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How Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos Get Their Kids to Eat Healthy

“This is not a restaurant!”

That’s what my mother used to say when either I or my brother dared to complain, question or even take too long to go through our dinner plate.
Don’t get me wrong — food in my house has always been good if not excellent, farm to table and as clean as it gets; but there are always a few food items in the life of a child that are able to make him or her shiver and possibly hate whoever dared to cook and serve them.

For me it was mushrooms and artichokes, and I’ve got stories for both.
I was around 7 or 8 years old and I remember that moment as if it was yesterday: It was about 3 p.m., I was on a school trip to the River Po region in northern Italy, and we had been walking all day and could not find a place to eat, as everybody was already home for their siesta. Our teacher finally found an open restaurant, or better, a restaurant that was closing down but not just yet. She convinced the chef to prepare “whatever he wanted” for a class of 25 hungry kids: “All right then,” he replied, “but the only thing I can make you is a risotto!”

A few minutes later I was presented with a mushroom risotto that just smelled like heaven, garnished with a touch of fresh shaved Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of parsley. I don’t remember thinking twice about it, but I sure remember how it made me feel … kind of dumb! The incredible pleasure I was experiencing was equal to the amount of disbelief that was filling my head: “For how long have I been denying myself such a treat, claiming I did not like it?”

And that was the end of it. Since that day mushrooms became an integral part of my diet, and as an adult they are one of my favorite ingredients.
I have a similar story for artichokes; it involves my father forcing me to remain at the table after lunch until I finished what was on my plate, threatening me not to bring me to the movies. I finished those artichokes after 4 p.m., just in time to jump in the car and make it to the theater. That afternoon was unforgettable for different reasons, the wrong reasons: I did not enjoy the movie and I deeply resented my father. And by the way, it’s not as if that day, all of a sudden, I started eating artichokes; if anything, I was given one more reason to be kind of scared of them. Now I love them and cook them in many different ways. I just had to discover their exceptional qualities on my own, rather than being forced to eat them.

Now that I have two young daughters I try to expose them to as many ingredients as I can, and I usually do it in a straightforward way: I bring the food to the table and I try to stimulate their curiosity. I also present them with an alternative, to make life easier for everybody.

I realize that, with the exception of adult food like fish roe, octopus, beef tartare and other ingredients that might simply spook kids because of their shape or origins, when I think about feeding my kids, the items I care for them to eat are mainly vegetables, since our Italian diet has plenty of carbs and proteins for my growing cubs.

My daughters would look at me sideways if I served them a baby-spinach salad — “Come on, girls, it’s good for you; it’s healthy!” — but if brunch consisted of a spinach frittata they would ask for seconds.

My youngest one has a thing for shakes; it’s her snack when she comes back from school, usually along with a small piece of chocolate. Her favorite shake is strawberry and ice, with a dash of lemon. She has never complained about a difference in flavor the times I tossed a half beet from the night before in it. My oldest daughter still hates mushrooms, but she loves salad and has a portion of it whenever it is served at the table; one day she will be either very hungry or just curious enough, and then we shall see what happens.

Ultimately, when I feed my girls, wife included, I strive for a balance between a healthy meal and a pleasurable experience at the table. Every parent knows how terribly annoying is to spend dinner trying to convince, bribe or force young kids to eat whatever they decide they do not like. They are stubborn creatures that don’t like imposition, so play with their curiosity and help them find a way toward foods that are good for them. It will be a much easier task and a much more rewarding process.

Tune in to Extra Virgin tonight at 8pm ET to watch how Gabriele and Debi spend quality time with their daughters.

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Comments (6)

  1. Victoria Rose posted 06/19/2014

    Thanks for the help, I love your show Extra Virgin! You and Gabriele being side by side in the kitchen is absolutely like my hubby and I in the kitchen. We compliment each other in the kitchen as do the both of you! Your show makes me feel so welcome in your home! Like family, thanks!

  2. [...] For me it was mushrooms and artichokes, and I’ve got stories for both. I was around 7 or 8 years old and I remember that moment as if it was yesterday: It was about 3 p.m., I was on a school trip to the River Po region in northern Italy, and we had been walking all day and could not find a place to eat, as everybody was already home for their siesta. Our teacher finally found an open restaurant, or better, a restaurant that was closing down but not just yet. She convinced the chef to prepare “whatever he wanted” for a class of 25 hungry kids: “All right then,” he replied, …read more [...]

  3. Concerned posted 06/19/2014

    I watched the episode tonight and was shocked to realize that Debi does not like the oldest daughter at all. She never speaks to her and turned away with an ugly face when Gabriele was discussing their outing and her photography. Even while by the waterfall it was just the youngest daughter, Gabriele and Debi. Why would she hurt the child like this?

  4. Pam posted 06/19/2014

    I love your show! Occasionally and on the last episode you use a red cast iron braising dish, probably lecreuset. Since I have seen you use yours so much I would like one, but don't know what size you use that seems perfect. Can you PLEASE tell me how many quarts it holds?

  5. NY_Someday posted 06/28/2014

    I just wanted to tell the two of you that i love your show… I feel like I've watched your beautiful girls grow up, and by being a forever fan of your show, I feel like I've been to New York City, and Italy, which are the two places I've always wanted to go (and will most likely never make it in real life)…so THANK YOU! I am so sad that the 6 re-run episodes that they play on Mondays has been taken off, I looked forward to Mondays because of it… I hope Extra Virgin continues for a 5th, 6th, & maybe even 7th season….. Luv U Guys!

  6. Patricia posted 2 days, 18 hours ago

    I watch your show even the repeats since your move to our Brooklyn. Please advise what fabulous meat store you shopped in your neighborhood. I would love a porchetta and need a place closer than Bay Ridge. Hope your girls are well.

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