10 tips to raise adventurous eaters

introduce kids to the raw ingredients

I was raised in a meat and two veg kind of household. A household where we didn’t eat at a table let alone together. Dad usually ate on the couch watching TV in his undies, mum in the kitchen, my brother in his room and me in mine – not the stuff of Bradyesque familial fantasy. In fact, there wasn’t much likelihood of a prime time sit-com being based on our family…

We were sadly disconnected at dinner time, though it was quite handy when we wanted to throw our soggy Brussel sprouts out the window for the dog to eat. But there were rules, the main one being that no matter how much we hated something, we had to eat it (unless we could find the aforementioned dog when mum and dad weren’t watching). The end result was kids that had zero table manners and loathed healthy home cooked food.

Clearly that’s no longer an issue and I love my food! But now I’m the parent, I do things very differently indeed and cremated meat and two veg is simply not in my repertoire. Meals play an important role in our day and are always sit-down occasions. And so far, touch wood, I have managed to raise adventurous eaters.

I’m often asked how I get my kids to eats such a variety of food and though I don’t think there is any single magic trick, here are my top tips for raising fearless foodies.

1. Eat at the table
We eat all our meals at the table. Together. And, though we don’t have a dog and I don’t cook Brussels sprouts (because I am still traumatised by those soggy green balls of hate that I was forced to eat as as a child), I still like to supervise my children while they eat. Besides which, I actually want to hang out with them.

2. Lead by example
I find a lot of my friends who are fussy eaters are oddly surprised that their children are fussy eaters. If you bang on about “not liking” certain foods and food groups and balk at trying new things yourself – expect the same behaviour to be repeated by your kids. Suck it up! Sometimes you just have to take one for the team and prepare and eat foods you don’t particularly love or haven’t tried before in order to set an example. And don’t make a big deal about food being unusual or odd – if you don’t bring it up, it’ll never occur to them that it’s anything other than normal. My kids get that there is no unusual food when it’s put in context of its origins.

3. Don’t force it!
It’s counterproductive. After years of being made to eat everything on my plate, even if it made my stomach turn, there are still a few things I can’t bring myself to eat (see: Brussels sprouts). If my kids eat something that makes them gag, I’m not going to torture them with it. And it doesn’t mean that I’ll never serve it up again, we’ll just try again a little later down the track.

4. Ditch “kids” food
Whether it’s the kid’s menu in a restaurant or meals, cereal or snack foods that are packaged and marketed to kids, chances are it is crap and, more often than not, devoid of anything even resembling nutrition. Not to mention tasting of things that don’t exist outside of a lab. We don’t feed our kids this stuff and, on the odd occasion they’ve been offered things like nuggets or pre-fab food at other people’s houses, they politely avoid it because, and I quote, “it’s disgusting”. WIN!

5. Sugar free
I’m that hard bitch mother that deprived my kids of all lollies, chocolate, biscuits and cakes until they each turned 2 – fighting grandparents and less anal friends all the way. I didn’t even let them eat the cake at their own first birthday parties. And while they weren’t missing something they hadn’t tried, I was busy shovelling veggies and fresh foods down their necks and they were developing a taste for them. Now, though they both enjoy a sweet treat now and again, they’d usually rather it be fruit.

girl with noodles

6. Let them play with their food!
Meal times should be fun, not a chore. Visuals are very important to Sugarpuff and she likes her food to be cut into love hearts, triangles or circles, depending on her mood. It takes all of five seconds to use a cookie cutter to shape something on her plate to suit. Raffles on the other hand likes to build carrot and broccoli people… and then eat them. They also love interactive meals that allow them to get involved. Think steamboats, fondues, picking plates and tapas.

7. Spice it up
Don’t dumb down dinner for your kids. I believe it’s best to start simple when introducing solids to allow children to learn about the individual flavour of things first, but once they’re eating well, spice things up a little. Kids have delicate taste buds but that doesn’t mean you have to feed them bland foods. Don’t be afraid to let your kids try spicier meals, just introduce spice gradually to build their tolerance.

8. Groundhog day
Sick of food being rejected? You need to persevere. Research suggests that children may need more than 10 separate introductions to a food before they’ll accept it. My kids may be pretty broad-minded when it comes to mealtimes but that doesn’t mean they like everything I make or offer them. I don’t even like everything I make. But, through repetitive introduction they generally start eating the offending items. Raffles has become so aware of his developing palate that when he doesn’t like something the first time, he’ll go back for a second try a few minutes later – once he knows what to expect of the new flavour – without being asked! And more often than not, that second taste sells him.

kids cooking lessons

9. Kids in the kitchen
Get them involved, try kids cooking lessons or even foraging for the ingredients to their next meal. Or grow your own vegetables and herbs. Kids love picking, peeling and serving their own produce up for dinner. And get them to help you out in the kitchen, whether it’s rolling meatballs, gathering ingredients, or just scooping and stirring. They’re less likely to reject something they helped to make, even if their only contribution is pressing the on button for an appliance.

escargot in New Caledonia

10. Go global, eat local.
Travel is an amazing way of introducing children to food. Forget about hot dogs and spaghetti at the hotel buffet and try the local cuisine. What seems exotic or weird at home can seem positively mundane in the context of its origins. Maybe I’m raising the next Anthony Bourdain (though hopefully without that whole seedy junkie phase between puberty and stardom) but Raffles isn’t that different to other kids, we’ve just made eating a part of our family travel experience.

Can’t afford to travel? Right now neither can we so we have theme nights at home. The kids choose a country and we plan a menu together. Sometime we go to a specialist grocery store, which they find fascinating, and then we cook together, listen to local music and watch movies or do crafts from the country du jour!

If all else fails, use bribery.

28 Comments on 10 tips to raise adventurous eaters

  1. Fresh Home Cook
    August 6, 2014 at 7:29 am (5 years ago)

    Great tips! I have one fussy & one not too bad eater. I highly recommend getting them in the kitchen with you, as frustrating & messy as it can get at times, it makes a big difference in how prepared they are to try new foods. We love getting dirty in the garden too & so do the kids!
    I am still in awe of how adventurous Raffles & Sugarpuff are though – an amazing little pair of foodies! 🙂

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      August 8, 2014 at 9:20 pm (5 years ago)

      I think the mess is worth it too! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
    August 6, 2014 at 3:01 pm (5 years ago)

    If I ever had kids, I’d definitely want adventurous eaters! This is a great guide Aleney and you have living proof that it works 😀

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      August 8, 2014 at 9:21 pm (5 years ago)

      I can’t see how your potential future offspring could be anything but adventurous eaters, Lorraine 🙂

      Reply
  3. maidinaustralia
    August 6, 2014 at 4:50 pm (5 years ago)

    Awesome tips. My kids are generally good eaters too – they were exposed to everything we ate from an early age. Even with an ASD kid with sensory problems, my kids have been encouraged to try anything – not just once, twice but whenever I serve it. If they really hate it, they don’t have to eat it. (I was another one forced to eat everything on my plate as a child). I also find letting them plan and cook (or help with this) meals helps a lot. We have extra challenges as one child is definitely anaphylactic to certain foods and the other has tested positive, so there are foods they must avoid. Even I’m a convert to trying everything at least each time it’s served. I now loved brussel sprouts (but not overcooked) and so does Miss 11. And I love cabbage raw in salad (as opposed to having the crap boiled out of it, like it was served up to me as a child).

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      August 8, 2014 at 9:22 pm (5 years ago)

      It’s hard when intolerance are involved! You’ve challenged me Bronwyn. I’m going to give Brussels sprouts another go…

      Reply
  4. Natalie
    August 6, 2014 at 11:54 pm (5 years ago)

    I love love LOVE this! I wish I had done the no sweet stuff until turning 2 thing to get them to develop a taste for natural sweet things. Ah well, shoulda woulda coulda! My 3yo is very picky and I pandered to him but I learnt my lesson and as a result my 2yo is a great eater now.

    I’m actually working on something to bring to my blog soon where I cook meals from different countries with my kids and we look at the country in the Atlas and read stories from that country, listen to music etc as you suggest above (i’m just waiting for the books i’ve ordered to arrive). I can really see my 3yo getting into it and I hope it will encourage him to eat some new things. 😀

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      August 7, 2014 at 6:44 am (5 years ago)

      That’s what we’re all about! Sharing books food, tales and music to introduce food and culture to my kids.

      Reply
  5. Erin
    August 7, 2014 at 2:08 pm (5 years ago)

    Love this. And it obviously worked with your adventurous eaters x

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      August 8, 2014 at 9:24 pm (5 years ago)

      Thanks erin

      Reply
  6. Daria
    August 8, 2014 at 2:27 pm (5 years ago)

    Love these tips! If you don’t mind I might copy you a little (a lot) when it comes to food and culture. Especially #10!

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      August 8, 2014 at 9:24 pm (5 years ago)

      You know I’m happy for you to copy away Daria adn anytime you want any feeding tips I’m only about 10 metres away 😉

      Reply
  7. EssentiallyJess
    August 8, 2014 at 2:34 pm (5 years ago)

    I’m a really fussy eater and I struggle with it. It’s something I’m constantly working on, and trying to help the kids with as well.

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      August 8, 2014 at 9:26 pm (5 years ago)

      It’s Ok, Jess. My hubby used to be too he just window dressed it a little for the kids and oddly he;s come out the other end a fearless foodie himself. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Kelly
    August 8, 2014 at 3:36 pm (5 years ago)

    This is great! I found myself being ‘that’ mother in the supermarket the other day – “no we are not buying those pink bars, they’re full of sugar and crap!’ (I’m so my mother now!). I love the idea of a theme night at home. I think I might introduce that here. 🙂

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      August 14, 2014 at 7:13 pm (5 years ago)

      I’m so ‘that’ mother all the time. LOL. Theme nights are always a hoot 🙂

      Reply
  9. Lauren @ Create Bake Make
    August 8, 2014 at 7:52 pm (5 years ago)

    Great tips! My little ones are 2 1/2 and 14 months and I can relate to much of what you have said. I did cave on the sweets and let each of them have a small piece of cake on their first birthday, but I avoided (and continue to do so with our little one) all sugary/crappy food until our big boy’s 2nd birthday. They both have great appetites and touch wood are not yet fussy eaters. I love the idea of theme nights at home, will be trying that one soon 🙂

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      August 8, 2014 at 9:30 pm (5 years ago)

      I swear half the battle is won if you can avoid them getting the taste for sweets and artificial flavours in those first few years. 🙂

      Reply
  10. Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me
    August 8, 2014 at 8:59 pm (5 years ago)

    A very very poignant post for me to read! We do always eat at the table together but I plan to work on a few of these other ones! Great photos by the way. Hubby is fussy but I just give him the death stare if he’s about to utter the words “no cucumber, zucchini, mushrooms, risotto, cottage cheese” for me…

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      August 8, 2014 at 9:32 pm (5 years ago)

      Make it fun and keep hubby’s fussiness on the downlow and you’ll be laughing 🙂

      Reply
  11. Jean
    August 14, 2014 at 11:13 am (5 years ago)

    I’m not a parent, just a proud aunt of 7 nieces and nephews from several sisters. This is geat advice, which I’ve watched my sibs (sisters) do the same: seemingly unusual food, if you don’t make a big deal, they’ll try it. It was also the way we were raised when young.

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      August 14, 2014 at 7:12 pm (5 years ago)

      Thanks Jean, It’s so true I think sometimes parents set themselves up to fail by making a fuss over things unnecessarily

      Reply
  12. Cooker and a Looker
    August 19, 2014 at 12:31 pm (5 years ago)

    Loved these tips Aleney. At the moment I’m facing the problem of what the Big Sister declares she doesn’t like, the Little Sister refuses without question. This is a super helpful post and I’m featuring it tomorrow as my favourite from last week’s Pinning Around party. xx

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      August 19, 2014 at 12:36 pm (5 years ago)

      Thanks sweetie, that means a lot! 🙂

      Reply
  13. Cindy @Your Kids OT
    August 20, 2014 at 8:12 am (5 years ago)

    Thanks for these great tips. I have felt in “groundhog” day with our kid-friendly meals but I’m learning to give our kids more spice in their life. Love your kids in the kitchen – we definitely do that!

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      August 20, 2014 at 7:55 pm (5 years ago)

      Thanks Cindy. It does get a little repetitive but it’s worth persevering 🙂

      Reply
  14. Louise Baker
    September 3, 2014 at 6:21 pm (5 years ago)

    I had the whole overcooked food thing as a kid, I still hate parsnips, but raw cabbage and raw or steamed carrots, cauli anyway and brussels are all A OK with me. Sauteed brussels al dente with butter and garlic – yum. And I NEVER thought I would ever say that. However you can stick your parnips anywhere BUT on my plate. Just learning a new way of cooking them made all the difference to hating meals or loving foods – not overcooked, decoloured, boiled to hell once-were-veges.

    My kids loved the centre bowl of veges, pick and dip, make your own. And funnily enough they tried more foods that way than when I dished them up, every time.

    Reply
  15. yinyangmother
    August 31, 2015 at 8:09 am (4 years ago)

    This is a gorgeous post Aleney – not sure how I missed it previously. Your philosophy is so great. I really reckon the best thing we can do for our obesity crisis is sit down at the table and eat meals together. You probably saw the ‘healthiest diets in the world’ series on SBS and the whole approach to savouring a meal together is the most important healthy ingredient. I have been with you on the brussel sprouts although hubby got me to try them roasted with bacon, garlic and I didn’t mind them. Surprisingly blue cheese sauce also works I reckon.

    Reply

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