I began making something a little different for dinner tonight. I saw the idea on the internet and thought it looked good. It was lasagna made with zucchini strips instead of noodles. I decided to give it a try. It turned out tasty, but runny.
One of Sarah’s friends was going to eat with us and she was shocked and could not believe I would make “fake lasagna” and she did not think she would like it. Which brings to my mind comments I get frequently about how well my kids eat and how lucky I am. While I do not want to dispute that I am lucky, I also want to say that it is not necessarily luck, but training. I hesitate to say that I have the perfect “system" of getting my kids to try new things because I definitely do not. But I thought I would write out how we have approached this in our parenting.
Matt and I decided a long time ago that we did not want meal times to be a battle. We had watched others beg, cajole, yell, and even force feed their kids. We made a conscious decision that we did not want to do that. At first, it really was a “conscious” decision. We would have to remind each other, “It is okay if he doesn’t want to finish. Let him eat what he wants and don’t force it.” The only real rule we had was if you did not eat dinner, there was nothing after dinner.
This policy worked out pretty well. Matthew, then Sarah both ate well, ate pretty much anything put in front of them, and meal times were fairly pleasant affairs. Ben has given us our biggest challenge. He seems to have been born , shall I say, a cautious eater. I hate to say picky, but Ben can definitely be cautious.
When Ben was starting solid food, the first bite, every time for about 6 months, would come right back out at me. It did not matter what the food was. I would put it in his mouth, he would spit it back out. If he opened his mouth again, I knew he would finish what I was trying to give him. If he did not like the food, you could not pry his mouth open with a crow bar.
Around the time Ben was four, He came to the table for dinner, looked at his plate I had for him, and loudly exclaimed, “Yuck!”. I immediately turned around, picked his plate up and put it in the sink. I said to him, “I am sorry you did not like it, you can have breakfast in the morning.” He sat at the table that night with us, not eating. I explained that I am not requiring that everybody like every food put in front of them, but, it is very rude to loudly complain about the food someone took the time to make.
Ever since that time, which was about 6 years ago, we have added to our “no battle over mealtime” rule. This rule is: you do not have to like everything put in front of you, but you may not be rude about it. Everybody has foods that are favorites, foods that are just okay and foods they absolutely do not like. We can respect those differences without rudeness.
So, how do I encourage trying of new foods? Or, even trying foods that they may have not liked in the past?
Letting my kids help cook a meal or two is one way. It is fun to be in the kitchen with mom or dad. Carefully cutting up vegetables, mixing, grating and more can all be done under a parents watchful eye. Getting kids to eat food they have helped prepared is not a big challenge. They are usually very proud of what they have made. (In case you are wondering, NO! this does not happen everyday. This only takes place on days I am feeling very patient.)
One time we had a “Pepper tasting party”. We went to the commissary and I let the kids pick out one of all the different colors of bell peppers. For dinner that night, each kid got to wash and cut up their pepper they picked. We all tried a pepper strip of each color raw. After they were cooked, we all tried each color pepper again. Then the kids compared them and decided which one was their favorite and whether they liked them raw or cooked. To this day, all of them will still eat peppers with no problems. I have done this “food party” a couple times now with various fruits and vegetables.
Repetition. If I have a new food I want them to try to use it frequently. My more adventurous eaters, Matthew, Sarah and Rebekah, usually try it the first time. Ben generally will give it a try and not like it. Then about a week later I make it again. By about the third time, when we sit down at the table I can truthfully say to Ben, “Oh, we have had this before, don’t you remember it?” 9 times out of 10, he tries it the third time and likes it. The idea of a new food is what seems to put him off.
Has this plan been perfect? By no means. We have had times when Matt and I have failed and gotten frustrated that the kids were not eating. We have sent kids away from the table for being grumpy about the food in front of them. But, slowly, over the years, dinner has become less of a battle ground and more a time to connect.