As a Research and Development Chef at Nurture Life, I develop meals that celebrate interesting flavors and textures while serving up the recommended nutrients for babies, toddlers and kids. With years of experience as executive chef and food service director of a large childcare center, here’s how I help design sophisticated, kid-friendly meals each season.
Most chefs work in a world devoted to adult’s palates. While I have made many meals for this audience, most of my professional life has been devoted to cooking specifically for children—and I love it.
Cooking for kids requires an understanding that when a child approaches a dish, it’s with a fresh palate. They haven’t been exposed to certain flavors or textures, so each dish is an opportunity to shape their perspective of that cuisine.
When developing meals at Nurture Life, this knowledge influences every meal I create. Our goal is to teach children that nutritious, well-balanced and globally inspired meals can also be delicious. That’s why we embrace unique flavors and textures while carefully considering age-appropriate needs.
To give you more insight into the purposeful thought and decisions that go into every dish on our menu, here’s a peek behind the curtain of Nurture Life’s seasonal menu planning!
How We Develop Interesting yet Kid-Friendly Dishes
While everyone else is focused on the season outside, Nurture Life is always thinking a full season ahead. For months before we launch a new menu, our registered dietitians and chefs like me are hard at work designing meals that delight parents and kids alike.
Here’s a step-by-step account of how we develop tasty, filling meals for every age and stage of development.
Step #1: Review Parent Feedback from Past Menus
Before we begin ideation for a new menu, our team takes a deep dive into parent feedback to assess the specific elements that work (and don’t work!) for their little ones. By looking at our meal performance, we can improve every season and use feedback to inspire new dishes, make changes to existing meals and decide which dishes to bring back on our Favorites Menu. Although our menu changes every season, keeping several favorites ensures consistency for less-adventurous eaters and reliability for when parents need a meal they know their little one will love.
Step #2: Brainstorm!
With our Favorites Menu and some aggregated feedback, I then sit down with our chefs, on-staff registered dietitians and co-founders to get the ideas flowing on what’s worked in the past, what our customers like and don’t like, and where we’d like to take next season’s menu.
As we brainstorm, we also consider these key aspects:
- Balance within dishes: Our dishes balance proteins, veggies and complex carbs. We want to vary texture, color and ingredients to ensure our meals offer nutritious variety on every plate.
- Menu Variety: In addition to well-balanced individual meals, we want to incorporate variety across the entire menu. We take food inspiration from around the world to ensure children are introduced to globally inspired flavors. Varying cuisine type gives parents the opportunity to give their children new flavor profiles, preparation styles and more.
- New proteins: Kids love chicken, but it’s not the only option out there! We’re always looking for ways to introduce them to fish, bison, lamb, tempeh or other proteins that maybe aren’t traditionally considered “kid-friendly.”
- Seasonal ingredients: When we focus on seasonality, we can source better, fresher ingredients. For instance, this spring we incorporated sugar snap peas into our Asian Chicken with Rice & Sugar Snap Peas to highlight their peak natural sweetness.
- Seasonal associations: The weather and time of year influence the foods that people eat. Seasonal expectations inspire us to make timely dishes like Pot Roast to warm up during colder months or BBQ Pulled Pork with Corn Pudding & Carrots for that backyard summer vibe. We even bring that inspiration to our purees and finger foods! This spring we added a Mixed Berry Oatmeal puree for a bright blend to welcome back the sun.
Step #3: Draft, Test & Refine Our Meals
Once we’ve agreed on meals that meet our requirements, it’s time for me to hop into the test kitchen! I make a first “draft” of the meals to share with the team, adapting our seasonal concepts to be more kid-friendly. The goal is to develop meals with children in mind without losing the essence of the recipe. We respect a child’s diet and perspective on food while encouraging diverse flavors, textures and experiences.
To ensure I delivered on the concepts we discussed during meal planning, we then evaluate each meal through a continuous testing and refining process. Meals are tasted by a diverse set of parents and kids, and I take their feedback and rework the meal until it’s a home run!
Planning in Action: Spring Menu Highlights
To see the results of this lengthy planning process, let’s take a look at one of my favorite new dishes on the menu this spring: Citrus Salmon with Mango-Edamame Rice. Getting kids to enjoy fish can be a challenge, but with its rich Omega-3 fatty acids and high protein content, it’s worth the challenge!
Since salmon is rather oily and strongly flavored, we offset its fishiness with freshly cut mango chunks and a naturally sweet sauce. We also wanted to keep the dish fresh and springy, so we added a bright and citrusy spice blend and edamame for a playful pop of green. I’m proud of this meal because we were able to make it kid-approved without oversimplifying the flavors or adding in tons of sugar and salt!
Nurture Life: A Kids’ Nutrition Revolution
I moved across the country to join the Nurture Life team, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. We offer something that parents need—a truly convenient and scientifically backed solution for feeding your kids. I get to be a part of something that’s so much bigger than just lunch or dinner—it’s a nutrition revolution, developing an entire generation of healthier, more open-minded eaters.