Once upon a time (ok, this was last year) we invited one of my daughter’s preschool friends and her mother over for a lunch playdate. Everything was going swimmingly – the girls played perfectly, the moms had a nice chat, everything was really lovely – until, that is, I made lunch.
It was what I would consider a normal lunch for us – ham and cheese roll-ups, a fresh fruit salad, baby carrots with homemade ranch dip, and some cheese flavored crackers in the shape of an animal. My girls tucked in happily, but the little friend immediately threw a temper tantrum – and a giant one.
“Oh, sorry”, the mom explained “I should have warned you – she doesn’t eat anything except peanut butter and grape jelly on white bread. And cheese sticks”.
Uhh…. Say what?!
The mom then went on to explain that literally, this was the only thing the little girl ate – and she ate it every single day for 3 meals a day, and sometimes snacks, too. No fruits. No vegetables. No meat. No variety.
I mean – I totally get it. My youngest would happily survive on nothing but crackers and mac and cheese if I let her. But that is the point – I don’t let her. We are just as likely to have curry for dinner as chicken nuggets, and while my kids might not love every single thing they are served, they eat it anyway.
Eating adventurously doesn’t necessarily mean your kiddos will be begging for sushi, beets, and liver – but it does mean they can enjoy a wide variety of foods, and be open to trying and exploring new things as well!
Want your kids to be open to trying new food? Here are eight ways to raise adventurous eaters. You can start implementing them tonight!
1. Early Exposure
The earlier you can expose your kiddos to a variety of flavors, textures, ingredients, and cuisines, the better off their chances of loving a wide variety of foods will be. During pregnancy and breastfeeding is awesome, but incorporating new flavors into your baby and toddler’s diet is key.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, kids do not need overly bland foods! While babies and toddlers do have twice the amount of taste buds as adults do, and are more sensitive to flavors, that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy having flavors!
And whether you choose to make your own baby food, feed baby straight from your plate, or buy it from a store, there are so many awesome and flavorful choices! Every food is “kid friendly” if you let it be!
2. Serve a Variety
Giving your kids options of different foods is super important. I try to make sure each meal consists of a variety of different colors of food as well as foods from each “food group”. That way if they decide they don’t like curried chicken, they have a variety of other healthy options that will satisfy their tummies and keep them from going to bed hungry.
Divided plates with 3-5 spaces are my favorite meal time accessory, because it helps me remember to serve lots of different things!
3. Keep Trying
Did you know your taste buds are replaced about every two weeks, and they are continually changing?! Just because something doesn’t go over well today doesn’t mean it will forever be a hated food. Keep trying!
Try new ways of preparing food (baked, grilled, poached, etc) and with different herbs and other ingredients to change the flavor and how it is presented. For the longest time I thought asparagus was utterly disgusting—because I had only ever had it simmered in water until it was mushy and tasted like grass. Then I had it grilled, and I discovered I LOVE it!
4. Don’t Impose Expectations
This one is soooo hard because the whole family needs to be on board. If you want your 4-year-old to eat broccoli, then Daddy (or someone else) can’t go on and on about how much they dislike broccoli. Those expectations go a long way.
Phrases like “I don’t think you will like this” or “You are going to LOVE this” set the stage for failure and mistrust. Allowing a child to make their own discoveries is important.
Focus on the health qualities of the food, how you used a new ingredient, where it comes from, or how it is made. Then, instead of your little sponge suddenly regurgitating someone else’s opinion about the food, they are more likely to feel curious and want to try it.
5. They Eat What You Eat
For the love of Pete, please stop being a short order chef!
Your job is NOT to make 4 different meals that cater exactly to everyone’s specific taste preferences so that everything is rainbows and sunshine. Your job is to nourish your family with a dinner you have lovingly prepared for them. It is then their responsibility to decide if they are going to eat it (whether or not they like it) or be hungry.
One Meal. No Alternatives.
I promise they won’t shrivel up and die because they don’t eat 100% of the food on their plate. Pinky Swear. And more often than not, they will eat.
6. Ease Up
I know. It’s really easy to get uptight with dinner time rules. But the more rules you try to enforce, and the more micromanaging you do during dinner time (‘Take another bite’, ‘eat some chicken’, ‘don’t use so much ketchup’), the less enjoyable meal time becomes.
Think about it – do you like it when your boss or significant other stands over your shoulder and tells you exactly what to do during each and every movement you make? I’m going to guess no. And I’m going to guess it actually makes you really irritable, too.
Well, guess what? Your kid feels the same way. And everyone else at the table.
Don’t be a Dinner Dictator!
Relax and give your child the freedom to experience their dinner at their own pace while you talk about your days, laugh, and have a good time. Dinner can turn from feeling like a chore to a valued part of your day.
That’s not to say there aren’t rules – because obviously everyone needs to sit on their bottom and not stab their sibling with their fork or fling spaghetti on the ceiling. But turning down the dictoratorship will make a phenomenal impact on your meal time atmosphere.
7. No Bribery
There are totally times where bribery works. And I’m not going to be one of those parents who tells you to never bribe your kid – that is totally your decision. But the dinner table is one of those places where I hope you would use is sparingly.
By saying “I will give you an amazing dessert if you eat your dinner!” what you are actually teaching your kids is that the dinner you are serving is icky, gross, gag-worthy, and the only way they can choke it down is the thought of having a cookie at the end.
Instead try offering up something to dip that chicken into, taking family bites (Our favorite is “Everyone take a bite of chicken! Ready? 1 -2 -3!” Peer pressure is awesome…).
8. Get Them Involved
One of the absolute best things you can do is to get your kids involved in their meals. Give them some ownership of what they eat, and you will be astounded by what they do with it.
Growing a garden with your kids is one of my favorite ways to do this, but also having them help you pick out new recipes to try, picking out the produce at the grocery store, and assisting you in preparing dinner will not only give them a sense of pride in helping you, but it will also help foster responsibility, curiosity, and enjoyment in what they are doing.
Eating should be an adventure – try new things, and have fun!