Parents Who Cook: Aran Goyoaga

Aran and kids
Aran with Jon and Miren, photographed by Marcus Nilsson.

Parents Who Cook is a Q&A series in which I ask my guests about how their cooking has changed after kids entered the picture, and pick their brains on their best strategies to cook with little ones underfoot.

Aran Goyoaga is the talented baker, stylist, photographer, and writer behind the gorgeous blog Cannelle & Vanille. She was born and raised in the Spanish Basque country, and now lives in Florida with her husband and two children.

She and I have been in touch for years, and I was delighted to finally meet her in person over lunch when she came to Paris last year, on her way home from teaching one of her workshops in Dordogne.

Aran has recently released her first cookbook, Small Plates and Sweet Treats, an inspired collection of seasonal, gluten-free recipes, and it is a pleasure to have her as a guest in the Parents Who Cook series.

Can you tell us a few words about your children? Ages, names, temperaments?

I am the mother of a boy, Jon, and a girl, Miren.

Jon, 6, is very emotional, kind, thoughtful, inquisitive (he is a Cancer) and Miren, 3, is spontaneous, independent, and social (she is a Scorpio). They are both very creative as well and love spending time together.

Did having children change the way you cook?

I am sure in a way it made me adapt certain recipes to accommodate their preferences and the textures they were eating at different times in their lives, but overall I would say that the way I cook hasn’t changed much.

Do you remember what it was like to cook with a newborn? Any tips or saving grace for new parents going through that phase?

I am not sure I should reveal this, but when Jon was a newborn, I used to carry him in a sling everywhere. It was the only way he liked to be held (and sleep). So I kept him in the sling while I cooked. I have to admit those first weeks of his life are a bit hazy in my mind today, but I remember cooking very simply.

Once he began eating solids (I waited until he was about 8 months), then I cooked things that I could also feed him. Maybe a soup that I could puree or vegetables I could mash. When Miren was born, I was able to better manage the cooking part and being a mom. Maybe because Jon entertained Miren and she was not a very needy baby.

This might sound like a cliché, but I really think it’s about being organized and also, very important, to ask for help. As a new mom, you feel tired and depleted oftentimes. You don’t want to entertain crowds or cook fancy dinners, but if you have some good staples, you can continue to prepare meals for the family like frittatas or soups… Simple things that are nourishing.

Over time, have you developed staple dishes or strategies that make it possible to prepare a meal and keep the kids happy at the same time?

It has always been my goal to only cook one meal for the whole family and not cater to every single person or I would go insane. I never push food on the children, but I think it is good for them to be exposed to different foods even if they are not going to eat them that day. My goal is that in the long term they will have an understanding about different ingredients, flavors and textures.

Having said that, it is true that certain dishes have become staples in our home mainly because Jon and Miren like them. Lentil soup with chorizo, root vegetables and kale is a weekly staple, as well as tortilla de patatas. They also love fresh baked fish that is coated in buttermilk and gluten-free breadcrumbs that I serve with steamed vegetables.

Have you found ways to involve your children in the cooking process? If so, can you tell us when that started, how you approached it, what works and what doesn’t?

My children always want to participate in the cooking process. The kitchen is definitely where we spend most of our time when we are home. I feel lucky that I never had to force them and I think that is because I am always in the kitchen and they have an innate curiosity. I think most children like to be involved in cooking.

Jon is actually pretty confident with knives these days. Under my supervision, he helps me chop fruits and vegetables, even weighing ingredients (he loves maths). Miren likes to whisk and crack eggs so she is more involved in the baking side of things.

As someone who’s passionate about food, can you talk about the joys and challenges of feeding your kids, and how you go about teaching them to be happy, adventurous eaters?

Before Jon was born, I remember thinking and saying proudly, “My kids will eat everything.” Was I wrong…! Even though Jon is now a good eater, it wasn’t always easy. Until he turned three, he ate anything I put in front of him. I mean, anything. Then suddenly, he found his independence and his voice and that was it. He would only eat lentils (puréed), yogurt, spaghetti with tomatoes, and broccoli. He always had a thing for textures and was very specific about what he wanted and would not give in. When we asked him to try new things he refused and would cry. I didn’t want to push him too far because I knew that could have a reverse effect in the long term. I didn’t want to traumatize him with food. So I just kept trying and trying.

About six months ago, when he turned six, things started to change. He stopped complaining and suddenly began eating everything on his plate: lettuce and salad greens, vegetable stews with lots of texture (he only ate puréed soups before), braised meats… So I think we have to let children voice their preferences but never give up on encouraging them to try new things.

And as it turns out, my mother says I was very picky eater as a child. I do have this memory of her sitting in front of me patiently waiting until I finished my lentils, which I love today, but despised then. Perhaps that gave me hope.

Inspired and hungry for more? Read on for more Parents Who Cook.

  • I can see so much of me in you in the sense that my husband is a very picky eater..So I always tell him that when we have kids, they will eat everything!! You made me realise that’s not always the case. On the other note, thanks a lot for bringing this wonderful interview from Aran!

  • I am a mother and I also teach cooking to children. I love to hear Aran’s relaxed and inclusive attitude to her children’s experience with food. In my experience this is essential to allowing children to develop a love for a range of foods. When foods are refused, like with Aran’s little boy, I agree that it’s important not to push too hard. A good strategy can be to keep serving a small amount of the rejected food on the side of the plate, with no pressure whatsoever to eat it. The implicit message here is that ‘this is the meal the family is eating, and we are not getting into a power struggle over it’. After all, it’s natural for children to look for areas to assert their independence – we just don’t want it to be at the dinner table.

  • Love when kids appetite kicks in. Great interview.

  • Great interview. My ten-month-old son is now in the no vegetables phase. I’m trying to be patient and give him time to realize that veggies taste great too. It’s challenging but you, Aran, are an inspiration. I have your book and love it.

  • Thank you for this post! As a first time mum of a new born…13 days old.
    It is great to read about other mums experiences and be inspired.
    Thanks again!

    • Congratulations on the baby, and best wishes for these crazy first few weeks!

  • Thanks for the link to cannelle et vanille — I had no idea the site existed but have just spent a lovely 20 minutes browsing through it (her photos are gorgeous, just like yours :)

    Lovely interview with her as well. Thanks!

  • Ursula

    This is a very realistic attitude. I can never understand the assumption that “children don’t like vegetables” or “children will only eat pasta”, etc. I think many parents create a battle where there might not have been one by limiting their children from early to “kid’s food.” Our children get served some of everything as a matter of course (“You don’t like it? Well that’s what there is, so find something on your plate to eat!”), and they are both young food-enthusiasts.

  • Kristin

    I am not a mother myself, but this conversation about children and food is very interesting to me, based on my memories as a child. My mother had one important rule: you must try everything at least once, before refusing it. She called it the’ no thank you helping.’ She enthusiastically encouraged us to try new things, but was incredibly strict when it came to meals, and we were forced to clean our plates, regardless of how much we protested about not liking a certain food or dish. Thankfully, she was an excellent cook and I can happily say that the handful of things I despised as a child (mushrooms, bananas, lima beans, oatmeal), I now adore as an adult. Three cheers for perseverant parents! (Though I strongly agree with a more tolerant approach than my mother used. Persevere, but don’t persecute!)

    • I agree — I think the “clean plate” policy is no longer recommended, as children should be encouraged to listen to their own appetite over their parents’ voice, but gentle perseverance seems to be key. It must take heaps of patience, though!

  • Laureen

    It is a nice article thanks.
    I am a big fan of Catherine Mc Cord of Weelicious.
    She cooks healthy family meals that I love.
    Just take a look.
    Have a good week end in snowy Paris…

  • Serena

    I am so very pleased to read this interview and I am sure I will come back to it for inspiration. Particularly the last part. My 3.5 year old was also a fantastic eater until his third birthday. He would clean up anything I gave him, including sardines, spicy curry dishes,etc. Now, he only will eat a handful of things and it’s hard to get him to try new foods (although it’s mostly healthy things that he does eat: broccoli, yogurt, oranges, tofu, brown rice etc). It is inspiring to read that her son also went through a phase of not eating certain things, and that it ended when he was six. Here’s hoping my son is the same way. My 15 month old daughter also loves to eat anything and everything, so maybe this time around I will be prepared if this phase happens.

  • Love this interview! She is an inspiration!

  • I’ve got all these wonderful things to look forward too as I coach my little 5 month old in the school of eating.

  • As a mother to adult children now, it is great to see their love for cooking and good food blossom. Years of being around parents who enjoyed seasonal produce and great meals together have now become part of their lifestyle.

  • Deb

    I can relate to so much in this article! As a mom of a 2 year old and a 9 month old, I remember very vividly cooking with a baby in a sling (personally, I’m partial to the Moby). It worked out quite well because dinner prep often coincides with babies’ “witching hour”– all the more reason to have them serenely rocking in the sling.

  • Nicole Reid

    Well, what a relief it is to read this! I have spent so much time looking for some answer as to how to get my 2-year old son to eat better. I am quite exhausted and frustrated by the constant routine of making something else for him when he won’t eat what I make for dinner. It’s time-consuming and expensive.

    I would never force my son to eat everything on his plate. But I also don’t agree that he’ll eat if he’s hungry. He’s already demonstrated that he will not eat if he’s hungry, even if presented with a plate full of foods he likes. If what he receives is not what he’s interested in at that moment, he won’t eat. I’m starting to realize that this problem may be my fault to some degree. Like many children, he surely understands that he’ll eventually get what he wants. He just needs to be more stubborn than I am. Clearly he understands that if he doesn’t eat what I give him, I’ll just get up and give him something else he does want. I usually do this due to the worry that he’s not getting the proper nutrition his body needs, and I’m desperate for him to eat anything. (He could go weeks without eating a single vegetable…)

    Now, I call him a picky eater, but perhaps compared to other children he is not. While a list of about 45 of the foods I know he will eat is pretty extensive for such a young child, only *two* of the foods on that list are vegetables. Strangely, he’ll eat raw kale chips. He’s fascinated by broccoli, but he won’t eat it yet. He recently showed a little interest in shelled peas. But he’s now rejecting nearly all the fresh, whole fruits he always used to eat with gusto – raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, oranges, and unsweetened plain applesauce.

    I think he’s bored with the old standbys that I give him. But since he won’t eat most new foods I give him and he’s tiring of his old favourites, what am I supposed to feed him?

    I see as a trend in this series of Parents Who Cook that gives me some comfort. There are parents, like Aran, who give their children the same foods they eat and don’t make a fuss about what doesn’t get eaten. They appear to have children who eat well or eventually come around to eating a bit more of a diverse diet. I cannot just go by the rule some parents have suggested to me, which is “eat what you get or starve”. But perhaps I can relax a little bit about what my son is not eating. I can take comfort in the fact that he does eat several different food items a day. And I can continue to keep offering him what his father and I eat without being so anxious about what nutrients he’s missing in his diet. I can also cater to his whims less and gently try to encourage him to eat what I make more often.

    Thanks for this, Clotilde!

    • Dear Nicole, I understand and sympathize with your frustration. It sounds like by the end of your comment you’ve already worked out some solutions that sound good.

      Two things spring to mind: the first one is that a two-year-old is old enough to understand things explained to him in simple terms. What if you were to explain to him that this is not working for you, that you will now be offering a single menu for the family (make sure this always includes one of the foods you know he likes, at least at first) and that if he doesn’t like what you serve you will no longer be able to cook anything else for him?

      It may take a few days before he gets it and he will likely show his discontent in the meantime (and granted, that will be unpleasant/uncomfortable for all of you) but if you stick to it and explain again and again, he will see your resolve and eventually he’ll go along with it. At the end of the day, you’re the one who sets the rules — gently but firmly.

      The second thing I want to add, which I know you know but bears repeating, is that kids go through phases all. the. time., there are highs and lows, they go back and forth on so many things (sleep, food, behavior), and the best we can do is ride it out, knowing that nothing is forever and that one day you’ll think about it and just realize that things have gotten easier, or that this or that particular problem has simply gone away because he’s grown out of it.

      Best of luck!

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