Getting Kids to Try New Foods
Children, no matter what age, can be very picky about what they will eat. The middle-class American child has become accustomed to a diet of prepackaged foods, salty snacks, sugary desserts, and fast food which they actually think tastes good. Pizza and fries are considered a staple in many households, much to the parents' dismay. Trying to get them to try homemade, healthier food options can be like Mission Impossible - an enterprise fraught with peril, obstacles, and frequent disappointments. If the children are older than toddler stage, it can be difficult to outsmart them. Parents, they are onto you. Their CSI-like super senses can detect the slightest trace of ground up spinach that you tried to sneak into their marinara sauce.
Getting kids to try new foods has become a stealth mission, requiring cleverness, intricate planning and subterfuge. To be honest, most of these missions turn out as an ABORT or just a FAIL. What's a mom to do?
The Mission: get these kids to try a new food, in this case, something Asian, noodles with a sesame/peanut sauce with cucumbers and green onions. Here was the plan, and how it went down.
1. The recipe is already problematic. It contains green objects known to children as Enemy Number One: vegetables. The cucumbers were in fact on their acceptable list, but green onions were not. I cut down the amount of green onions in the recipe and sliced them up as small as possible, planning to mix them in with the sauce in the food processor to disguise them further. The cucumbers were to be served on top of the noodles, a futile effort since I knew they would not eat them if they were contaminated with foreign material like noodle sauce. I plow ahead with the plan, nevertheless.
Make Sure They are Good and Hungry
2. I wait until they are really hungry. After school is the best time. Sometimes I think we should just have dinner right after school instead of later, because my ravenous tween spends a good half hour grazing through the pantry, filling up on snacks before homework time. (Two plus inches of growth in a year will do that to a child.)
3. When the kids are good and hungry, I prepare myself a serving of the new unfamiliar food. I proceed to eat and enjoy it in front of them while they are slaving away at their homework at the kitchen table, with nary another snack in sight. I do not offer any to the children, I just let them watch me eat.
Lure Them In
4. When their curiosity is piqued, they will ask, "Where did you get that?" The answer must be "the store." This is imperative, even if it is a homemade dish. Everyone knows that homemade food is not as good to kids as something you bought from "out there." I do not say which store. I especially do not mention that anything is from the organic health food market. Besides, it is truthful that all the ingredients came from a store, right?
5. I continue to eat my little snack. At this point, the kids might ask what it is. I do not under any circumstances tell them that it peanut-lime-sesame sauce noodles. Children with the most amazing imaginations still lack the ability to believe that a combination of ingredients like this could actually be good. Instead, I must make up a name for the dish that sounds appealing, like it came from restaurant take-out or a fast food place. Something like "Panda Noodles" might work for this particular item. This strategy should be employed for any unfamiliar dish, like soups, stews, pasta dishes, stir-fry, casseroles, where the child does not know exactly what is in it.
By the way, this strategy will not work if you just sit there eating undisguised steamed broccoli.
6. If the child asks if she can try a little bit of it, I let her have a bite, but just one. At this point I'm just gently luring her in.
7. If she actually can tolerate it (or even likes it), the child will ask, "Can I have some more?" If they remember the grammar and manners that I keep trying to pound into them, there is a slight outside chance that the request will sound more like, "May I have some more, please?" But only a small chance.
8. Now this is important. I must say that this little portion I have is all there is. I let her have it and watch her devour it. It will be a good sign if she wishes there were more. I say, "I could make more for tonight's (or tomorrow's) dinner." Unbeknownst to her, I already have all the necessary ingredients or have already made a whole batch of the thing, ready to go.
Be Prepared for the FAIL
9. At a subsequent dinnertime, I dole out a full serving of the new noodle dish. The children start eating a little bit of it, then decide that they do not like it after all.
Typical outcome of such maneuvers in our household. Back to square one, serving plain buttered noodles with plain cucumbers on the side.
10. Repeat steps 1-9 until something sticks. Parenting experts claim that children often require multiple exposures to a food before they will eat it. Waiting a while and then trying to rekindle their interest at a later date may help.
The same experts also suggest making kids' food look cute and visually interesting, which I have attempted at various times. The kids have basically told me to stop putting embarrassing stuff in their lunches.
- Teddy-bear-shaped brown rice pellets (I actually bought a rice mold for this): FAIL.
- Broccoli "trees": tops of the floret barely grazed off like a lawn mower set on high. Rest of broccoli untouched. FAIL.
- Making french fry shaped food - zucchini fries, sweet potato fries, even regular potato fries ("but mom, they're not like McDonalds!"): FAIL.
- Flower-shaped carrots: they actually eat carrots, but they want them in stick (french fry) shape! Go figure.
Learning to eat what is available is a necessary social skill. If these kids ever find themselves lucky enough to travel to a place like France, I do not want them to go looking for a McDonald's when there is wonderful food to try all around them. By the time they are young adults feeding themselves, I want their diet to actually include more than five foods and Hot Pockets. There will be many more FAILS along the way, but the mission continues.
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