Raising Adventurous Eaters
This blog post was inspired by a Facebook comment I recently came across on an Edmonton moms’ group. The member felt overwhelmed because dinner time in her home had been hijacked by dramatics, and she was eager for tips from fellow moms on how to deal with her two little picky eaters.
While I read her message, all I could think was… thank goodness this is not an issue in our home because we’re already fighting enough battles over the supper hour! Stay in your seat. Eat with your spoon. Don’t play with your food. Don’t wipe your dirty hands on your shirt. Stop teasing your sister. Stop talking about poo. It’s a wearing time of day to begin with, so I can’t imagine having to navigate the picky palates of children, night after night.
People often ask me how I get my girls to eat all sorts of savoury, spicy, tangy and flavourful foods. My answer is always the same… Start ‘em young!!!!!! I’ve been throwing anything and everything in front of them from the moment they could eat solids. My husband jokingly calls me ‘landfill’ because I will eat virtually anything, and I’m making it my mission to pass on that love of food to my kids!
Right now, I’m feeding my 11-month-old some fish, olives, capers, lemon wedges, pomegranate seeds, hummus, tzatziki, sour cherries, cauliflower, pickled ginger, mushrooms and fig bars… just to challenge his palate. That’s on top of the more traditional baby foods like avocado, sweet potato, corn, carrots, rice, peanut butter, etc.
By the time my eldest daughter was 12 months old, she was already chewing on lamb chops and chowing down on sushi. By age 3, she had tried her first raw oyster.
I totally understand that some parents are not ok with giving their children uncooked foods or foods high in sodium. I’m just sharing what we do in our family, and what has worked for us.
I have found that it’s much easier to introduce different flavours and textures to the kids when they are super young… before they become too aware of what they’re eating. They don’t know any better! At nearly 5 years old, Emmanuelle is a little hesitant now to try new things. She asks more questions about what’s on her plate and tends to dissect it with her fork to make sure there are no surprises.
This week she didn’t want to eat the cubed eggplant in her pasta because I had left the skin on. She loves pickled eggplant out of a jar but she wasn’t thrilled about eating it with the skin.
She eventually agreed to try a few bites because the rule in our home is, you have to at least TRY it. That’s how I’ve gotten my kids to love kale salad, miso soup, sun-dried tomatoes, dates, nuts, scallops, guacamole and dozens of other foods.
I read somewhere that children often need to try a new food nine times before they acquire a taste. So I always keep that in the back of my mind.
If you’re a parent hoping to introduce new flavours and textures to your children, I would suggest a fun dinner game we call ‘Souper Surprise’! I randomly came up with it one night… just because I wanted to clean out the fridge. This ‘Surprise Supper’ game works wonders with my kids and they request it all the time!!
Here’s how you do it.
Get your kids to close their eyes, and put a bite-sized piece of food in front of them, like one or two cherry tomatoes, or one or two slices of cucumber. Doesn’t matter what it is, just keep it small.
When they open their eyes, tell them they have to eat what’s on their plate if they want to pass to the next surprise bite.
Once they eat it, whip out something different! To keep it interesting, I don’t follow a particular order… veggies before fruit, savoury before sweet kind of thing. We always mix it up; a bite of chicken, followed by a few slices of kiwi, a carrot stick… then bam, out of nowhere comes a little scoop of jam! Didn’t see that one coming eh kids???
The last time we played this game the girls ate tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, olives, brussels sprouts, carrots, hummus on a cracker, kiwis, a scoop of peanut butter, pomegranate seeds, dried apricots, some pasta noodles, cashews, smoked salmon and feta cheese. That’s 15 different bites!
I keep track of what I give them because after dinner, the kids love to add up how many surprise bites they managed to scarf down.
This little game has taught me that, with children, small portions and presentation are EVERYTHING! It’s impressive what they’re willing to eat if it’s given to them in a fun and exciting way.
Another trick I use with the girls at dinner time is: ‘one bite for you, one bite for me.’ When the girls see that I’m helping them clear their plate, the whole experience seems less daunting.
Getting the kids involved in meal preparation has also been helpful. When they smell the ingredients, wash and cut the vegetables, they tend to get excited to try what they’ve helped prepare.
I would also recommend parents not shy away from foods that are spicy (within reason). My instinct at first was to stop the girls from eating anything hot because I worried it would burn their mouth. But now we put a positive spin on things: ‘This sauce is so good, it’s kind of spicy!’ My children love hot mustard and butter chicken precisely because of this approach.
Last but not least, remember that kids are like sponges and emulate you. If you want them to be adventurous eaters, you have to be willing to push your own culinary boundaries. If you complain about the smell of fish, don’t expect them to be excited to try it.
All that being said, I want to make something clear!!! My children would rather eat hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, mac-and-cheese and ice cream any day of the week. Obviously!!! And we do as a family here and there. The girls also get treats several times a week.
We let them indulge because we know that when it’s time to eat a nutritious meal, they’ll generally step up to the plate.