What are some recipes both adults and kids will eat? or How can I get my kid to eat [insert vegetable]? They’re questions we get all the time.
The short answer is Huckle & Goose Kids Eat Everything. Except when they don’t. Like the other day when Julia Child’s Zucchini Gratin was for dinner and a certain toddler took five enthusiastic bites, added an mmm Mama this is good, then asked what was in it. His face changed as he recollected the grating of zucchini earlier. He promptly pushed his bowl away. The next day he inhaled an entire bowl of kale salad and told me that he’s turning green and becoming a strong Hulk. The next week he refused to eat the same exact salad. But so it goes. Toddlers are really just little aliens with wills of steel and food preferences designed to make us go crazy.
But anyway, between the two of us, we have four gremlins ranging from eight to one years old. These are a few of the things that have worked consistently along the way. Here is a game plan and some things to keep in mind as your kiddo becomes a Huckle & Goose Kid Who Eats Everything (Most of the Time).
They Don’t Know, Bless Their Hearts.
Pretend for a moment you lived in a world where doughnuts for breakfast don’t go straight to your hips, or won’t make you hyper then cranky and unable to focus in a couple hours, and aren’t void of nutritional value. Kids live in this world. If you were blissfully unaware that broccoli and tater tots aren’t equal players in the dinner game, which would you rather have? Be honest. We can remind them (and ourselves) that some foods are “sometimes foods” but the importance of our eating choices and how they affect mood, behavior, and health can’t be fully grasped yet.
Have a Family Meeting.
Discussing any impending change with the entire family at leisure is always a good idea. Even the under-two crowd will pick up what you’re putting down if you repeat it in an I’m-not-messing-around tone right before they eat. It will also strengthen your resolve. Discussing expectations after you’ve just slaved over the stove and you’re losing patience is a recipe for giving up and going back to being a short-order cook. An example script: “Listen up, peeps. Things are a changing around here. There are new dinner rules. No more kid meals and parent meals. We’re all going to try some new things. We don’t have to love all of it, but we have to try it.”
They Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab and I Said, “No, No, No.”
Whenever you set new boundaries and sign up your brigade for Beetroot Bootcamp (if you’re about to Google this, it’s not a real thing :), there’s a good chance you’ll be challenged. There’s no way around the tantrums really, you just have to weather the storm with lots of patience. Changing tastebuds is no easy task for kids or adults. It’s like breaking an addiction. Our Western diet has a ridiculous amount of sugar and starch (hiding in stuff we think is healthy too)—addicting compounds that make our bodies crave more and more bad-for-us-things, and less good-for-us things. So it’s basically like rehab. Things aren’t always pretty in rehab.
Make it Routine, or Don’t.
Once you decide (you and) your kids are going to be adventurous eaters, you’ve gotta go all in. You can’t cave. This is all a numbers game. If you make sweet potatoes once every three weeks, it’s foreign rather than familiar; it’s highly probable they’ll be rejected. If you cook vegetables at home three times a week, they might actually try it once the second week. Then twice the next week. When they see you mean business and fake, frozen chicken nuggets aren’t an option anymore, you’ll see results. “Consistency also teaches us that some things do not change, though we may wish they would. Not everything bends to our personal preferences.”
Let Them Choose, Let Them Pick.
The Hide-Yo-Veggies trend might work in the short-term but do we really want to trick our kids into eating vegetables? Sure, sometimes you gotta just make a greens smoothie to get that dose of much-needed vitamins, but making a habit of sneakiness just breeds more mistrust of veggies. The very opposite, even from a young age, leads to appreciation of different flavors and where our food comes from. It takes more time (don’t most good things?), but involve them in every part of the cooking process. Take your tiny entourage to the farmers’ market with you. Let them high-five farmers and choose which celery root and bok choy bunch to bring home. Let them stir, let them taste as you go. If our little people feel ownership of the family’s dinner choices, wonders happen. Hoist them up on your lap and scroll through the Huckle & Goose database and let them point to what they want that week. Then press the little plus sign and add it to your plan.
Don’t Underestimate, Don’t Overestimate.
There will be times you’re eating, say, a fennel and radicchio salad and your one-year-old will demand some. You’ll think, Why does she want this? She’s not going to like it. She doesn’t even have teeth. You shrug and proceed to mince some for her; she inhales an adult-sized portion. But they won’t always gobble up their greens. We have to shrug then too and not make a big deal. Even if you’re seething on the inside, do your best to let it go. Elsa style. After all, family dinner is more about family and less about dinner. At our house we let hunger be the natural motivator for eating. There are no snacks and ain’t nobody got time for alternate meals. We insist on one bite, and after that the kids know that if they choose not to eat, no biggie, they just have to wait ’til the next meal. Is it wrong to think, more for me? It’ll be hard the first few weeks, but if you’re consistent and eating happens at roughly the same times every day, the kids know what to expect and they’ll know they made choices that resulted in their growling tummy. If that really doesn’t work for your family, offer a really healthy alternative meal like kohlrabi sticks with hummus. Also, don’t hover or breathe anxiously; kids sense your fear and act accordingly. Serve things without fanfare or commentary—be cool as a cucumber. Slowly but surely, you’ll see your kids developing really well-rooted eating habits and discerning palates.
Make delicious things and cook ‘em every which way.
Sounds like a no-brainer but if you as an adult are forcing yourself to eat something only because it’s healthy, it’s unlikely junior will follow suit. Salt things well, don’t be shy with spices, and cook things until they’re the perfect texture. No one likes mushy green beans. Chopping things evenly and smaller than you’d usually think creates better texture and improves the overall dish. Experiment with different preparation methods too. Roast beets and cube them, next time sliver them. Then try paper-thin shaved raw slices in salads. And if all fails, know that there are some things our tastebuds just won’t like unless we try them many many many times. I gag at the faintest smell of goat cheese and Anca scrunches her face at fennel recipes. Kids are the same. Sometimes you need to find a “gateway” preparation method for acquiring the taste and then your rutabaga rebel will be accepting of it in other forms too. Find what works for your family. Here at H&G we’re in the business of bringing you a variety of things that taste good and happen to be healthy too (and that our own kids eat).
May the force be with you.