I had a couple of comments and questions recently about my children. Some of them were envious and mentioned that their children would never eat most of what I serve my family. Believe me it wasn’t always like this. It took years and lots of persistence on my part in helping them get to this point. Now I am not talking about the small part of the population who have medical issues and cannot try new foods due to texture, taste or other issues. I am a mom that is talking about my stubborn kids (especially my son) who was and still is a bit texture sensitive and controlling. If you have serious concerns about your children’s eating habits check with your doctor or counselor about your concerns.
My son and daughter were about 7 and 10 years-old when I decided it wasn’t too late for them to become fearless eaters and tasters. It started simply by me starting to make different dishes other than their preferred beige food – chicken nuggets, French fries, white bread rolls, hot dogs, spaghetti, etc…. I started slowly. I always made sure that there was one dish on the table that they would be happy to eat. Whether it was a favorite vegetable, salad or main dish there was something they could and would eat. But, they also had to take a “No Thank You” helping of the other foods I was serving. We started with from about tablespoon to a 1/4 cups of vegetables, salads or main dish. Once those were eaten they could have seconds of what they really liked. But, no extra helpings until they ate the tablespoon or two of non-preferred food. Slowly, over the course of 6 months to a year, the size of the “No Thank You” helping grew bit by bit.
I also allowed one food we each did not have to eat. My son chose ricotta cheese. My daughter chose onions and my partner chose tuna noodle casserole. Mine foods were peas and strawberries (yes, I got 2 because strawberries make me vomit and I hate the taste of peas). The funny thing now (except for my 2 foods) are things everyone will eat although it is not a preferred item. My son ate the vegetable lasagna the other night and said it was good but too much ricotta. We asked my daughter about onions in the stuffing and she said, “It’s fine.” So, they had control over something and now will even eat those foods.
We created special meal nights. We would read about a country and pick a few dishes to make from the country. The kids would dress in costumes, make flags, and decorate the kitchen. They tried Japanese sodas, Spumoni and curry. We would also do “Fancy Dinners.” Everyone would dress up for a very special meal at home. My son would wear his suit and tie and we would use cloth napkins, eat slowly and practice our best manners when eating. These special meals gave them focus other than just the food. The meal was to feed our family with food but also a special time together.
I had them shop with me and help make meals. I would allow them to choose one new food each month to try. We would look up how to eat or cook it. Star fruit, Ugli fruit, Kombucha, whatever they chose we would all try.
It takes time, patience and giving them the words to use to say why they don’t like it. Yucky and gross are not allowed words at our house. We talk about texture. Is it too mushy? Would it be better if is was cooked less? We talk about spices and flavors. Does it need salt and pepper? Is it too bitter? Does it need to be sweeter? Give them the words and they will start to use them appropriately in all situations.
The hardest part is not giving up and giving in. There going to be nights it doesn’t seem worth it but in the long run it will be. Don’t fight about it with them. They won’t starve. You are feeding them two other meals and make sure there are items they will eat at the table. This is not a battle or a war but a teaching moment every night.
One of the moments I knew this all paid off was when my daughter texted me from Germany that she was only one of two people in their tour group who when ordering chose the ox over the chicken. She really liked it too!