Caviar to start. Then perhaps a sizeable portion of mussels. Not forgetting a delectable serving of lamb brain. All rounded off with a plate of artisan cheese.
No, this isn’t the winning menu for this year’s MasterChef; rather, these are just some of the dishes five-year-old Sophie Baron has recently devoured.
And she’s actively encouraged away from the usual children’s staples of nuggets and chips towards this rather more gourmet style of eating by her mother, Danielle, a children’s therapist, coach and entrance exam tutor.
‘We’ve shared fine-dining experiences everywhere from The Shard to The Ivy. She’s my favourite dining partner; she’s just as much of a foodie as I am and it’s a joy to know I can take Sophie anywhere,’ says Danielle, who lives in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, and admits to spending up to £300 on a meal for herself and her young daughter.
Indeed, she says she never has to resort to the kids’ menu when they dine out together.
For those who struggle to make their children eat anything but plain pasta, or to countenance even a frozen pea, never mind seafood, such an adventurous palate on such a young child will seem nothing short of a miracle.
But Danielle, 38, claims there’s no mystery to it: all it takes is a consistent spirit of adventure at the dining table.
‘When Sophie was a toddler, I got her into the habit of trying anything I was eating. She’d have little versions of my meal. The only thing she hasn’t ever liked is rabbit — that was deemed horrible.’
Sophie, it seems, is not alone. More and more parents today are keen to ensure their children enjoy truly fine dining from an early age.
Indeed, the luxury domestic service recruitment agency Polo & Tweed recently advertised for a £625-a-week chef for a family with a six-year-old, an eight-year-old and a baby. The advert instructed that the eldest child’s favourite dish was lobster risotto with samphire.
Samathan Brick meets children who stay clear of the kids menu, whose mothers want their daughters and sons to enjoy variety in their food
So is a child who will eat everything from sashimi to steak entrecote just the latest example of middle-class one-upmanship? Or is this bold approach to mealtimes for even the smallest tots thoroughly sensible and healthy, and something we should all aim for — regardless of the expense?
Danielle strongly advocates for such an attitude, and says her foodie adventures with her daughter — who she describes as a fun mini-adult who is ‘up for new experiences’ — are a reward for her own industrious nature.
‘I work hard, and our days out together are part of our quality time and trying new experiences. We’ve been to The Ritz. That’s where she had her first “expensive” spoonful of caviar — she loved it!
‘And we often go to London’s Borough Market where we will try different artisan cheeses or mussels steamed in all sorts of flavours.’
Danielle — who also has an older daughter, Annabelle, 13 — says both girls know how lucky they are.
‘They’re perfectly well-aware that the reason we can live like this is down to my work ethic.
‘We usually buy a dish and share it. I’d limit Sophie’s life if I restricted her to the children’s menu. My mantra is to absorb her into my life rather than the other way around. It’s so much better; she’s my little buddy.
‘I don’t have to worry about asking for children’s menus when we’re on holiday or hoping we find a restaurant with a “nuggets and fries” option.’
Indeed, as widespread as their menus are at home, it’s when they are abroad that Sophie really shows her true culinary tastebuds.
‘We get to experiment and try different foods in other countries. My motto is: “Have something that you wouldn’t have at home”.
‘At restaurants I do ask Sophie to order for herself. She’s got the confidence to do so and knows her way around a menu. She is usually familiar with the dishes.
‘On a trip to Dubai last year she ordered and ate mini birds, lamb brain and lamb tongue. I have to admit, even I was surprised she went for the lamb brain! I could barely eat it myself. Yet Sophie loves variety. She’ll try anything and loves new food.’
On home turf, the family eat out ‘at least’ a few times a month — and then there are the regular weekly takeaways.
‘We’ll often get sushi in. She particularly loves having sashimi with soy sauce and using the chopsticks.
‘Other favourite dishes include Thai, lobster, seafood platters, chilli con carne — she loves it all.
‘My friends have always commented on how well Sophie eats, or how she’s not a fussy eater. And she’s very expressive in her descriptions of why she likes what she eats.
‘It will go beyond a “Yum!” when she describes what she likes about her food. Her favourite words are “delicious” and “tasty”.’
However, it’s only in adulthood that Danielle embraced this style of eating herself — and she credits her ex-husband with opening her eyes to different culinary experiences.
‘When I first tried mussels in a white wine sauce, aged 19, I was blown away.
‘Has it changed me? It’s made me enjoy food so much more. I love the flavours, the textures, the cooking styles.
‘I became a foodie thanks to him — and it’s something I’ve made sure I’ve passed on to our children.’
Julie Colan, 43, also has children with a taste for the finer things in life.
More than that, her sons Michael, 12, and Blake, nine, are happy to explore the more expensive options on restaurant menus, much to the delight of their proud mum.
‘Take a typical meal out last summer. Our waitress took our orders. Blake asked for scallops to start and then the lobster thermidor, while Michael went for squid, followed by the seafood linguine.
‘My husband and I have always encouraged trying different foods. It might cost an eye-watering amount on occasion, but we don’t mind.
‘They will always choose the most expensive items on the menu.
‘My husband and I have always encouraged trying different foods. It might cost an eye-watering amount on occasion, but we don’t mind’
‘I laugh at my husband’s face. He says, “It’s like going out with another couple but them not splitting the bill.” But I’m proud of them for being adventurous. They are really good eaters. They were taught to eat “different” foods from a very young age.
‘I know many young children tend to stick to baked and more bland foods. But it’s because we started educating our kids about food so young that it’s normal for them to experiment.’
Julie — who lives with husband Garth, 43, in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, and owns Secret Whispers, a company that manufactures a pelvic floor exerciser for women — says that from an early age her children were used to restaurant meals.
‘We were eating out with my sons regularly as soon as they were born.
‘My eldest was eating steak before he had teeth. When he was ten months old, I offered him a morsel of steak and he just mashed it up with his little gums.
‘In my social circle, friends have children with similar palates, too. The only time there is disharmony is when my sons jokingly fight over who gets to eat the fish eyes if we order a seafood platter.’
Julie says they eat out once a week as a family, and her sons are encouraged to order for themselves — and, ideally, not from the kids’ menu.
‘I’d far rather they order what we eat and get a half portion or I’ll share it with them.
‘It’s part of our foodie routine now that if there is something new on the menu, then we’ll try it. My eldest doesn’t realise just how unusual what he’s ordering is half of the time.
‘The waiter or waitress frequently looks at us, the parents, in shock when the boys order lobster thermidor, which they love. Other diners always comment on how lovely it is to see such young children eat “adventurous” meals.
‘When we were last in Spain a few years ago, Blake, then just seven, went for a plate of octopus because it’s his favourite. The restaurant owners were so impressed to see him devour the lot, they brought him another plate and he polished that off, too.’
Away from dining out, Julie batch-cooks family meals and says fast food simply isn’t on the ‘family radar’ — but insists she wouldn’t deny her sons a hamburger or pizza from a fast-food chain.
‘I’m very proud of my boys. Yes, we’re lucky to eat out regularly, but that’s because we’ve both got full-time jobs.’
So dedicated are mother and sons to their foodie time that, on occasion, Julie takes it in turns to bring a son out for a version of a ‘date night’.
‘My husband will give his bank card to one of the kids. My eldest takes it very seriously.
‘We don’t have our phones on the table and instead have serious conversations about school and his friends.
‘Last time we started with mussels in wine and garlic sauce, then he had lobster risotto and I had the seafood version. It’s Mummy and son time while using Daddy’s bank card. And, yes, I do get complimented on how well-behaved they are.’
Meanwhile, Imogen Tinkler’s daughter, Xanthe, four, is such a good eater that she asked for — and got — broccoli in her Christmas stocking last year.
‘She has always eaten everything from an early age. I always ask her to try something.
‘Tastebuds change every 20 days, so what she doesn’t like today she’ll be open to trying next month,’ says a proud Imogen, who lives in Whitstable, Kent, with husband Duncan, 39, a chef, and their younger daughter Athene, six months.
‘I became a foodie thanks to [my husband] and it’s something I’ve made sure I’ve passed on to our children’
‘We took Xanthe to Spain when she was a year old and she heartily tucked into squid ink risotto. People couldn’t believe she was eating the same food as us.
‘But children love colour and texture and it’s worth encouraging them. My parents did the same with me, and my husband’s an adventurous eater, too.
‘Xanthe regularly cooks with my husband — she loves trying the different vinegars he uses.
‘I believe you’ll always try something if you have cooked it. That’s why a recent hit was wild garlic with a rhubarb hot sauce. Other favourites include beetroot — I put that down to the colour.’
The couple, who run seasonal foraging brand Bangers And Balls, are also huge fans of foraging and it’s something they do with Xanthe, encouraging their daughter to find foods ‘at her height’ to experiment with.
‘We identify plants and use them seasonally. Xanthe can spot rosemary, an apple on a tree and even wild garlic. Her current favourite is seaweed. She loves it in everything, even ice cream and gravy.
‘She tries everything we find. Rosehip custard is another combination she enjoys.
‘She even recently added wild garlic to her Coco Pops! I wasn’t surprised that it definitely was not a hit — but I love the fact that she experiments.’
Days out see the family go to a farm to collect sausages. They let Xanthe say hello to the pigs she may soon be eating, rather than visiting the nearest drive- through restaurant.
‘That said, I don’t keep her away from takeaways,’ says Imogen, 39. ‘She knows what they are, I just try not to give them to her very often. Even so, it’s a fine line because I don’t want them to be “treats” for her.
‘Family and friends find it funny, and breathe a sigh of relief when she asks for ketchup because it’s the normal thing for young children to do. Yet other kids are starting to copy Xanthe — including our little one.’
As for following in the family foraging footsteps, Xanthe is well on the way. ‘This winter she asked why we don’t eat our Christmas tree — so, yes, we ended up using it as part of a recipe to cure trout.
‘It goes without saying that she devoured it. And there aren’t many four-year-olds you can say that about — are there?’