Mary Mitropoulos has never met a fussy eater that she can’t convert to her way of cooking.
As in-house chef at the Little Darlings child care centre at Caringbah, Mary has prepared six meals a day, five days a week for more than 3000 children since 2004.
Mary’s daughters, Poppy Stamateris and Marika Gouveros are the owners of the Little Darlings Childcare Centres in South Caringbah and Cronulla.
When they started the centre they thought that they couldn’t find a better cook than their mother.
Mary was cooking for her father and siblings from a very young age in Greece so she has had lots of experience cooking for all age groups.
When Poppy and Marika asked her to come on board as in-house chef at Little Darlings she agreed on one condition - what’s good enough for the parents is good enough for the children.
She raised her own kids and grandkids before going to cook at Little Darlings so she felt she knew her market.
And after 12 years of cooking for children she knows how to cook for tiny diners.
In fact, the kids at Little Darlings were so enthusiastic that parents started asking Mary for her recipes.
The result is the just published recipe book Yia Yia’s Kitchen Secrets.
Mary’s secret was to cook like a traditional Greek Yia Yia, one big meal that all the family can enjoy.
Her advice to parents of fussy eaters: “Throw out your kid-friendly cookbooks,” she said.
“Stop suffering through bland meals designed with tiny tastebuds in mind. And quit preparing two completely different dinners for adults and kids every night.”
She believes in using unprocessed, nourishing food with ingredients like black beans, chick peas and even the dreaded broccoli.
“The biggest secret is to just cook one interesting, tasty, nutritious dinner that adults will enjoy and the kids will love it too,” she said.
Her recipes include spicy lamb and tomato with chickpeas, Greek-style meatballs in lemon sauce, Chicken Chow Mein Yia Yia-style, baked spaghetti pie and zucchini and feta pasta.
She has collected 50 of her recipes in Yia Yia’s Kitchen Secrets which is being published on April 1.
Mary first started cooking back in Greece when she was 10 years old.
“I had to cook because my mother had to go to Athens for a year to look after my sister who was sick,” she said.
“I was the next oldest so I had to learn to cook for my father and five brothers and sisters. It taught me how to cook.
“I carried this on when I came to Australia in 1957. I watched my mother and learned how to cook. I love the kitchen.
“I got married at 18, started my family and I continued cooking.
“But when they asked me to cook at the childcare centre I didn’t know how to cook for 120 kids. I had to make up my own recipes.’’
Mary’s cooking got rave reviews.
“The kids used to say, ‘Mary, you’re the best book.’ I think it’s because I use a lot of herbs and spices and make it as tasty as possible.
“It’s food the kids haven’t experienced before, cooked in the old-fashioned way. They love the lentils, the black-eyed beans, and they all love my bolognese.
“The new mums don’t cook this way.”
But they are learning. After requests for her recipes, Mary decided to publish her cookbook.
Mary, Poppy and Marika will be launching Yia Yia’s Kitchen Secrets at Berkelouw Cronulla at 12noon on Saturday, April 30.
Big crowds are expected as Mary will be cooking some of her recipes.