It was recently reported by News Corp that Australian parents are cooking up two different meals every night to cater for fussy kids and 1 in 4 parents admit to cooking something less healthy for their children because it is easier.  

But there’s a secret to getting fussy eaters to adopt healthy eating habits – flavour. It’s the frequently missing ingredient that chef Mario Pompilio is confident will work the trick among the youngsters he’ll be catering for at G8 Education’s flagship new child care centre, The Learning Sanctuary in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton.

Pompilio has cooked in some of Melbourne’s most popular dining establishments, among them Brunetti on Lygon St, Bluetrain at Southbank and his own Café D’Uomo in the plush Block Arcade.

He’ll be preparing fresh restaurant quality meals every day with a focus on locally sourced produce – and giving the children an opportunity to take cooking classes from a pro. He also caters for things such as food allergies, food intolerances and preferences such as vegan on a day-to-day basis so he could offer his expert insight how he cooks for children’s varying needs while still maintaining high nutritional value (while keeping it fun!). 

The father of three, whose cooking style leans towards his Italian roots, has no illusions that the tiny-tot set will be any less discerning than their parents.

Mario’s tips for pleasing fussy eaters

  • Forget bland, children like flavour
  • Tone down but don’t delete the spice
  • Texture is important and children often prefer the crunch of raw veges over cooked
  • Substitute allergenic ingredients with alternatives eg pepita seeds for pine nuts in a pesto
  • Make sure dishes are moist
  • Simplify the fruit plate to keep the palate fresh
  • Vary flavours to keep them coming back for more
  • Cheese is an almost universal crowd pleaser – add it when all else fails

“One thing I know about children is that they tell you the truth. The trick is to give them flavour and that’s hard to achieve when you’re rushed for time. But if you stick with the traditional recipes and adjust the spice level you can achieve the right balance.

Mario Pompilio

The fresh food focus is just one of the ways in which G8 is responding to the needs of parents, ensuring their children are well-nourished throughout the day and getting picky eaters to adopt healthy eating habits early in life.

It’s important for children’s long-term development to get them eating well from an early age and that’s something I’m looking forward to here.”

Mario’s recipe for nut-free pesto

Ingredients for 4 people:
45g pepita seeds
45g basil
45g spinach 
1 clove garlic 
60g Parmesan shredded 
5 tbsp olive oil 
1 tsp salt 
100g cherry tomatoes diced 

Place the spinach, basil and garlic in a food processor and blend until finely chopped. Add oil gradually till all combined. Add seeds, with the motor running, gradually blending to a smooth pesto. Mix through pasta and add diced tomatoes on top with a shaving of parmesan.