I’ve been getting questions and comments from people with kids asking if I can help get their child to eat a more varied group of foods. I get the frustration. You want to cook what you love and NOT have to make a second meal for the kid who won’t eat it. I get it. So don’t do it.
By don’t do it, I mean, don’t make that second meal. Make the meal you want. I promise you that your child will not starve to death.
When the weeone was in kindergarten I put my foot down on the food thing. I let it slide during the toddler years, but it was time for her to be a more adventurous eater. I knew I couldn’t subject her to some of the torturous experiences I’d had as a kid….Hi, Mom? Liver and onions is never a good idea. But I also wanted her to love more than peanut butter and chicken strips.
There were three major things that I did that helped the weeone become a kid who will try anything. Here was my approach:
1) The 3 Bite Rule: In some families the rule is “you must try a bite.” In my house you have to try 3. When you take that first bite you’re scared and you’re going to hate it no matter what. But now that you know you aren’t going to DIE from eating that broccoli, you take a second bite to truly taste it. The third bite is the decision bite where you get to proclaim love, meh, or hate.
This has been a great approach for us and once you stand steadfastly by your rule, you’ll find them not even realizing that they take several bites of a new food before they declare their stance on it. Now, there will still be plenty they won’t like, but you’ll know that they really did give it a shot. By the way, if she hates it and won’t eat what I’ve cooked? She can make a pb&j for herself. That’s the only other option available.
2) The Kid Gets a Say, Mom Gets Her Way: We plan out dinner one week at a time. I find that including the weeone in the menu building process invests her in dinner. She may have a side she wants again or a main dish that she wants to try. She wants pizza? Hmmmm…can we put spinach on it? It gives them a little bit of control in an area of life they previously had none. It’s amazing what feeling like you have a little power will accomplish.
But also, when I say “I’d like to try this fish recipe,” and she cringes? She knows she can suggest we eat that with her favorite garlicky green beans and we both win. I’ll likely cave on a side for a main dish that she’s generally not going to really love or sounds scary to a kid’s limited food appeal. It’s a give and take. Some will say that children shouldn’t have any say or power in dinner, but for me, if it gets her trying new foods and lets me cook one meal each night? Sold.
3) Buy That Kid an Apron: Most, if not all, nights, the weeone helps prepare dinner. She’s 10 1/2 now, but even at age 5, there were steps she could do in the cooking process. Involving children in the preparation and cooking of dinner means it’s “their” meal. Certainly they’re more apt eat something they’ve cooked? Yep, it’s true.
The tasks must be age appropriate, but a small child can mix a salad or help bread shrimp or chicken. They can mix up a sauce or fill muffin tins. Nowadays the weeone can pretty much do a full meal. She sautés and boils, she bakes and fries. The only things she doesn’t do as of yet is remove hot pans from a hot oven and most of the serious cutting, although I’m contemplating a knife skills class with her to teach her the safety skills.
There you have it! Those are the three things I’ve done consistently that I think have helped broaden my daugther’s tastes in food. There are still plenty of things I wished she liked. She won’t eat sushi (but will gorge herself on edamame). She won’t eat grits or polenta which makes me question that she’s actually mine, but she has tried them all and will likely try them again. Because, don’t forget – tastebuds do change as they age!