i get ‘you are so lucky your kids are good eaters’ all the time. at first, it’s almost a compliment. almost. but then you think about it, and it comes off as ‘you have it easy because your kids choose to eat.’ so we need to correct this perception. it’s so so wrong. and annoying.
those of us with kids that eat well did not just stumble upon it.
our kids are not little angels that simply comply with everything we ask them to do. (hahahahahahahah)
personally, this is something i work at. every. single. day.
with the exception of a few things, my kids eat what we (adults) eat. i discovered the fact that kids like good food pretty early on. if you’re going to feed your kid bland, packaged, uninteresting food – guess what they’re going to like? guess what’s going to look weird and gross to them? everything else. it’s cool if that’s what you do, and what you like, you do you. but i don’t. i don’t want to eat that stuff, so i’m not going to serve it to them, and then make something different for myself.
my kids are exposed to a ton of different food. some they like, some they don’t. they have to try it once, and if they don’t like it then i respect that. most of the time my kids will loathe the way something looks, refuse to try it, eventually get talked into it (it is a hard and fast rule in our house, there’s no way out unless you choose to have an early bedtime), and the majority of the time they really like it. it makes me smile just thinking of the face they make when they realize it’s actually good. they just let down their guard.
they also firmly believe that they get another year of life when they try something new. i heard this from an older gentleman who used to work for greenpeace and ran a healthfood store in town. he used it with his daughter when she was young, and i loved it. i kind of believe it too. be adventurous. try new things. be open minded. that’s pretty life-giving if you ask me.
there’s a lot of work that goes into setting us all up for success. i don’t set just anything in front of my kids and demand they eat it. there are layers to this, people. here are a few things i try to do, in order to keep the peace and a positive meal time as well as expose them to new things:
- play to their need for control: kids like separated food. it’s the way they can understand what they are eating. call it control, or whatever, but it’s what makes them comfortable. so i serve things this way more often than not. chicken, veggies, rice, all in different parts of the plate. now, the chicken can have pesto on it, the rice can be fried rice, etc – but they prefer that it’s not all mixed up. casseroles are not big in our house. my poor dad visited and made a frittata. all that stuff in the eggs did not play out well for them. they tasted, but wanted the flavors separate. they eat any egg (fried, boiled, scrambled…), and love all the sides – just prefer the separate flavors.
- quality counts: overcooked or burnt food will not be forgiven. ever. they won’t feel bad that you didn’t mean to burn their toast, they will not eat it. who can blame them? it happens to all of us, so pull out a sandwich and call it a night. but if they are served overcooked food often – they think that’s what it tastes like! can you imagine your only experience with broccoli is mushy? i’d hate it too! quality counts, people.
- let them doctor it up: they’re individuals, and love to put their own stamp on things. i love to pull out a few things they can add to their dish as they wish. let them grate on some parmesan, salt/pepper to taste, sriracha to add a little kick (my kids love to add a drop or two to soup!), soy sauce/braggs amino acids for a little flavor. again, it gives them a way to express themselves a bit and make it just to their liking.
- get them involved: i know you’ve heard this one. but seriously, it’s really a big part of it. sometimes they want to help cook, sometimes they don’t. i involve them in menu planning, and while felix would choose pasta every meal, he gets why we might want a little variety. they are learning to cut with a knife, they wash and peel fruits and veggies. they stir food in pots. they set the timer.
- variety: there are a few ways variety plays a role.
- my kids hate the same thing over, and over, and over – so do i. you’re also losing the opportunity to intro new things. mix up the menu. have some good things on rotation – it doesn’t need to be a new recipe, just switch them out here and there. also, this doesn’t rule out leftovers. i love leftovers, they save us all. but i remember a time that my dad made a bunch of split pea soup. we had it every night for like a month (clearly my mind is being dramatic). but i wouldn’t eat it for years after that little spell.
- try different recipes for the same main ingredient. for example, remy didn’t like brussels sprouts (one of those things i wouldn’t force anyway), but i made them with bacon and he was in love. maybe that’s a bad example, because you can’t just throw bacon on everything, but you get the idea.
- take them to the store: yeah, it’s a pain in the ass to have littles in the store. but the more you do it, the better it gets. and to be honest, taking one instead of two makes a huge difference. so just pick your favorite.
- they love it because you can let them make choices. snap peas or snow peas? what fruit do you want in your lunches? man, they just love learning too. my kids knew how to check for organic produce before they could read (plu code starts with 9).
- you can help guide healthy choices. my kids always gravitate toward the candy and sweets, just like anyone else. but we talk about what a good treat might be. not one with artificial dyes. we look at ingredients together. maybe we can go check out the ice cream? or maybe there’s a good chocolate we can grab? or sometimes they just get a no because we don’t need any sweets at home.
- offer them things you eat a restaurants: i order different things than i would make at home. not all the time of course, but often enough. a good example is mussels or oysters. the boys got really curious after a while. mussels were the first thing they tried – and loved them. really it’s about the broth and all that amazing flavor. now it’s kind of a special thing when they see it on a menu and they’ve had mussels so many times, including in france when we vacationed there. remy was the first to try oysters, after seeing chris and i eat them many times. it was kindergarten graduation dinner. so maybe he was feeling really mature and adventurous. he loved them. again, a lot of it was the sauce he put on there. he loves a good mignonette – and can call out a bad one in a second. it’s such a simple sauce, i don’t know how some restaurants can get it wrong…but i digress. anyway, he loves oysters and will eat all mine too, if i let him. felix tried them for the first time this new years. he’s a lot younger than remy was when he first tried, so maybe that’s why he didn’t like it. but it came out as quick as it went it. amazing. but the point is, he tried it! we didn’t force him, he doesn’t need an oyster in his life, but he’s exposed.
in short (well not so short, obviously), it’s not luck. we’ve developed this way of life over time. it’s a constant interaction between chris, the boys and i. we’ve grown and raised good eaters. we continue to educate them about food and flavors and how they can be involved and make good choices.
with all that said, please know that my experience is with two kids. we all have different ones, with different personalities, and different things are going to work (or not work). but if we don’t share what works for us, then how can we all help each other out? xoxo