You've got to taste this: the art of raising fearless gourmets
As a kid I remember feeling disdainful of the kids whose mothers cutthe crusts off their sandwiches. My mom would never let me waste 20%of my bread, and I didn't really understand what was so bad about abread crust anyway. I mean, really - save your dislike for somethingtruly disgusting. Like liver.
My preferred approach with liver was to cut it into pill-sized bitsand swallow without chewing. I never have served liver to my kids. ButI grew up truly enjoying most food. And fairly early on in ourparenting career, my husband and I decided to encourage our children tohave a broad range of food 'likes.'
Home cooking right from the start
One of the first choices we made towards that goal was to skipcommercial baby food. Except for rice cereal at the very start, ourkids just ate well-mashed bits of what we ate at every meal. I thinkthat got kids used to the flavors of family cooking right from thestart. That was back before I even knew that a lot of commerciallyprepared baby food contains a fair bit of high fructose corn syrup -not the healthiest ingredient in the world.
Just a couple bites
We encourage kids to taste everything offered at a meal. Thestandard rule at our house is that you need to eat at least as manybites as you are old. So a 3 year old would eat three bites ofcarrot. A 6 year old would need to eat 6 bites of spaghetti. The onlyexception to this rule is true gagging aversion, which does happenoccasionally with some kids and some foods.
Sodapop and potato chips come with us on vacations, and also occasionallywhen company visits. But in general we avoid high-sugar, high-salt,highly processed food that serves to dull taste buds to thedeliciousness of real food. For more on this idea, check out Recultivating Our Sense of Taste.
Mix it up!
Because I love to cook, we eat a huge variety of food at our house. One day we may have Korean sushi (kimbap) for dinner. Another nightwe'll serve Mexican tortilla skillet.Because our kids routinely see new things at the dinner table, they'reused to jumping in and trying things. I always try to serve a familiarthing or two along with the less familiar. For example, rice, bread,green salad, and carrot sticks appear frequently, and serve to fill inthe cracks if a kid doesn't love whatever the main dish happens to be thatevening.
Don't give up
Studies have shown that kids need to taste a new food 10 times toacclimate their taste buds to something new. Many times a kid willinitially dislike something new, but after tasting it a few times willchange their minds. We have a couple kids who have persistent, strongdislikes to one or two foods. That's OK, and again, I am lenient when akid really, truly hates something. But the vastmajority of our kids quickly grew to like most food, even includes ourtwo older daughters who came to us from Ethiopia at age 9 and 11, and had to try a whole slew of new things.
Try 'Salad-Bar' style meals
Servingtacos, fajitas, or baked potatoes with lots of possible toppings giveskids control over what they eat. My kids know that mom expects them tochoose some veggies, and occasionally I'll need to remind a kid to takesome tomatoes along with all that cheese. But when given choice, theywill usually happily serve up their favorite veggies, and sometimeskids will surprise me by taking veggies I thought they didn't like. For example, the other day one of my older Ethiopian daughters servedherself mushrooms, which she despised when she first arrived inAmerica.
The problem with raising brave eaters
And the down side of success at this venture? Well, some day youmayhave just little pizza dough in the fridge. You'll spread it out onan oiled cookie sheet, and you'll pile it high with fresh spinach,sweet peppers, mushrooms, sliced avocado, and mozzarella cheese. Bythe time you're done, this pizza is a masterpiece. You're happilypicturing inhaling it almost single-handedly. You set out nachos todecoy the kids. If you had normal kids, this wouldwork. After all, just look at all the scary vegetables on this pizza! Butyour kids, veggie-lovers since babyhood, barely look at the nachos. They head straight for the pizza, and happily gobble down almost everyspeck of it. Leaving just one piece of veggie-pizza heaven to mom.
Ah well. No plan is perfect.