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When you picture a royal kid's menu, you might not envision little princes and princesses eating something as simple (and American) as peanut butter and jelly. But former royal chef Darren McGrady, who for years was the personal chef for Princess Diana and oversaw all the food for the duchess, says of William and Harry, "The boys were royal princes, but they still had children's palates." In other words, they were more interested in PB&J — which they discovered when Princess Diana took them to Disney World — than they were in broccoli.
While William and Harry weren't pickier than the average child, McGrady — author of the new cookbook "The Royal Chef at Home: Easy Seasonal Entertaining" — still had some tricks for getting them to eat their veggies and the rest of their dinner. Here are six tips to try with your little princes and princesses.
1. Start them young.
McGrady says that members of the royal family are introduced to a wide variety of food from a young age by their nanny in the nursery.
"The Royal nursery wasn't just for educating the minds of the young royals but educating their palates, too," he says. "Nanny always had control of the menu and made sure they ate balanced meals that included not only lots of healthy vegetables but introduced them to new grownup dishes too."
2. Serve them what the grownups are eating.
"When the princess was entertaining and the boys were at the table, it would have been easy for her to say, 'Darren, just give the boys chicken fingers and fries' but she insisted they have what the rest of the guests were eating," says McGrady.
He recommends serving the food and not making a big fuss about it — just dig in yourself and chances are good they will too. "Children are inquisitive," he adds.
3. Take a "bubble and squeak" approach to veggies.
If just plopping a plate of broccoli in front of your kids doesn't work, try mixing the scary vegetables into something you know your kids like, such as mashed potatoes. McGrady would chop up broccoli and add it to mashed potatoes for William and Harry in a take on bubble and squeak, a dish that's usually made with cabbage and mashed potatoes.
"Bubble and squeak is one of our national treasures," says McGrady. "It was a way of using up leftover roast dinner but also as a nursery food to nourish the children by hiding gross vegetables like cabbage." He adds, "Serve children my shredded kale mashed potatoes from my new book. It may be the first time they eat kale and say, 'Please can I have more?'"
4. Work in their favorite foods.
Every Saturday, William and Harry would go to tennis lessons and get a muffin at the snack bar at the court. Inspired by that and by William and Harry's love of peanut butter and jelly, McGrady developed a peanut butter and jelly muffin for the boys (it's in his new book). While a PB&J muffin may not be a hard sell, you can use McGrady's trick with less familiar foods. When introducing new foods to your kids, try adding an ingredient you know they love — say these chicken satay skewers with peanut sauce for those peanut butter lovers:
5. Relax the rules sometimes.
While there may have been no chicken fingers served at formal events, Princess Diana was known to relax the rules about what her children ate — she famously took them to McDonald's for special treats.
"The princess wanted the boys to be happy and would let them eat pretty much what they requested when they were alone with her," says McGrady. Since the Princess followed a restricted diet but still wanted to eat with the boys, McGrady sometimes had to get creative with meals — for example, roasting potato wedges with a coating of egg white instead of oil.
6. Let them help with the cooking.
After one trip to the United States, Harry came back with a trick he learned for cooking bacon: "You make it crispy by putting it on a paper towel and cooking it for a minute in the microwave," he told the chef.
McGrady was skeptical about getting a cooking lesson from "scrawny little Harry," but gave it a shot with English back bacon and was impressed with the results. "Great, I got a cooking lesson from Prince Harry," he remembers thinking. Kids are always more excited to eat something they helped make, and sometimes you can even learn something from them — even if you're a trained chef!