From the very first minutes of motherhood, feeding is one of the most important issues. It can bring joy or anxiety, it can be a bliss or a battle. Whether you’ve breastfeed or bottle-feed, you know exactly what you’ve been through, the good and the bad. Probably everyone around you had an opinion on how you should or shouldn’t have fed your baby. And then, once the milk-phase is done, comes the era of real food, the battles over veggies and the “I don’t like it”/”But you haven’t tried it yet” never-ending discussions.
But what if there was a way of raising a foodie instead of a picky eater? Is that even possible?
I think it is. Now, I don’t think that everyone should like every taste, every consistency and every spice out there. I believe that it’s ok to like less certain foods, and avoid some. But I also believe in eating various foods in general, in experimenting in the kitchen and in trying new things. I believe in a whole and colorful plate that you can share with your toddler, without the whining and tears.
And I believe that kids too can be foodies.
However, there are a couple of conditions that may make this task much more complicated. Kids diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, anxiety or depression usually don’t like trying new foods, and eating the same meals daily can make them feel more secure and in control. Also, some people have genetic predispositions to sense tastes differently, especially finding the bitter taste where others almost don’t feel it (think vegetables), therefore will be drawn to starches, mild foods and won’t like to experiment, in fear of finding the same bitter taste again.
But even these predisposed picky eaters can open a bit their taste buds, if given opportunity to do so! Because we’re not born with the love of green olives, french cheese or shrimps. Tastes grow on us and if we see our family members enjoying them, if we are given the opportunity to look and smell the food a number of times before trying it, and if we’re not forced to do so, we can learn to accept and like it too.
But what if your toddler have been trying all sorts of foods and suddenly became an I-don’t-trust-any-new-food type of kid?
There’s an explanation for that too. According to evolutionary psychology, kids are open to any food that a parent will introduce before the walking phase. Once the child can walk, he could poison himself by picking foods on his own (Remember that people used to live in the hunters and gathers tribes, for hundreds thousands of years? And quite frankly our biology is still adjusted to that type of lifestyle.)So throughout the toddler years, kids are wired not to trust new foods! And add to that their short memory and here you have it, a meltdown over broccoli because it’s been 3 weeks since you’ve cooked it, and your child is convinced it’s a poison!
So, while keeping all that in mind, what can we do to raise a foodie? Here are my tried and tested ways:
1. Be consistent.
Research proves that it takes around 10 exposures to new food before a child will be willing to eat it! It’s 10 times seeing the parents eating it and 10 times seeing it on their plate before the child will actually TRY IT. So don’t give up if you offered asparagus three times to your toddler and he’s still not eating it. Just keep on cooking it, eating it, and putting on his plate.
Kids learn by imitation, so if you say “I don’t like it” referring to any type of food, your kid will do the same. Even if you just said that you wouldn’t like to eat raw meat, your child can easily turn it in to not wanting to eat any meet, because “mommy said so”. But if you’re trying new foods often then your child will do the same!
3. Don’t force it.
Never force it! If you’ll start forcing a child to eat something, you’ll end up in a power struggle, and your child will learn that there’s something that you really care about, something that you don’t control but he does. The control over what’s going to be eaten is in your kids hands, and putting too much emphasis on it, might give your kid a place to stretch that control, just for the sake of it, resulting in stubborn I-won’-try-it just to prove a point!
Also, you don’t want meal time turn in to a dispute, struggle and battle. In order for it being pleasant and fun for everybody, everyone should have the same freedom and choice. You’re scared that your kid will choose to eat only bread and dessert? Don’t put it on the table.
Your responsibility is to make the food and put it on the table, and it’s your child’s freedom to choose whatever he wants from the choices that you offer.
4. Pick your battles.
The kid devours tomatoes and carrots but leaves all the salad out? Just keep serving it, and one day, by accident, he may start eating it. There’s a vegetable soup and a salad? Let them eat the one they prefer, don’t insists on eating all of the veggies.
Your kids like pizza, pasta and fries? Perfect, serve them their favorite food with a mixed in portion of a new vegetable, and who knows, maybe they’ll eat some of it too!
5. Start a vegetable or a herb garden.
Seeing how food grows, caring for it, watering it and then harvesting it gives kids a sense of comprehension, anticipation and pride. So starting even a small veggie garden in a pot can help you child get interested in veggies!
6. Don’t give up.
Did I already say it? Well, it’s so important, that I’ll say it again, don’t give up, just serve these veggies, and put them on that plastic plate!
It took me a year to convince my kids to some veggies. Onions, kale, leek and even peppers, they all have been less than loved at some point or another. But they ended up trying them, eating a piece, and another, and accepting them in the end.
7. Include them in preparation.
Let them pick the prettiest tomatoes while doing groceries, invite them to scroll through a cook book and pick a recipe, let them help you with washing vegetables, mixing up a salad and cutting fruits! If they helped making it, they’ll most likely at least try it!
8. Never say: you won’t like it.
Kids define themselves through what you say about them, so if you say they won’t like something, that’ll believe you, and even convince themselves they do not want to disappoint you. So don’t call them picky, don’t say that don’t like veggies or spices and don’t tell them what they don’t like.
9. Don’t assume it’s not for kids.
In many cultures there’s no such thing as kid-meals. Children eat exactly the same spices as adults, and they don’t get choice or a second option.
10. Don’t say it’s healthy, just say you like it.
Another research shows that saying that something is healthy actually resolves in kids NOT wanting to eat that food. But since kids learn by imitation, it’s better to just eat the healthy stuff yourself with a smile instead of saying that it’s healthy and they have to.
Raising kids is amazing, fun, difficult and exhausting, all at the same time. Feeding them is a big part of it. So make it fun, for your sake mostly. Eat what you like, maybe with a healthier spin on it. Don’t stress yourself too much about their nutrition intake after a day of cereals and hot dogs. Just balance it the next day with something a bit better. You’re doing your best, I know that! And who knows, maybe in a couple of years your little foodie will try to convince you to try something new?