All that is very nice. But it’s their lasagna I envy.
That cheesy one-pan dish is part of Florence’s latest book, “Start Fresh” (Rodale), which sprouted from his experience developing his Sprout baby foods and, as the cover says, aims to give infants, babies and toddlers a “jump-start to lifelong healthy eating.” I expected it to offer the usual advice about pureeing fresh vegetables and avoiding added salt and sugar. What I didn’t expect was that I’d be marking recipes to make for my kids — who, at 14 and 17, are toddlers no more.
Florence honed his cooking-for-kids skills with his children, starting 14 years ago with his older son, Miles. More recently, he’s fed his culinary concoctions to son Hayden, 4, and daughter, Dorothy, who’s almost 3. “Everything in the book is tested on my own kids,” Florence says.
I talked with Florence, 40, by phone as he was gearing up for his book-promotion tour, which he’ll kick off from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday at Wegmans, 11620 Monument Dr. in Fairfax County. Here’s an edited excerpt from our conversation about cooking for kids.
What were meals like for you when you were a kid?
My parents both worked full time. I remember a lot of simple meals. Everything I know about cooking is self-schooled.
Your younger kids are 4 and almost 3. What’s your go-to meal when everyone’s starving and crabby at the end of a busy day?
It’s not one thing specifically, not like “I’m pulling out this thing” for dinner. It’s about the season. It might be butternut squash or tomato. It’s really about simple techniques you can use over and over. Like roasting. It works with everything: broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts. Cut the vegetable into small, consistent pieces, drizzle on some olive oil and season with a touch of salt. Spread it on a rimmed baking sheet and put it in a 350-degree oven until it’s caramelized. The natural starches turn into sugars.
You make getting kids to eat healthfully seem simple. But not all parents find it so easy. Any tips for getting started?
It’s important that the very first spoon of food you put in your child’s mouth is the most densely nutritious, most delicious thing.
What if our kids are well past that first spoon of food?
Load ’em up with fruit. Fruit has good carbs, and it’s delicious. Leave fruit out where they can take a look at it; they’ll pick it up.
Fruit often ends up rotting in the crisper drawer. Well, that’s the wrong place to put it. Out of sight, out of mind. The kids all know where the junk-food shelf is. Make the fruit that easy to get to. Put a big huge bowl of fruit on the counter.