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Chef Claire Thomson on the art of parenting and getting your kids fed

Chef, cookbook author and food blogger Claire Thomson gives Ella Walker some tips on getting the best our of family dinnertime

Food writer and chef Claire Thomson

"THE kitchen table is really important to me," says chef and author Claire Thomson. "That the kids exist in the kitchen with me, and that it's not some space that just makes food and washes up."

The 5 O'clock Apron blogger and Instagrammer, whose latest cookbook New Kitchen Basics seeks to make cooking from scratch easy but exciting, knows all about cooking for kids. She has three daughters of her own – Grace (11), Ivy (9) and Dorothy (6) – and often has a lot more round for tea: "I find myself always with extra children, which is really funny."

Here are her tips for feeding kids – no matter how many you're in charge of...

:: Make the kitchen the place to be

"We have a bench along the wall, that I can pop eight children's bottoms on. If I can feed four, I can feed 10."

:: Don't take any prisoners with fussy eaters (it helps if you're a bona fide chef)

"It's just food and we're really lucky to have the food that we eat, and also, I'm a chef and my husband is a chef, and I know that people would pay money to eat the food that I'm cooking – it's delicious. So if they don't like it, I'm just like, 'Come on, you've got two chefs cooking for you. How can you not like this?'"

:: Flexibility is a good thing

"Grace is amazing, she'll eat anything. She's a vegetarian who likes to eat the odd piece of salami – I think that's perfectly sensible. We've got a friend who's a Spanish supplier and he brings us lovely salami and she's like, 'Oh I like this!' But she won't eat big chunks of meat, which is fine. Dot, my little one, is six, and she'd just eat an egg if I let her, and pesto pasta, but I just don't let her, because that would be the root to madness."

:: They're allowed to not like some things, but they ought to try them

"They can have something they just don't like; Ivy doesn't like mushrooms. I don't like Jerusalem artichokes, we'll have that discussion, that's fine."

:: Don't be afraid to take your kids to restaurants with you

"Eating out is important for children, it's about being civil, learning manners, being polite. Seeing the hospitality industry working hard is important."

:: They will survive without McDonald's

"[My kids] haven't had one of those. I'd rather we go and eat falafel."

:: Sharing dishes all laid out on the table is a great way to eat as a family

"How we eat at home is quite a few dishes on the table, often ambient temperature in the summer, that we just graze at and share."

:: Let them pick stuff out – just don't do it for them

"If one child likes the avocado but not the courgette, I'm OK with people picking bits out, and then incrementally all those flavours will just meld and one day they'll go, 'Oh there's courgette, that's quite nice'. Just be a bit laissez faire and relaxed about it all. As long as they pick the bits out themselves – I'm not going to pick them out for them."

:: An early tea will mean less snacking after school

"We mostly cook earlier on, because I don't want the children to eat loads of crap when they get in from school. And they are starving when they get home."

:: Food is meant to be all mixed together – let them know that

"I have no truck with that [kids not wanting certain foods to touch other ones]. Food's much tastier mixed up. Even Grace my 11-year-old was saying to Dotty, 'Oh it all just tastes the same anyway when you've mixed it all up in your mouth.'"

:: New Kitchen Basics by Claire Thomson, photography by Sam Folan, is published by Quadrille, priced £25. Available now.

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