Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Adventurous Eating

Someone asked me the question, in regards to my kids willingness to try new things, "How do you get your kids to be so adventurous?" and "how do you get picky kids to try new things"?

Regarding picky eating - from the time the kids were very young, we tried to have some consistent rules at the dinner table. The kids were to eat everything on their plate. We started out with very small portion amounts so it would not be an impossible task. If the kids wanted more - that was fine. If they got seconds of something and were unable to finish it - they did not have to finish it.

If there was/and still is a food that the kids don't particularly like - and I happen to be serving it - they get some. For example my son doesn't like potatoes. I will not give my ds a huge serving - but if we are having stew that contains potatoes, he might get 2 or 3 small potato chunks. It might take him longer than usual to eat them - but he eats them. Dd hates tomato sauce based meals like lasagna (well she likes everything about it except the tomato sauce) - but she still gets a small portion of it.

I generally never make a separate food item for the kids b/c they don't like something we are having. If I have time, and am feeling so inclined - I may leave some meatballs out of the spaghetti sauce for dd. I do pick the banana chunks out of my boy's fruit salad. I don't make a big deal about the kids eating around the bell peppers in their stir fry - but if THEY make it into a big deal - I halt it (ie. fingers in a bowl of soup trying to pick out something they don't like).

I do try to make meals that I think we will all enjoy. When we are eating at someone's house - the kids are expected to have a bit of whatever main dish is being served and side dishes are a bit more optional. If there is a buffet meal somewhere - basically the kids get to choose what they eat (with a bit of guidance).

Eating basic, healthy food items isn't always a choice. If kids had their choice they'd eat pizza, Doritos and soda and ice-cream. When ds was younger he HATED water. But especially in the summer I was not going to just give him Kool-Aid or other sweetened waters - he had to learn to drink it even if he didn't like it.

When my dd was about 4 or 5 she refused to drink something and sat at the table for a couple of hours and still refused to drink it. This was kind of a "test" for us both. I was hoping she'd give in, she was hoping I'd give in. She never drank it. It wasn't anything nasty. That was the last time we tried that method...though she figured she eventually won - she never held out like that again.

Especially with ds, it has been a bit of work to get him to eat things he says he doesn't like. But the things he tends to not like are things that are good for him (there isn't probably any fruit he would say he likes) - so he needs to eat some every day. We've used various methods to "encourage" him to eat the things he doesn't like...if a child refuses to eat a food then you treat it as you would any other situation where your child does not do what you tell them to do. Now of course when we are trying out some new food for fun - that does not apply. I am not going to discipline a child for not wanting to try some eel.

So how did they end up being so "adventurous" in their eating? I think some of it has been that I have tried to make things sound exciting. "Hey wouldn't it be fun to try this?" I think some of it is a "game" to them...seeing what unusual thing they can eat and tell other people about. There is some personal pride of experience in it...even if they don't tell someone else about it - they can feel good in knowing "I tasted the King of Fruit and lived to tell about it." Both kids are of a very inquisitive nature - that may also have something to do with it.

When I asked dd herself why she was willing to try different things she said, "Because it's fun...and it's interesting." I think ds does it more in order to not be left out...a little sense of competition between him and his older sister.

I don't want our kids to end up being picky eaters as adults. It's always seemed a bit shameful for grown-ups to be picky eaters.