Turning Picky Eaters into Foodies
Are fussy eaters making your dinner table a battlefield? Here are some doable tricks that will teach your your child to love new foods
No. 2 Make a Fresh Start
It's much easier to get children under 2 years to eat collard greens and lima beans. Studies show that the earlier you introduce a food, the more likely a child will accept it and continue to eat it throughout his lifetime. If your child is over 2, don't worry: Research also shows that the palate of anyone, any age, can be changed via what nutritionists call “habituation” and “flavor training.” For example: Say you start using less salt, per doctor's orders. In a few weeks, salt-laden soups and frozen meals will likely taste too salty.
KEEP IT FRESH AND SIMPLE. Creating an adventurous eater is a lot easier when you serve fresh food, says Alice Waters, founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project, a 16-year-old nationwide program that teaches students to grow, harvest, and prepare their own foods. “Parents and restaurants alike think that you have to play games to get children to eat what's good for them,” says Waters. “But kids like real food that is simple and ripe.” Let your child experiment with dipping a fresh cherry tomato into pesto sauce or a carrot into vinaigrette “so he can taste things singly and explore flavors one by one,” suggests Waters.
INTRODUCE A NEW FOOD PAIRED WITH A FAMILIAR ONE, says Robin Miller, host of Food Network's Quick Fix Meals With Robin Miller and mom of two boys. Present a plate filled with much-loved meatloaf, rice, and strawberries, but reserve a quarter of the plate for zucchini and a little (familiar) ranch dressing for dipping. This reduces the intimidation factor and boosts the odds of acceptance.
No. 3 Go on an Adventure
When exposure to a new cuisine is a vibrant, fun-filled experience, your child will have positive memories with that food forever. Escapades your kids will love:
FOOD-TRUCK LOLLAPALOOZA. Children cherish the jingling ice-cream truck, so build on that familiarity with a visit to a gourmet truck lineup that serves Korean BBQ tacos or grilled Manchego sandwiches (a twist on the traditional American grease cheese sandwich). A final stop at the dessert truck can be the big reward. To find food trucks in your area, visit roaminghunger.com.
DESTINATION: DINNER SAFARI. First, pull out that old globe or world map (or bring one up onscreen). Ask your child to point to a country he's learning about in school or simply wants to know more about. (With younger kids, this can be a fairly random choice!) A country's food reflects its geography, economy, and cultural traditions. Then plan a monthly visit to a Japanese, Argentine, Korean, Turkish, Italian (or whatever) restaurant.
CALL OF NATURE. At farmers markets, teach your child to ask vendors where the tomatoes were grown and whether pesticides were used. At Asian shops, younger kids may be a bit traumatized when learning that Nemo (the catfish swimming in the tank) and Clucky (the squawking hen in the cage) are destined for the dinner table, but older kids will be fascinated by their connection to the food chain. At Indian markets, take a deep whiff of all the wonderful spices you've never heard of and ask the purveyor how to use them in your kitchen.