Adventure with children can be a double-edged sword. Yes, life with children is adventurous! The type of adventure? Well, that depends on the day or maybe the moment. Unfortunately, when it comes to food for American children, many don’t venture beyond the kid’s menu. And what is with kid’s menus? Really. Children are only allowed to like four things? Chicken nuggets, pizza, noodles or noodles with butter, if they are feelin’ particularly saucy.
How do small children get stuck in such basic, poor and boring eating patterns? Easy. It’s what we feed them. Let’s face it – kids don’t grocery shop and they certainly don’t pick up the tab at the diner unless your one of those Hollywood kid actor types. No offense to child actors. Sometimes I wish my kids were child actors and they could foot the bill. What I am attempting to demonstrate through my pathetic sense of humor is the solid fact that children do not generally hold the purse strings. So who is really in charge of the feeding when it comes right down to it? We are.
We all do it from time to time for various reasons. We’re tired. We’re stressed. And we go for what’s easy. But sometimes these easy choices roll into easy habits and eventually daily habits become our regular routine. Sneaky how that works. Do not fret, my friends. It’s never too late to turn back the train to bland land. Develop an adventurous eater like this:
Offer your children new foods repeatedly. Food writer, Bee Wilson, notes, “It’s not that the flavor window then flips shut … and we can never learn to love bitter green vegetables. Humans can learn to love new flavors at any age,” Wilson says. “One of the amazing things about our relationship with food is how malleable it is, how plastic it is. But we don’t usually as adults give ourselves an opportunity to change.” The average person needs 8-12 attempts at new foods before they acquire a taste for it. Yes, I wrote 8-12! So, if you are still gagging at attempt #5, just keep going!
“Put down the cheesy crackers.” I repeat, “Put down the cheesy crackers.” Snack time is not mandatory. American children live on snacks. Truly. But they don’t have to. Most of the time, children are just plain not hungry enough and so they are less willing to try new, mouth-watering foods. Give your child’s dinner appetite a bump. Move snacks out of the picture while attempting to treat your children to new foods.
Include your children in shopping and cooking. I know, I know – it is so much easier and quicker to go it alone but children who are involved in the shopping and cooking process are much more willing to try those new foods they picked out themselves or that special spicy sauce they created on the stove.
Cut out the sugary options. If your child knows they can skip dinner and still get ice cream afterwards, you are headed towards Dangerville. Of course, your child will prefer the chocolate ice cream to the cooked spinach. Most adults would too. Sauteed spinach is my favorite vegetable but it doesn’t go down quite as nicely as a cup of chocolate ice cream. We have to be sensible. If we hand out sugar like a meal then guess what? Your kids will want sugar for a meal.
Don’t force it. Children who are coerced through parental intimidation or promised dessert (confession- guilty of both crimes) in exchange for trying new foods are going to be less willing to try new foods and enjoy them. Except on my bad days, we have a little rule that goes like this: You have to try one bite out of respect for the person who took the time to cook the food for you. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. But I do not offer alternative foods for the most part. If I know they ate a good breakfast and lunch then I am not too worried if they decide to skip dinner. Giving alternative meals sets you up for failure from the get go. Not to mention it is exhausting. There are no short order cooks in my house.
Role model adventurous eating. Children are tiny mobile sponges ready to soak up any and all knowledge in their environment. Surrounded by parents who eat a cornucopia of brightly-colored foods of various origins, they are sure to partake in the adventure that awaits them at the dinner table.
In parting my dear friends, let me leave you with this. Children want to be part of the shindig just as much as the next person. Make eating fun and flavorful. Be patient, keep their bellies hungry for more and just keep offering. Before you know it, you will have an adventurous eater on your hands. Bon Appetit! For all you non-Francophiles: The direct translation is “I wish you a hearty appetite!”