I was inspired by a moment in Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution where he gave elementary school kids a sticker if they tasted a new food. The sticker said, “I’ve tried something new.” Those kids literally tried a new food that day and Jamie wanted to let them know that they did a good thing just by trying. But was the sticker just for kids? Not a chance. Jamie Oliver also gave the director of food services the same sticker when she decided that Jamie could extend his school lunch recipes beyond the first trial week. She also tried something new that day. She gave Jamie’s new and unfamiliar ideas the benefit of the doubt, and decided to give them a try.
As a parent, I often forget that it is also I who need to try something new, not just my kids. I always think about all the foods that I wish my kids would eat. But I forget that I too get lazy. I fall into the same old food patterns of least resistance and slowly stop the simple act of offering my kids new food choices. If they don’t like salmon, for example, I tend to not even offer them a bite and maybe even eat my dinner later with my husband so they may not even see me eating it.
It’s a cycle. My kids say yuck to a certain food and so eventually I stop putting it in front of them. I am only human and I too generally try to avoid rejection. But it’s a cycle which only leads to kids eating more and more limited food items. There has to be a balance – a balance between offering new food and relying on old favorites. How will my kids ever broaden their repertoire of yummy food if I stop putting it in front of them because I am afraid it will be rejected? I am assuming they won’t like a new food without even giving it a shot.
I am always talking about how parents are the best role models for children and if we want our kids to eat nutritious food, we need to do so as well. So, it’s time for me to listen to my own advice. If I want my kids to try something new, then maybe I need to as well. If I want my kids to try new food, I need to experiment with new recipes and make the commitment to simply put it in front of them. Doing new things doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me. It’s something I have to think about and then make an extra effort to complete.
Most kids have their repertoire of favorite food choices. Some eat a lot of meat but few vegetables, others a lot of pasta but little fish. My goal is to try something outside of my kids’ normal comfort zone, once a week. That’s it, nothing extreme, no tears, emotional bruises or force-feeding - just making the effort once a week to offer something new to my kids. No matter how healthy my fallback meals may be, there’s always room for improvement.
By “new” I mean a food item that my kids have never seen or tasted before, or have previously tasted and disliked, or a new combination of otherwise accepted food. I also want to bring in recipes or food items that I have not cooked before or are new to me. I don’t have time to find a complicated recipe, make a special grocery shopping trip and spend hours in the kitchen each night. But, I can spend 5 minutes picking a recipe, buy ingredients during my routine grocery shopping and prepare a new meal in under 30 minutes – no more than once a week. Maybe I also need to expand my cooking repertoire. At least that part will be fun and hopefully counteract the rejection I might face at the dinner table….
I challenge myself to offer one “new” food item each week to my kids during our family meal or as a snack. I presume most of them will be completely rejected. But the whole point is simply to try. Not to win any battles. Trying counts.
Each week I will:
1. Choose a food or recipe that my kids have not yet tried or accepted. Prepare the food item and offer it as part of the family meal or as a snack on the go.
2. Take note of my kids’ reactions to the new food. (Don’t force it, just offer and show your kids how you are eating it.)
3. Serve it again in a week or so and see if it is better received.
Of course what is a “new" food to my kids may not be to yours. Feel free to follow along my challenge or embark on your own that addresses the untouched or forgotten food on your menu.