Lots of people these days have a diet which is restricted in some way. Some have a medical condition, like your lactose intolerants and your coeliacs. Some have ethical or health concerns, like your vegetarians and vegans. And some are just sullen, like your common or garden variety teenage boy. But regardless of the reason, cooking for someone with special food requirements can be fantastic fun, not the frustrating slog some people seem to experience.
My focus today is one of the most interesting and restrictive diets: that of the teenage boy. It can also be one of the most rewarding. With the right preparation, you could receive the coveted praise of, “It’s aw-right” or you could even dare to dream of a “not bad”!
In all seriousness, I love cooking for my ‘little’ brother. It’s a study in contrasts. He’ll eat almost all meats, but not chicken. Pastry but not pasta. Cabbage but not brussel sprouts. Broccoli but not spinach. Keane’s curry powder but not masaman curry paste. I could go on and on. And it’s one of the most rewarding things to find something that’s interesting and new (heck, maybe even healthy) and still acceptable.
I used to be annoyed that I couldn’t cook everything I liked, like stir-fry or stuffed mushrooms. But I’ve realised that when you’ve got a growing boy who’s fast becoming a man of few words, a little considerate cooking is a really great way to show a bit of affection. You also don’t have to worry about embarrassed silences like when you actually talk about things. Even just one little section of a meal that you can say was cooked with them in mind is a nice thought that goes a long way.
As for the actual food a teenage boy is prepared to ingest, the main thing I’ve learnt is that eight times out of ten it’s the texture or appearance that puts them off, not actually the flavour. So here are my main tips for cooking for this difficult group:
– Use ground or very finely chopped herbs and spices, and always mix them in well, don’t just sprinkle on top.
– Vegetables should be cooked until soft, and preferably put into a sauce or mash.
– Everything is more acceptable wrapped in puff pastry.
– Don’t actually mention the name of any one ingredient unless it is one of the following: beef, lamb, puff pastry, ice cream, beer, bacon or salt.
Follow these tips and you’ll have little noticeable different in your teenager, but they’ll be happier on the inside.
(PS I can say these things now because I am twenty and no longer a teenager)