Friday, April 15, 2011

Adventurous Eating with the Kids

I am not a picky eater. I love food and I love trying new foods. You never know what amazing taste might be around the corner unless you try something new. It's exciting and fun and a big part of my life. My biggest pet peeve in the world is someone who refuses to try a new food. So you'll understand that I faced a battle when I had children.
When I had babies I made sure to give them all the savory foods first instead of sweets so I wouldn't unbalance their palate. I offered a wide range of foods and very rarely allowed empty, processed carbs on their plates. I'll admit it here, I'm a food nazi. I wanted only healthy things to go in their bodies and I wanted them to learn to like lots of different foods.
But I still catered to them. They got whole grain, baked chicken nuggets and carrot sticks and apple slices, but it was still a separate meal than the one I prepared for the grown-ups and it was suited to their little kid taste buds. I was still cooking two different dinners at each meal time. Often I had to sit in the corner with an obstinate child and threaten or bribe or coerce or literally hold the spoon and beg in order to get them to eat the food I wanted them to eat.
A few months ago, when I found out we were going to Europe, I decided to take the leap and see if I could get them to eat what we ate. I made a sticker chart and announced to the boys that we were now going to eat new foods and try new things. Each time they ate a dinner I prepared they would get a sticker and every time they tried something new they would get a second sticker. When the chart was full they could buy any toy that they wanted at the grocery store. This was a great incentive and it worked!
They began to eat whatever I made for dinner. I still had to sometimes spoon it into their mouths and threaten and bribe, but not so much and less and less as time went on. In the last few weeks they've eaten fish and mussel stew, lots of curries, veggie satay, white beans and Kale, quinoa confetti salad, salmon with roasted cauliflower and sauteed peppers, and on and on and on. I don't let them choose. They eat what I put on the table. They tell me they don't like it and I tell them I don't care. They have to eat it anyway because it's healthy and I made it for them. I explain that I don't prefer a salad over french fries either, but I eat it because it's healthy and I care about keeping my body healthy. I have taught them that some foods take a lot of tries to learn to like it. Davis has caught on to this especially. He told me the other day that he was finally starting to learn to like peanut butter because he had been practicing on liking it for a long time.
They know what foods are proteins, carbs, vegetables and fruits and always make an effort to eat their proteins and vegetables first. They have started cooking with me every day as well. Davis and Sam open cans and stir and measure and I have let Davis learn to use the knife. It is so fun for all of us and they take pride in eating for dinner what they helped me make. They really want to take a cooking class with me in Italy this summer.
Things still aren't perfect. Sam refuses to eat cheese unless it's melted, tomatoes unless it's ketchup and bell peppers unless I threaten. But it's so nice to only make one meal every night. It's nice to know we can go out to eat at people's houses or a restaurants and the kids can eat anything. And it is so fun to watch their faces light up in excitement when they try a new food and they like it!
Of course we still have ice cream and apple butter and empanadas and cake. I still let them eat a french fry here and there or a hamburger. I'm not a total food Nazi. Just mostly. :) I'm excited and happy that it worked for us and I wanted to record it here in my little history of our family. Hooray for only cooking one dinner! I hope I haven't scarred my children with my food nazi ways, but instead have given them an open passport to the world of food. I guess we'll know one way or another in twenty years.

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