Raising good eaters

I’m excited to have my mom, Joyce Jordan, doing some guest writing on food topics. She is well-qualified as she raised three children with adventurous palates and served real food before real food was a movement. Today is a very applicable topic for me and many of my readers.

Diana asked me to provide some suggestions for helping children to be receptive to trying new foods. The more I thought about it, the broader the topic actually seemed to be. It’s more about creating a positive mealtime environment where the cook feels the freedom to experiment and the eaters have a common positive perspective on trying new things. There will be hits and misses (both for the cook and for the eaters) but there’s a unity about risking that first step into the unknown!

Make mealtime a family event

Have at least one meal each day where the entire family sits and eats together around the table. This is important for daily family bonding through a shared activity, and creates a time when the child is not necessarily the center of attention.

As a parent, model good mealtime skills

Whether it is table manners, eating your vegetables, trying unfamiliar foods, or being quiet while others talk, children will mimic what’s happening at mealtime.

Find a balance between old and new

Regularly prepare the foods that your family enjoys, and periodically sub in new recipes or new tastes. Too much that is too new all of the time will put the entire family into overload.

Don’t be afraid of flavor

Adding seasonings and spices helps kids to develop a broad palate from an early age. Have no fear of ginger, garlic, curry, citrus or pickles. Taste buds were created to enjoy flavors.

Choose your words carefully with new foods

Saying something like, “You may not like this” just sets up a negative situation. Overdoing the positive spin can also backfire. Sometimes with new foods, the best approach is to put it on the table without fanfare.

Allow your children the freedom to not like something

Everyone has foods that aren’t their favorites, and you need to appreciate when a child truly objects to a taste or texture. Those who know my family recall the unique challenges we encountered in this arena.

Remember that children’s preferences and taste buds will change over time

If a food gets rejected today, don’t overblow the situation or take it personally. Try again in a few months or a few years. Kids change their preferences and tolerances over time.

He obviously knew that putting the container onto the base was supposed to have a magical result.

Involve the children in some aspect of preparation

Having a hand in the preparation helps a child to be excited about what’s being served. It creates a feeling of ownership. They’re proud of their contribution, and they learn that the cook hopes that others enjoy the food.

“No thank-you” helpings

Think of this like a grocery store sample. As an alternative to totally refusing to eat something, kids who are around 5 and up can develop the gracious habit of taking a “no thank-you” helping. Just three bites, which is a very manageable quantity. Having this habit is a useful life skill.

Play with your food

Children are naturally curious, playful and creative. Take advantage of these attributes, and your children will enjoy new foods – get out of your own ruts of what you cook and eat!!! As George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Artichokes, pomegranates, Cornish hens, crawfish, art on a plate and theme meals are all somewhere to start. When we all try something new together, we are sharing an adventure, which takes us back to square one of this blog entry!

7 thoughts on “Raising good eaters

  1. Love this guest post :) We do all of this with Finn (and cannot wait until he’s old enough for the No-Thank-You bites), but he is still very picky… at least I know, as a previously picky eater, that he will not be this way forever — but he may be near 30 when he changes his habits (like me). :)

  2. Diana. I love this. I immediately wanted to read this post when I saw it on Facebook that your mother was weighing in. Talk about a wise Mama! Thanks Joyce, for sharing. With my own Michael just now starting some table foods, it is a topic that will be coming up more and more (especially living in Korea and all the strange foods he will most likely be exposed to over the next few years!) These are great tips. We sure love your family.

  3. Thanks to Emily for sharing the blog today and these wise words. I like the “no thank you bites”. We really do change in our tastes. I remember not liking tomatoes and my mother always loving a BLT. I kept trying and trying until I could handle the “slime” I associated with them so I could “enjoy eating them too”.
    Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  4. Even as adults, implementing the “no thank you helping” is a great skill. In various situations, it would be a great affront to the host/hostess to decline or refuse a food that is offered. However, when you tell yourself “I only have to eat three bites”, then you can be a gracious guest.

  5. It’s true about not forcing foods we didn’t like. I always appreciated not being forced to eat onions or mushrooms! I came around on the onions, but the mushrooms still have never appealed to my palate.

  6. Great post Joyce! Tyler called mushrooms garbage the first time he saw them on his plate :( Now, after a little coaching, he calls them “veggies, no garbage.” Regarding behavior, T&T keep each other in line. Tyler tells Trey “too loud” if his dinner conversation starts sounding like a fire engine!

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