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How Do You Get Kids to Eat New Things?

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I was so proud of my lamb-and-turnip stew this weekend, but I knew before I served it that it would present a problem. There didn’t seem to be much of a chance that my Nina or Pinta would touch it.

I wanted to be able to enjoy the meal, and for me that means that everyone at the table is happy with what they are eating. So what was I to do? It seemed like I had two choices.

  • Go easy and be one of those short-order parents who reach for the fish sticks, hot dogs, or chicken fingers the minute there is conflict.

Or

  • Be a stubborn foodie who would stick to his guns, bring tears to his children, and stand tall behind his carefully crafted dinner.

Neither option seemed right to me, but there was no disputing that the lamb stew was going to cause my girls to turn up their noses. I just knew it. So I came up with an idea.

I’m a writer and I think in metaphor. I hoped my girls could follow along. They’re both interested in books and reading, so I thought I had a chance.

Before dinner I brought them both over to the living room couch. I squatted down to their eye level, and said that I wanted to talk to them about dinner. But instead of discussing food right away, I asked them, “Do you like to read?” They both said “yes,” so I continued: “And do you know how you learn to read bigger books? You try those that you might not understand. It’s the only way you can learn.”

They seemed to be following along so I went on, “Learning to eat is pretty much the same thing. You started with breast milk, then moved on to mashed up sweet potatoes and meat, and other solids, and then there was that time at my office cafeteria that you discovered that you liked salad. Well, tonight I made a lamb stew.”

At this pint Pinta started to look like she might cry, so I quickly explained, “You don’t have to eat any of it, don’t worry. If you don’t like it, I’ll get you some ham or something else.” She calmed down, and I kept going. “My job is to teach you to eat just like it’s my job to teach you to read. You see that big shelf of books over there,” I said, waving towards the stacks of books in our living room.

They nodded. “Are all of those books right for little kids?” I asked. “No, not all of them are,” I said. “But some of them are,” and want I want you to do tonight is to try the lamb stew. That means three bites or so. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. I wouldn’t make you read a book you don’t understand.”

Nina and Pinta took all this in, and they pretty much accepted it. When we sat down at the table, I gave them small bowls of the stew. They tried it, and in the end, I was right. They did not like it. I didn’t mind. I got them some ham, and we ate in peace. I’ll take that. How do you handle new foods and your kids? 

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