I was inspired early on by writer Amy Dacyczyn (The Tightwad Gazette) as she made an effort to feed her kids on a budget, and one of her articles, “War and Peas”, had some great tips for getting kids to eat everything without complaint. Easier said than done, right? While Amy’s motivation was more financial, raising kids to be good eaters is crucial. My daughter has a friend who doesn’t like bread. So she’ll eat the toppings off of pizza and leave the rest, going through several pieces in the process. Or she’ll just eat the frosting off the cake. (And no, this isn’t related to a food allergy). Being picky isn’t just for kids either. I was at a business dinner a few weeks ago and the person sitting next to me struggled with finding something on the menu that pleased them. Not for dietary or health reasons, just because she didn’t like so many foods and she rarely challenged herself to eat anything out of her comfort zone.
Amy’s article focused on serving kids a variety of foods in an effort to provide a balanced and healthy diet, and to be receptive to trying new things. Early on, many babies show a preference for fruits and desserts over vegetables or meats (and I can’t blame them after trying some of those jars of baby food), but continuing to introduce a variety of different tastes and textures at meal time is essential. For our family meals (yes, we all eat the same dinner, there’s no way we have time to cook separate meals!) we have often followed the basic formula of having a protein (usually meat or fish in our household), a veggie, a salad or fruit, and sometimes a starch (bread or potato). When the kids were very young, they would be served a small portion of each, which they had to finish before asking for more of anything. For instance, they couldn’t eat all of their fruit and then get more without also finishing the vegetable and protein. We didn’t make them clean their plate, but they would not get dessert if they didn’t finish all of their dinner. And we didn’t allow alternates later in the evening, such as a peanut butter sandwich at 8pm. We figured they wouldn’t starve, and instead of picking at a perfectly healthful dinner and then counting on the snack later, they would be more inclined to eat the dinner and forgo the late night snack. Recognizing that there are simply some foods that no matter how hard we try, we may never like (beets for me), we let everyone have one “slide” – that is, a food that they do not have to eat. They cannot change their slide very often (once every few months or so) to avoid having someone announce a new “slide” at each meal, for instance. For my daughter, her slide is mushrooms. She is allowed to pick the mushrooms out of a dish (though we all give her grief about it). We’ve found that our kids will now eat just about anything, and they have a good appreciation for portion control, not wasting food, and having a balanced diet.
My mother says that if you try something 30 times, you will like it, so we’ve always encouraged the kids to keep trying things again and again. Anyone know of a good beet recipe?