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Raising an Adventurous Eater

I wanted my kids to be good eaters. It mattered quite a lot to me, in fact. But I wondered, during the breast-pump-and-jar-food days, what I could do to help them grow up liking not only broccoli and oranges but also salmon, parsnips, and sheep's-milk cheese, as I do. Or was appetite one of those things, like personality and hair color, that's simply ingrained?

I wish I could say that I was motivated purely by concern for their health, but that was only part of it. I also wanted them to grow up open-minded about new experiences, starting with ones that arrive on a plate. Mostly, I was motivated by self-interest. I love to cook, and longed for eager guinea pigs at the table. I had spent too many years living alone and attempting to divide recipes in fourths, or eating leftovers night after night. What joy to march boldly into a recipe that "serves six"! Joy, that is, as long as my diners would never (okay, only occasionally) utter the word "yucky."

So I did some research, watched friends with their kids, and talked it over with my husband. He and I have evolved a set of seven rules for raising an adventurous eater, or at least turning a cautious eater into a more adventurous one.

Well, at least they've worked for us. At least for now.

As with most such things, I've found you have to stick to your guns. Kids learn quickly just how hard they need to cry or how loud to scream until you cave  -- or that you won't. And once they realize that, the rest, as they say, is gravy.

Don't be a short-order cook. At mealtime, we tell our three kids, ages 6, 5, and 2, "This is what's for dinner. If you don't like it, that's fine; you don't have to eat it. But there isn't anything else." They can decide for themselves whether to eat the food in front of them or wait until breakfast. The American Academy of Pediatrics gave me the courage to follow through with this idea. Around the time George, now 6, was learning to say "No!" I read the following passage in their Guide to Your Child's Nutrition: "Children will not become ill or suffer permanently if they refuse a meal or two, but parents sometimes act as though youngsters might shrivel up and die."

Celia Barbour has written for Martha Stewart Living, Gourmet, and Travel + Leisure. She lives with her family in New York City.

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