Claire loves olives, dates, apricots, raisins and seaweed in her snack* box. This was her 8th time trying papaya and she's finally taking to it.
If your first thought was, "those kids don't really exist" or "if they do exist, they're definitely not mine", I ask you to put those thoughts away and think of the perfect world. A scenario might look like this: you and your family are sitting down to a meal of whole foods, including the dreaded green vegetables, and not a whine or complaint in protest is heard, instead you hear the sounds of satisfaction, lots of Mmmms and lots of silence. It may sound impossible and to get that every single day might not be very likely, but versions of this perfect world are within your grasp.
My sister, a Francophile at heart, recommended I read Karen LeBillon's "French Kids Eat Everything". I devoured it. It turns out French kids really do eat everything. (I've also seen Japanese kids eat everything, which means a lot of other kids must, too.) Why do they? Karen LeBillon does a good job of explaining this and her 10 food rules are great to get you and your family onto that foodie track.
What struck me the most about her book was how food culture is developed and maintained in France. It starts at the top (government) and trickles down into the different facets of society until it reaches the schools and the homes of each family. Each and every person is concerned with maintaining and instilling the food culture to their children, the next generation of eaters. Where their food comes from and how it is treated is of utmost importance. Eating is a celebration! Food is to be shared, talked about, prepared and enjoyed together, at the table, not in the car or on the subway. There is definitely some rigidity to the way this is achieved in France, at least to my North American sensibilities, but I have to admit that while reading this I did kind of wish I was French. Or at least I wished I was living there.
In my food culture, often referred to as the 'fast food nation', NONE of this is true and kids are hardly ever expected to eat what adults eat. The result is a lot of adults eating exactly what they ate as kids, usually tons of fried finger foods, pasta, meatballs, chicken, a ridiculous amount of dairy, too much sugar. My shock at how many adults have confessed they don't like vegetables (except for potatoes) never wanes.
So, if you want your kids to eat well as adults, they HAVE TO eat well as kids. But how?
Experiment and Innovate - You will learn how to prepare the same food a million different ways. You have to. You have to give your child the opportunity to try a food in many different forms, textures, flavors (spices), hot/cold, raw, etc. One way will stick and it will open him up to trying the same food in another way.
Be Persistent and Patient- LeBillon says that it may take 15+ times of introducing a food before your child will eat it. This was a relief to read. I had been persistent before but would give up after 5 or 6 tries. I tried this 15+ out and it turns out to be true. Be patient. Your baby/child is probably skeptical and will need patience to convince her.
Make it Fun, Make it Beautiful, Make it a Big Deal - When eating is a chore it is utterly boring for you and your child. It is also utterly boring when what you are eating isn't very appealing. We eat first through our eyes and if it's vibrant and beautiful, there will be more of a chance that you'll at least get a taste to happen. Eating IS a big deal so make it one! Make it special. Karen LeBillon talks about the French dressing up their tables with table cloths and special dishes and utensils for the kids. It's a brilliant idea and it works.
Do it Together - Children of one of my client's asked to watch me in the kitchen one day. He (11yrs) and his sister (8yrs) devoured the miso soup I prepared with a side of brown rice. They ate fish prepared en papillote. They loved the green juice. All were new foods to them. They were amazed at how the ingredients turned into the meals I was preparing because it is an incredibly amazing process. Share it with your children and their enthusiasm for trying what they've prepared will skyrocket.
Eat Real Food - This is a biggie. Canned peas suck. Peas just out of the pod are like candy. Kids are not stupid and they know the difference between real food and what is supposed to pass for food. A huge misconception is that their taste buds can't handle big flavors. It's true, their taste buds need to be developed (and it's not just kids who need to do this), but a variety of flavors helps in this process. Real, fresh, (yes organic, too), food explodes with flavor and as it delights you, it will delight them.
These are my own approaches with my daughter and I was beyond pleased to see that they were in some way or another on LeBillon's list as well. I may not come from a place with a well defined food culture, but if we all endeavor to help our kids become less-picky eaters, and more aware of food and how it binds us to each other and the Earth, we'll be defining it from the bottom up, starting in our homes until the message gets heard way up top.
*LeBillon goes into great length about snacks and snacking. If this is an issue for you and your family, you will be happy to know that it was a huge issue for her and her family as well. She offers an interesting take on the whole subject! As a mother, a chef and an expatriate, this book spoke to me on many levels. It's a great read, entertaining and informative and with delicious recipes to top it all off!
Bon Appetit and Bonne Chance!