Getting Your Kids To Eat Their VeggiesOctober 26, 2017
Next to some of our Umgås staffers who may eat like toddlers, our littlest ones tend to be the pickiest of eaters. And getting kids to try new cuisines from other cultures can be even harder.
Chef Ulrika Berglund, who has been serving up meals and snacks for school-aged kids for more than 15 years, not only gets children to eat, but she also finds a way to incorporate a multi-cultural flair into her dishes for the smallest hands and mouths to enjoy.
We caught up with Berglund to talk to her about her background, food and the secret behind getting children to eat what you put in front of them.
Give us a little bit of background on yourself. Where did you grow up, and how did you end up in Richmond, Va.?
I am from the middle part of Sweden, originally, but when I was small, we moved down to a town called Motala. I lived there for 30 years, and I went to culinary school there. I have been cooking since I was a kid. It seemed natural for me to do that.
After culinary school, I worked for restaurants, but by the time I was 25, I was bored with the long hours, and I was always working when my friends had vacation. One day my mom called, she was a preschool teacher and she said, “There is someone in the kitchen in the sick. Can you fill in?” I have always liked kids, so it was good.
I always wanted to go abroad to work, and one day my husband, he works for an international company, came home and said, “Do you want to work in the United States?” It was supposed to be three years, but we extended for another two.
How did you get into the cooking world – where did you learn to cook?
My mom had four kids and she was not working. In the beginning, it was to make the money go around and make the household go around. She did a lot on her own – cooking, baking. We picked berries – lingonberries, blueberries, raspberries, and we had a big backyard with lots of different fruits. She took care of all of those things.
She always let me help out in the kitchen. She taught me early how to do stuff, I just liked it. I liked to be close to my mom. I think that was a way to hang out with her. She couldn’t always play with me with four children around, but I could be in the kitchen. I’ve always been curious about new stuff, too. I’ve always been curious to learn new things – baking, making preserves, which led into cooking other things. I’d ask, “Oh, can I make a cake?” And she’d of course say yes.
What is your favorite Swedish dish and why?
That’s hard. Kåldomar, which is taking a piece of meat, you make a log of meat and you put it in a green cabbage leaf. You pan sear it in butter and then you cook it. It’s really, really good.
What do you miss most about Sweden?
Food. Food and family.
Are there any food-related traditions or dishes you wish were more popular or accessible in the States?
I think I learned how to adapt. I made a specific kind of meat stew at home – I couldn’t get the flavor like I wanted to. Maybe it’s the spices. The bay leaves we have in Sweden are from Turkey – and the ones here are from another region so you don’t have the same flavor. It’s a modern society, so you can get almost anything. If I can’t find what I need at Kroger, then I can go to IKEA to get some other things. I’ve learned to adapt and use other ingredients to get the same results.
You previously worked at schools in Sweden, and when you came to the States, you started work for a daycare called Ms. Babs. What kind of Swedish dishes do you make for the children?
When I came to the U.S., my oldest son didn’t speak any English at all. I was bored at home, so I called Babs and told them I’m a professional chef and I asked if I could volunteer in the kitchen. They said come in two days a week and we’ll see how it goes.
I made Swedish meatballs, of course. I made Swedish pancakes, which is more like a crepe. We always served that with applesauce – lingonberry is more of an expensive ingredient. I also baked a lot of bread at the preschool.
Another dish is a typical Swedish baked potato. Instead of just sour cream, bacon and cheese, we made cream cheese, tuna and something else in it – that’s something a little bit different. I also made a different kind of soup, where you cut potatoes in slices and add ground beef, onion and beef stock.
Why is it important to get children to try and taste dishes from other cultures and cuisines?
I would say that you need to learn that there is more than just what we eat. When I used to work in Sweden, we always had a travel week where we discover different continents and countries. We did one American week – which had the burger and other different kinds of food. Not all kids can travel, so if I can show them more, then they will be more curious to try new stuff. Some of the dishes I have done, have been really popular and have stayed on the menu – like an African lamb stew, which may not always appeal to kids. It opens up their mind, not just liking just five dishes.
The other thing, I was working at a preschool in Sweden, and we were working on an European Union project. We were exchanging the educational plans between England, Sweden and Iceland – I got to go to Iceland and cook Swedish food. It was interesting to see how different everything is.
How do you get picky eaters to try new flavors and dishes?
Make kids part of the decision making process. If a child came up to me and asked if he could have a dish, I’d say, “No, not today, but how about I make that next week.” Then I’d write their name on the menu to make it special.
If you create a bond with the kids, you could get them to eat everything. When you create a bond – they feel secure with you, they can trust you and always come to you and always ask for something. Always, always, if they come and ask you for a dish, say yes we can, but not today, but I can make it this day. And when you make it, talk to them and say, “Remember when you told me you wanted this? Tomorrow I’m making that for you,” and that makes the child feels special. That creates a really good environment. I would always try to see everyone and I think that’s one big key to make them eat. But they can sure be picky.
Any other tips or tricks?
I made a rödspätta, which is a type of fish. I made a roulade, and I had a salmon mousse inside. I cooked it in a white wine sauce (cooking wine), and then I asked the kids what they thought about the dish. “I didn’t like the fish, but I liked the pink stuff.” Well, that was also fish.
When it comes to kids, texture is the most important thing, I don’t know why. I remember when I was at Babs, one morning I was making my own version of a chicken pot pie. I would melt a little butter, add onions, garlic, celery, carrots – and while it was cooking, kids would ask what smelled so good. I told them what it was, but then they’d say they don’t like vegetables. But I chopped them so tiny, they couldn’t really see it. I added cream and chicken and when they ate it, they said they couldn’t find the vegetables. Sometimes you have to do certain tricks to get the flavor but they don’t see them.
Another example is when I make meat sauce, which would have mushrooms, celery, carrots, tomatoes – I don’t think any child would eat a mushroom, but I ground it up and they didn’t notice it but the sauce had the flavor.