscuits "I had this auntie who'd practically force-feed them to us when we were kids, with warm milk that had a revolting skin on top. I hate them!"

Instead of forcing them, get clever...

2. Introduce new foods 'by stealth'.

"My eldest twin wouldn't eat any vegetables. We'd make fresh orange juice and whizz it up with some carrots and he would have that though." And "make meals they like but then bolt other things onto those for them to try. So if they like mashed potato, then add something new into that."

3. Don't give them a choice if it will have an obvious answer.

"Look, if you offer a child chips or boiled potatoes they'll go with chips. Or diet coke and apple juice - it's going to be diet coke." There are lots of meals with kid appeal which don't involve resorting to only the classic 'kiddy' favourites - fish in breadcrumbs instead of fish fingers and roast chicken and lamb instead of nuggets.

4. There's a time and a place for 'kid food'.

"It's fine as a treat but you do need them to eat proper food too'. That said, Phil confesses daughter Winnie only had her first McDonald's meal the other week, aged 10.

Did she like it? "She said: 'Actually Dad it's quite nice!'"

5. Involve them in food.

"If they see food around them being freshly-made, if they can smell it, feel it, touch it, then they're much more likely to want to try it."

Indeed, Phil got into cooking himself after being involved in sourcing family meals. "When I was a kid we'd go crabbing and shrimping in Padstow, we'd go and get rabbit meat. I was always around good food."

It needn't be as much effort as that - just getting them to help cook or visiting a pick-your-own farm might get them interested in tasting something different.

6. If they don't eat a particular food, try cooking it another way.

"They might hate raw onions, but love some baked in the oven so they're all sweet and soft."

7. Don't under-estimate what they might like.

"Here's an example - loads of kids like olives once they try them. Some love extremes of flavour - citrus which makes them wince, vinegar and oil to dip bread into. I even did a chilli tasting party for some kids once and they loved it! People under-estimate what kids like and they can appreciate interesting textures and flavours."

Parentdish met Phil at Aldi's 'Christmas in July' preview where he was showcasing their festive food for 2011. www.aldi.co.uk

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