I just read a great post by Mary Ostyn of Owlhaven. It was all about getting kids to like lots of different foods . . . and about how that can backfire! I was cheering along with the entire post . . . and weeping for her loss (and the familiarity of it all) at the end.
I started to comment there, then I decided I would just do a mini-post on my take on things. We do almost everything that the Owlhavens do, and we too have four children who eat a huge variety of foods. It has been a wonderful blessing to us as parents that our children are able to tactfully try new things when we are a guest in someone’s home or when we are on vacation or when we are trying out a new restaraunt.
First go there and read her ideas, then come back here. Here are a couple things that we have done to help our children enjoy food:
We do not ask our children to eat a certain number of bites of any given food, but we do ask our kids to try everything . . . every time we serve it. We have a wide variety of likes, so kids keep seeing foods over and over and over and eventually just decide to like them.
We also have a garden. Two of our children didn’t like tomatoes for years. When we started growing them, those kids were hooked. I remember that joyful summer; we couldn’t keep our kitchen stocked with tomatoes, a great problem to have! At first those children would only eat “Daddy-tomatoes,” but now they’ll eat just about any tomato that I would eat.
We allow the kids to pick out one thing during a meal with a lot of “weird” foods or a variety of vegetables. For instance one kid might pick the lima beans out of the pot pie – oh, that might be me; and another might pick out the red peppers.
We also tell the kids that it’s okay not to like certain things. There are things that I don’t like; as a matter of fact, I probably have more food issues than my kids. (Deep-seeded issues – don’t ask!) So while I’ll eat spinach and all manner of veggies, I can’t eat a hot dog (or most any kind of sausage) to save my life. So as long as the kids are reasonable about their choices, I’m okay with them not liking a few things.
We let the kids see us try (and take time to get used to) new things. Like I said, I have food issues; it takes me a while to warm up to stuff. When I first tried Ethiopian food, I was horribly disappointed that I didn’t love it. I kept going back and trying new things. Now there are quite a few things that I like, and there’s even a dish on the menu that is new to me that I can’t wait to try next time. Kids are the same way, and I think it helps them to develop their tastes to know that adults don’t always love everything either.
And finally, as my friend Ellen says, “You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it.” Our kids know that there are occasions that they just have to eat what is in front of them. It is rare, but it might just happen that when you are served a burger by your friend’s mom that she might just have put ketchup on it. It is not the end of the world. You are not allergic to ketchup, and it’s not worth making a big deal out of it. We will wipe it off and move on, and by the end of it all you might just like ketchup. While I know that that sound horribly mean, there are times when it is good for kids to be able to take a deep breath and just eat the food already.