How to Raise a Foodie
Krista Anderson-Hill, Senior Food Correspondent
July 29, 2019
When I chat with friends about family mealtimes, some describe the experience as a joy of connection and exploration or a battlefield of frustration and power struggles. Some eating preferences are hardwired like some sleep habits. But just like children’s sleep habits, eating habits can be changed, learned and shaped. The goal to creating positive food habits is not to have a child who likes everything; no one likes everything. But the aim is to raise an eater who enjoys eating, like a variety of food and is willing to try foods outside of his/her comfort zone. Here are some proven tips to raising a foodie and setting the foundation for many enjoyable
1. Mom Has Serious Influence
Food preferences start even before your child is born and when he/she is breast feeding. Babies become acclimated to diverse flavors and spices in the womb and through breast milk. If mom is eating a wide variety of foods while pregnant and breastfeeding there is a strong likelihood that her child will be open to a wide spectrum of foods and flavors.
2. Try, Try and Try a Lot More
Research proves that it takes about ten exposures to a new food before a child is willing to eat it. That means the child sees the food on the plate ten times, sees the parents eat the food ten times and tries the food ten times. That is a lot of trying. Stay consistent and don’t give up if your child does not like a certain food. And, take the emotion out of a rejection by saying something along the lines of “ that’s okay, we will try another time”.
3. Involve Your Kids in Preparing Food and Cooking Meals
There are so many ways you can open the door for your kids to experience food beyond just eating. They can help start a vegetable/herb garden. Caring for a garden and harvesting vegetables, helps children feel a sense of investment in the food and fosters a desire to experiment and learn about food. Children also love to help pick out vegetables and fruits at the grocery store. Scroll through online recipes or look through cookbooks with your child and ask them what looks good to them. Involve your child in preparing and cooking meals. Even at a young age, children can stand on a chair, next to the counter and slice, dice and mix: children can use a serrated butter knife to cut vegetables, they can snap green beans, peel garlic, mix a cake and crack an egg. Allowing children to be involved in the cooking can take some of the mystery out of new foods and foster excitement and curiosity about meal time.
“Allowing children to be involved in the cooking can take some of the mystery out of new foods and foster excitement and curiosity about meal time.”
4. Be a Model Foodie
Children learn by imitation, by watching you. If you try new foods often and talk about your experience, your child will most likely want to try new foods. In my family we have the Adventurous Eater Badge: the motto is that in our family we try things, and if you don’t like it, you do not have to eat the whole thing. The trying extends to mom, dad and kids. And, on the healthy eating note, parents need to eat what they want their children to eat. If you want your child to eat a variety of healthy foods, you need to be eating those foods too.
5. One Meal for All
I have saved the most heated tip for last. Cooking one family meal helps to create adventurous eaters. Many child experts, pediatricians and parents take a firm stance on this one and research supports the one meal for all practice. One meal means that mom or dad make one meal and it is your child’s freedom to choose what he/she does or does not eat. Parents set the expectations and then do not make a big deal of it when food is not eaten. Children do a really good job of eating when they are hungry and not eating when they are not’ so your child is not going to starve. Here is the more challenging part, deciding what your child will eat an hour or so after the meal, when he/she has not eaten the food on their plate and is hungry. Many parents put the leftover food from the meal in the refrigerator and then offer that. Others, have a very short list of nutritious but not too exciting foods that can be eaten, if the child is hungry. In most cultures around the world, children eat what their parents eat and there are no other options. Stay strong and give it a go.
One way to lean into this concept of one meal for all is to deconstruct a dish. Especially when kids are little composed dishes like sandwiches, pasta, salads, lasagna, enchiladas can be intimidating. An easy trick is to deconstruct the dish. For example if the dish is a taco, put the cheese, lettuce, tomato, meat and shell all on the plate but separate it. Or if it is spaghetti and meatballs, put the sauce, spaghetti and meatballs all in individual bowls.