Lulu Cohen-Farnell creates nutritious meals from scratch for 15,000 children a day. She shares her secrets for helping them love what’s good for them
France has arguably one of the world’s most renowned cuisines. So it’s perhaps not surprising that Parisian born Lulu Cohen-Farnell is the founder and driving force behind Real Food for Real Kids (RFRK). It’s what she calls an “edu-catering” company that offers nutritious meals and snacks to more than 15,000 kids daily in Toronto elementary schools, childcare centres and camps.
RFRK’s menus celebrate world flavours with a focus on locally, sustainably grown foods.
We sat down with Lulu, a mother of two, food enthusiast and entrepreneur, to chat about the realities of providing nutritious meals to kids.
Why did you get interested in nutrition and starting RFRK?
My son Max was the catalyst for founding RFRK in 2004. Healthy foods catering for kids in child care was not available. There was a real lack of awareness of the importance of feeding children nutritious foods. I grew up in Paris in a family where food plays a huge part in our lives, where exploring the farmers’ markets, cooking and sharing real food meals made from scratch was something integrated into our culture and traditions.
RFRK’s mission is to enable and inspire healthy eating and make real food affordable to all. We help cultivate good food values, expand children’s palates, and aim to enhance the nutritional IQs of all of our stakeholders: children, parents, caregivers, and their communities.
On those happy, healthy foundations, we hope that these kids will build life-long habits of healthy eating and sustainable living.
Why is it important to you that your kids eat well?
Our daily food choices affect our health and dictate how we feel. It is our responsibility as parents to instill healthy eating habits, teach our kids how to navigate our ever evolving food landscape and how to cook from scratch. These are essential life skills that every child should be taught.
How do you encourage your kids to eat well at home?
I enjoy shopping for food and cooking and I always have fun doing it. I cook from scratch every day and always prepare several colourful, beautiful and tasty dishes. I’m exposing my kids to a variety of flavours. They can choose their favourites and whatever is left over can be used for their school lunches or for dinner the next day.
The magical part is that food can take on different forms; for example the roasted veggies can be transformed into a delicious soup. We all have the power to make healthy foods for our kids. It does require a little effort and organization but it’s possible and certainly worth the effort! It’s an investment in our most precious asset — the health of our children.
What have you learned about children’s food preferences?
Parents have always observed individual differences in children’s willingness to try new foods, and many studies show that both exposure to different foods and genetic determinants play a part. It’s important to expose kids to a variety of healthy and tasty choices.
When they are used to eating delicious, healthy foods from an early age, that’s what they’ll crave into adulthood
What tips do you have for parents who struggle to get their kids eating well?
- Set an example (monkey see, monkey do!). Talk to your child about good nutrition and eating healthy, nourishing foods.
- Introduce a wide variety of foods with varied textures and flavours as soon as kids start eating solid foods. Include nuts and seeds as well as spices and herbs.
- Jump into your creative zone! If you create flavourful dishes, you’ll raise curious and adventurous eaters. Let the intuitive cook in you be your guide and create away.
- Always start the meal with veggies and fruit, especially if your kids tell you they are starving.
- Don’t let your child engage you in a power struggle: Consider the possible unspoken meanings of “I don’t like it.” This might really mean, “I’m not in the mood for that right now.”
- Remember that eating is a learning experience and that children’s tastebuds evolve and change frequently. What they don’t like on Wednesday might be a hit on Friday.
- Applaud adventurous eating.
- Don’t feed your children sugary cereals if they don’t want to try what you have prepared for dinner.
- Avoid food rewards.
- Make your kitchen a beautiful space and have bowls of fruits and veggies available at all times.
- Be organized and cook big batches in advance; divide into portions and store in the freezer or fridge.
- Most importantly, don’t give up! Most kids may refuse to try a less familiar or new food until it has been offered 10-15 times.
- Try our RFRK kid-approved recipes at rfrk.com/recipes/.
It’s up to us adults to inspire our kids to eat healthy and delicious foods. If we don’t make the right food choices for them, and show them a good example, who will? We want to give them the best opportunity for a healthy and happy life.