Tonight my son said, “Mom, do I have to eat THAT?!” when looking at the dinner I was making (White Fish with sauteed chard and sweet onions).

I said, “Yes, you do… if you want to eat.”  (Yep, I’m a hardcore mean mom.)

He sighed and continued to complain.  I just continued to cook.

In my house, you eat what I make (and everyone eats the same thing) or you go hungry.  Those are the choices.   If you choose to eat, but don’t finish (I make very reasonable sized plates for the kids), you won’t get a dessert (which shouldn’t have to be every night anyway).

As I proceed to dish up dinner… A couple bites into the meal, I hear this…

“Mom… this is REALLY good!  I really like it!!”

I thanked him for saying that and gave him the gentle reminder to not judge food before he’s tried it. I also remind him that it hurts the chef’s feelings when they work so hard to make a yummy meal for the family.  He looked at me and said, “Yeah, I know.  Sorry, mom.”

Over the last 5-ish years I have had to get a once 3 and 6 year old to grow up and try foods most don’t typically try until adulthood… or ever (examples:  homemade bone broth, sauerkraut, pesto, beets, dragon fruit, star fruit…and the list goes on).

You may be asking, “Was it a challenge to get them to try it?”   Heck yeah it was!

Then you may ask, “Why even bother trying? Why put so much energy into it?  It’s such a struggle.”

First and foremost, I want them to experience a variety of great foods and to have fun exploring new flavors, textures and food combinations, but ALSO eat healthy REAL food.  Food that someone worked their bu** off growing it for us to eat.

I believe there is joy and fun in exploring what nature creates for us to eat.  There can be so much fun in exploring food and cooking, at the same time, we fuel our body and our soul.

Want to know what I’ve learned from all of this?

  1. Kid’s pallets change over time. So the food they didn’t like one day, could be one they like on another day. (Man… this happens more than you think!) When this happens, I remind them of this too… then tell them that just because you didn’t like it once, doesn’t mean you may not like it again, especially in a different way. (Like me… I like seasoned roasted potatoes but am so-so about mashed.)  Knowing and understanding this has helped me to find more patience when trying to get them to eat.  I also think, “Ok, they may not like it this way, but what if I found a couple other ways to cook this and had them try again?”  (I may even let THEM pick how I cook it again so they can have a choice in it
  2. The more the kids are involved in the food choices, shopping, and even cooking, the more curious and accepting they are.  For this particular dinner, it was NOT the first time I made sautéed chard.  Yet, when I got the surprise White Fish from a friend of mine (she knew my son loved fish), I asked THEM what we could make with it.  My 11 year old got excited and said, “Mom!  Make that chard and maybe with the onions too!”  I was like, “Good idea.”  I made a quick stop at the store and got the ingredients and when I was cooking, he came over and said, “You’re making what I told you to make?!”  He was elated to be part of the process.  Of course he ate so well that night and thought it was even better since he planned the menu.
  3. Just be their example of eating well… and eat as a family as much as you can.  You are their best role model.  They will eat what you eat.  They are watching and learning from you more than you think.  Plus, you may find that they may not like the food, but the sense of “unity” and connection with their family, gets them feeling love and happiness, which puts them in a better state of mind to eating new foods.  Plus, they watch everyone else eat it!
  4. Make it fun to try new foods and let THEM have and make choices for the whole family.   Sometimes I have them look at new recipe ideas on Pinterest when I’m trying to figure out a new way to cook a vegetable. When I’m at the store, sometimes I will just let them pick a couple new veggies to try, THEN have them also pick the recipe we want to make with it too.   They get a say in what they are eating, but also see it as something new and fun… and who doesn’t like fun?
  5. Don’t let frustration and hurt get to you.  They are young and learning.  They don’t realize how much work goes into making meals or your motive of getting them to eat better.  Just keep trying.  If you just stay consistent and a good example, they do come around.  They also learn the value of good nutrition and how delicious food can be.    When they start seeing the correlation in how they feel and what they eat, it really dawns on them.  They will start connecting the dots on their own.  My boys will tell me stories all the time of a friend eating candy, pop and chips for lunch, but later say how that friend is not always well.  I won’t allow them to judge another, but will remind them, “How often are you home sick from school?” and let the conversation lead us into a discussion correlating food to feeling.

Always remember this… you are impacting them for their whole life in so many ways.  These little pieces of education will pay off in the future.  Visualize them as adults… How do you want them to feel?  How do you want their relationship with food to look like?

Your effort now will be their biggest reward later.  You’ll be so happy you did it.

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