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Raising Chowpups/Great food experiences with kids?

b
butterisbetter Dec 8, 2003 10:52 PM

I'm a mom. There, I said it. Don't EVEN ask me how I find time to read and write on this site. Many people would like to know the answer to that question, and most of them probably think that my time would be better spent on THEM instead of all of you...

My own question is, who else out there is busy raising kids and trying to ingrain them with some real, meaningful appreciation of food? And if you ARE out there, what are the best food experiences you've had with your kids?

  1. m
    Marilayne Dec 11, 2003 12:38 PM

    Just remember you are older, smarter, and craftier than your kids (up ‘till a certain age, however).

    1.my favorite was sneaking veggies in hidden places, meatloaf

    2.puree broccoli with mashed potatoes and talk about Green eggs and ham

    3.think of new ways to serve good old favorites. I would make up thick oatmeal the night before pat it into patties and fry it up with apple and a little brown sugar

    4.make up fun names for things like oatmeal so they think it’s fun food. the above oatmeal dish I called Kukla Fran and Apples my daughter still eats it today

    5.expose them to everything, believe me their taste buds will change

    6.retry things they don’t like different ways, they may not like mushrooms in stews but let them have wild mushrooms sautéed and used as a garnish over a thick winter soup

    7.combine ethnic eating with fun excursions and name it a crazy event like Zoo and lunch in the Zoolandish Zone, they will look forward to going

    8.don’t sweat the small stuff, even chowhounds like a really good hotdog

    9.try things don’t force, I was forced to eat lima beans once and to this day can’t stand them

    10.let them experiment with cooking, my daughter used to make up her own concoctions some good, some not so

    11.let them be involved, if you have sit down dinner most nights let them make place cards with families names (a spelling opportunity)

    12.when they get a little older educate them with jaunts around town to compare various foods, bread, cheese, curry, if they like calamari let them order it every time and come up with their own “best of” list

    13.create memories and enjoy them they grow up so fast

    1. b
      bj Dec 10, 2003 02:00 PM

      I have to agree - it is about experience - mostly eating together and being involved in the process from selecting the food to preparing it.

      That said, I have 4 siblings and we couldn't be more different in our food tastes and how we have raised our families. We were all exposed to different foods, plenty of restaurants and involved in the cooking.

      Sister #1 who just inherited 2 stepchildren has yet to make anything other than cheeseburger pie or sandwich maker creations.

      My brother's children exist solely on frozen food or fast food. HOWEVER, amazingly, when they are with my parents they eat everything on their plates, I mean everything without complaint. My brother doesn't believe us.

      Sister #2 - "Super Mom" - bakes the bread and grows the berries for the jam on the kids sandwiches. Her children love to try new things, get excited over alligator and request gnocchi regularly. They also know they have to be nutritious. If we have a simple meal like a pizza while visiting NYC, once at home they each go to the fridge to get either a handful of carrots or beans to fill out their veggie requirement.

      I have yet to start a family but my dog is fed home cooked meals every day.

      I think not making a big deal about it, is great and not catering to the child's every whim is the only way they will learn. It also reinforces the life lesson that you don't always get what you want.

      As an aside - it is also a wonderful way for children to learn about their heritage. I will never forget watching my 5 year old neice learn to bread cutlets and she jumped up and down covered in flour and proclaimed "Mommmy, I'm Italian!!".

      1. s
        Susanne Dec 10, 2003 11:08 AM

        As I was reading through all these wonderful messages a couple of other things occurred to me. We let our kids know it's ok not to like things. There are a few things I don't like, including grapefruit. But my kids see me trying grapefruit regularly, in the hope that one day I will like it. We expect them to do the same.

        Also, it helps to teach kids to be educated food consumers. My husband just starting teaching our son (6 1/2) to read nutrition labels, looking at things like fat, sodium and fiber content. It is teaching him to think critically about what he eats and make good choices, and it makes a good math lesson as well!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Susanne
          j
          Janet Dec 10, 2003 01:22 PM

          I also let my kids know that its ok not to like stuff. After all, just the thought of eating a banana is enough to make me gag (long story, don't ask....). OTOH, the afore-mentioned "Grandpa's Rule" is always in effect...Its ok not to like something and not to eat it, but its NOT ok to whine about it. My kids know just to keep quiet and not make a big deal about foods they don't like. This helps make visiting relatives/friends for dinner a much more pleasant experience.

          BTW, my boys both LOVE Bananas, and insist on always having them in the house. I think its revenge.

          1. re: Janet
            m
            MkeLaurie Dec 10, 2003 02:29 PM

            I had to laugh. I hate bananas and even have a gag reflex at the scent of bananas.

            But they are my daugher's favorite fruit. Go figure.

        2. l
          LisaLou Dec 10, 2003 09:49 AM

          As a new mother with a 3 month old it's interesting to read this debate and the stories.

          My great grandmother on my mother's side and my grandmother on my father's side both cooked whatever their boys wanted growing up. Don't like the original meal? they'd make another. However my grandfather and father both married people who said, "yeah whatever, if you don't like it, make your own meal." So I'm beginning to wonder if this stuff sort of skips a generation and now we're back to some parents who will cook whatever their little darling wants.

          I'm planning on doing what my parents did - I had to try whatever was being offered. There were no other options for dinner and if I didn't like it I could go hungry. It never actually occurred to either my sister or I to throw a tantrum to get other food. Or at least if it did, we knew it wouldn't work. My family has a great love of food so I was exposed to a wide variety of foods and the rituals of a good meal. There are plenty of things I dreaded growing up that later in life I now look back on with fondness and eat including asparagus and squash. I'm hoping to do the same thing for my daughter and also be able to weather the dreaded picky stages. But she will, like I did, not have any other options for meals.

          I watched my sister over Thanksgiving allow her 15 month old to run around from person to person asking for food as a result she never sits for a meal and my sister has no idea what she's eaten and how much. So that has made me determined to also make sure my daughter sits for meals and recognizes there are rules and willy nilly snacking or holding out for something "better" won't be allowed.

          Of course, you can ask me in a couple years if I've stuck to any of this. ;-)

          3 Replies
          1. re: LisaLou
            m
            mom Dec 11, 2003 12:01 AM

            Ritual is very important, but it's even more important to have an age-appropriate approach. A 15 month old can't really be expected to sit through an entire Thanksgiving meal. That's more along the lines of a 3-year-old's capabilities, but even that would be pushing it for some kids.

            1. re: mom
              t
              theconiglio Dec 11, 2003 08:42 AM

              i have to disagree on this point. my, now 4 1/2 year old, has sat happily through 2 and 3 hour meals since he was old enough to sit up (i think it was 8-10 months old for him). and now my 20-month old daughter has done the same.

              with my first born, i thought it was him, perhaps he was the exception. NOT! as my husband and i have learned, it's all based on expectation. we brought him up to learn that no one gets up from the table until everyone is done. other friends/relatives who took this approach have had the same successful result. and yet others that have always allowed the child to get up/down from the meal whenever they wanted, have children that won't sit still for a meal.

              we've found that with children, the returns you get are based on what you put into them. in our case, we wanted our son to understand the amazing familial bonding that can occur around food and around a dining room table and that we wanted him to be a part of that! today our table is most always filled with funny stories, jokes, and talk of food with our 4 1/2 year old son and now, our 20-month daughter.

              don't underestimate children! if you expect little, they'll deliver little. if you expect a lot, they'll amaze you and be that much more fun to enjoy long meals with.

              1. re: theconiglio
                l
                LisaLou Dec 11, 2003 10:36 AM

                I have to agree. Although mine is still a 3 month old, from my own upbringing, it was expected that we would be at table until everyone was done. When we went out in public it was expected that we would behave ourselves and we did. And my sister and I are rather different. I mostly said "yes" to my mother and didn't see the need to argue a point while my sister had no qualms about arguing every single rule that was laid down. However both of us behaved in public b/c we knew we'd never get to go anywhere if we didn't and both of us sat still for meals so we could catch all the talk that went on.

          2. j
            julesrules Dec 10, 2003 09:23 AM

            Tend to agree with all the parents advising not to prepare special food for the kids. That's how my parents did it and I always ate everything. On the other hand, my dad ate only bologna sandwiches and Campell's vegetable soup for years, and he grew up to be a chowhound too, so who knows. My brother was somewhat more indulged than I was (partly my own fault - it was easier to make him a grilled cheese then listen to him whine about what I had cooked), but he eats most things as well now (age seventeen), requested sushi for his last birthday (he'd had plenty of Japanese before but was ready to try the raw fish), and he surprises us with his knowledge in Chinese restaurants (gained from Chinese friends). Yeah, he likes processed pizza snacks and the like but he eats salad too now (always served daily in my parents' house, it took him almost this long to start eating it).

            I was pretty shocked recently when a local paper ran an article challenging parents to get their kids off trans fats. Apparently kids today NEED processed snacks like Lunchables in their packed lunches. Hey, I'm not yet 30 and I didn't have any processed, pre-packaged items in my lunches. It's not that my Mom had more time on her hands either - I made myself peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. Apples are also a very handy portable snack item! What's the big deal?

            I agree it's often a control issue for kids that they will grow out of. But when they don't, you get adults who won't eat brocoli because they tried it once when they were seven and are still determined not to like it. I have a friend who really can't eat anything unfamiliar... she'll taste something new and imagine it has "caraway" or one of the other dozens of items that she "doesn't like".

            I have NO TOLERANCE for food dislikes. Every kid (and Adult) should be reminded that it takes several tries (up to nine) to acquire a taste.

            Guess I'm preaching to the converted here...!

            1. b
              butterisbetter Dec 10, 2003 06:49 AM

              great responses, we'll be introducing Grandpa's Rule to our boys, 5 and 3, immediately. :-)

              we're of the "introduce a diversity of foods, require them to eat at least a bite, no special meals" school. it's working great, my youngest was scarfing down yellowtail sashimi at 2 yrs o, (please don't give me grief, we know the risks and make the best judgements we can about food safety but love to share our food passions with our boys) my oldest prefers real maple syrup with his homemade pancakes and recently stated that a friend's Aunt Jemima "tasted funny".

              okay, I reread the para above, I do sound smug but I didn't mean to. it's just that the MAJORITY of parents in our community have "picky eaters" and yet those kids are given upon demand pretty much any alternative high carb, high fat food they want while the parents groan and moan about how their kids won't eat broccoli. well, no they won't, not if their tummy is already full of pizza and chicken nuggets...

              but moving beyond the b%#*h session, here's a "great food experience" of the variety I was hoping for: we scheduled a visit with the boys to an organic farm that sells at our local farmer's market. Nicholas, the farmer, and his own small boys walked us all over their property, rode on the tractor, and very generously let each of us pick veggies to our heart's desires. I will never forget my boys grabbing these small white Hakurei turnips out of the ground, brushing the dirt off, and popping them straight in their mouths. It was a gorgeous day, autumn in Georgia, bright blue sky, cool wind soaring above us, and the food experience was just one more way of "taking it in"--literally. Felt very spiritual and wholesome, connecting us with nature and with each other and the world. That was an absolute peak chow moment. Any other stories like that out there?

              2 Replies
              1. re: butterisbetter
                m
                MkeLaurie Dec 10, 2003 09:29 AM

                I guess if someone wants to characterize us as "smug" and "self-satified" for conditioning our children to like chowfood, so be it. It's not worth arguing about.

                Getting family members to prefer and enjoy chowfood is work. It isn't always easy - I've always thought of it as akin to sticking with an exercise program. If you put a plate of steamed broccoli and nice baked porkchop and maybe a baked potato on one plate and Scooby-Doo shaped chicken tenders, blue ketchup and cheese Pringles on another, the average child is going to go for the gimmick because they are marketed to from the day they are born.

                But if you can give your child the foodie experience (limited as it may be at his or her age)all you can hope as a parent that there will be a hesitation, not just about which choice is more healthy but also which will taste better in the long run. Plus, they also learn very quickly that what is "cool" isn't always "good" or good tasting and that it is okay not to eat it.

                My mother cooked everything from scratch when I was a kid, we had a garden, my grandparents were farmers, we'd bring home butchered meat every time we visited. Most of this was because we were rather poor, but she was very concerned about nutrition as well. I had a real tie to the earth and how food was produced. I may have survived on McDonald's fries and Cokes whenever I could for lunch in high school, but I can't remember EVER missing dinner because my mother's food tasted a million times better and I felt better after eating it. If I wanted junk food, I had to buy it myself. I still love Ho-Hos, but I have them maybe once every other year.

                Kids eat junk food and make poor choices because they have access to it. We had dinner with my sister-in-law a few weeks ago and it was a fabulous meal (her husband is the cook). During the hour before dinner, I watched her son eat a Go-Gurt, a sleeve of Oreo cookies and a can of orange soda. By the time the rest of us sat down to dinner, he was not only full but bouncing off the walls. By the time the dishes were washed, he'd crashed and burned - cranky, hungry and obnoxious - but there wasn't any food left so the whole cycle started over again.

                We don't have bagged snacks in our house for reason. For us, snacks = apples/oranges/bananas/grapes, string cheese/cheese curds, a handful of nuts, maybe a cookie once in a great while. And it is hard sometimes - particularly when my daughter wants the rainbow-colored Goldfish crackers they sometimes serve at her preschool or she goes somewhere and has a nutritionally bankrupt snack that I won't buy. But she gets over it.

                1. re: butterisbetter
                  b
                  butterfly Dec 10, 2003 07:55 PM

                  Not trying to pick a fight, I promise, but I was wondering what the word is on raw fish for small children.

                  It's all I can do to keep my just-turned-two year old from eating my raw fish sushi or sashimi. I meant to ask his pediatrician about this at his two year check-up, but only thought of it after his blood was drawn and he was screaming like a wounded monkey. So naturally, I let it drop.

                  So far I only allow him to eat tamago, cucumber rolls, inari, avocado rolls, etc. What have other 'hounds done about this?

                  P.S. I know I could do a google search on this, but I'd rather hear some rational stuff before I read about the horror stories, sushi conspiracies and other general internet lunacy.

                2. c
                  Chowpatty Dec 9, 2003 05:05 PM

                  I wish some of you smug, self-satisfied parents out there could have my daughter for a week, and find out where I went wrong. My son, who's three years older, eats a wide variety of foods, mostly not too exotic but likes chicken, beef, fish, many vegetables and all fruits. I love making barbecued ribs for him because he gets the biggest smile on his face, and he was thrilled with the sushi making kit he got for his 11th birthday. My daughter was raised in the same household where we go to McDonald's less than twice a year and never buy processed foods. We try to eat together several times a week. Nothing green has ever touched her lips. She eats only chicken, hotdogs, cheese, rice, white bread, carrots, corn, strawberries and apples. At least she will eat Zankou chicken (wonderful garlic roasted takeout chicken) and chicken fried rice from a Thai restaurant, but otherwise taking her to a restaurant is torture. She has recently become interested in baking so maybe there is some hope -- she made carrot muffins and did not insist chocolate chips be added. But you should all have this experience just to show you that you can't always influence children to do what you want -- my theory is that it was her way to get attention when her brother was acting up.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Chowpatty
                    j
                    janet Dec 9, 2003 06:25 PM

                    I may be one of those "smug, self-satisfied parents" but its not like my kids were always perfect either. My older son used to be a VERY picky eater. We made it through five weeks in India on peanut butter (which we brought with us) and bananas. He did grow out of it, honestly, and now will even eat a vegetable from time to time. The point I tried to make earlier is that parents shouldn't make a big deal about kids' eating habits. (We should have made less of a big deal, looking back on it). Your daughter will not starve. If she won't eat what's served, let her go hungry once in awhile. She'll come around, honestly. If she continues to be a picky eater all her life, its her loss. I think you hit the nail on the head when you commented that she was trying to get attention. She knows that picky eating bothers you, so she does it.
                    My son used to do the same thing with me. The day I learned to ignore his eating habits is the day they started to change.

                    1. re: janet
                      e
                      euro Dec 9, 2003 08:54 PM

                      And I think you hit the nail on the head. One of the first things I noticed when I was an exchange student many years ago in the US was that American parents were afraid to let their kids go without even one meal.

                      As such, most give their kids this incredible power over them, buying them stuff that they themselves would never eat and making a different meal or snack for each child. I believe this constant catering to the whims of children's palates is part of the obesity problem in the US. The sad result is that most kids over five might actually benefit from skipping a meal from time to time.

                    2. re: Chowpatty
                      k
                      Kirk Dec 9, 2003 08:15 PM

                      I'll tell you what our pediatrician told me 18, 15 and 13 years ago now. "They eat what they need. Don't make a big deal about it, or it will become a control issue. When they're older than 2, and they get hungry, they eat what their bodies tell them they need."

                      Now, I think that construct changes completely when they become teenagers, and think they only need pizza and fries. But until then: don't ask, don't tell.

                      1. re: Kirk
                        k
                        Kirk Dec 9, 2003 08:18 PM

                        For my 18-year-old's birthday, I took him to a 15-course food/wine pairing, and he ate and drank everything put in front of him, including the lamb tongue (which was a bit tough for me!)

                        Life gets better -- and more enjoyable -- as we all get older.

                      2. re: Chowpatty
                        j
                        jackson t Dec 10, 2003 08:16 AM

                        For starters, it may help to eliminate hotdogs and white bread as options. They are "processed foods" that you say you never buy. So are chocolate chips. Substitute brown rice for white rice and maybe a good low-fat cheese.

                        I sincerely hope she's getting vitamin and mineral supplements if she truly is not eating any green vegetables.

                        One of my children's friends never eats anything but boxed mac and cheese for dinner. Every night. Her parents just shrug their shoulders. I tried to make her homemade mac and cheese and she would not eat it because it had breadcrumbs and sliced tomoatoes on top. Eventually she picked the "bad stuff" off and ate it when she realized nobody was going to jump and and get her something else.

                        Bottom line for me is that unless a child has a true taste aversion (i.e. they gag at the sight of the offending food) they should consider it part of the rotating menu. If I know they don't like something very much I don't rotate it through as often, but a wrinkled up nose is not going to make me run back and make a special meal for them. I've never known a child to gag at the sight of fresh green beans.

                        1. re: jackson t
                          -
                          --susan Dec 10, 2003 08:33 AM

                          Lowfat cheese? Why would you feed a child lowfat cheese?

                          I promise you that as a child I literally gagged at the smell of fresh green beans and fresh lima beans. My grandfather had an enormous garden and grew many vegetables -- they were served less than an hour from garden to plate.

                          There's a difference between making special meals and deferring somewhat to a child's need for simplicity and familiarity. A picky child is not going to eat rice that is brown -- that's not "rice."

                          1. re: --susan
                            l
                            laurie m Dec 10, 2003 11:27 AM

                            I suppose one feeds children lowfat cheeses and brown rice because one cares about their diet and nutrition. There's nothing complicated about brown rice, and it wouldn't be unfamiliar after the first time it is served.

                            I believe this person said that if his kid gags then he doesn't serve them that food - so if you were his kid he wouldn't serve you fresh green beans. (Lima beans, on the other hand, are a common gag food for kids - and adults too) :)

                            Wasn't the whole point of the original question how to expand a child's food horizons, not how to live with a kid's insistence on "familiar" and "uncomplicated" food?

                            1. re: --susan
                              p
                              piegirl Dec 10, 2003 04:44 PM

                              I think the issue here though, is the attitude some posters have that you just have to present the right things with the right attitude, and the child will eventually come around. I don't think this is fair to many great parents, and some kids are just picky.

                              I was a kid in the seventies, and my parents were very involved in what was then called the "natural foods" movement, they even owned a natural foods store and restaurant.

                              I was a very picky eater, and I ate very little of what was served - I didn't eat much in general, I dont think I made a huge fuss about it, but I would only eat very plain things, and not very much of them. Apparently, I pretty much survived on Cheerios and apple juice for a number of years. We never had any processed food in the house, and I never learned to like brown rice, tofu or lentils until I was about 25. My brother and I would hide candy in our rooms. There were not as many ethnic restaurants as there are now, but I don't think going to them would have helped, I usually asked for something like plain chicken at any restaurant.

                              And, in conclusion, I think I pretty much turned out fine, I now eat most foods, and though I am still particular about food, I think it is mostly based on quality. I still dont eat much processed food.

                              However, I do have a weakness for highly sugary, artificial candy like gummy bears, which are basically the antithesis of everything I was taught to eat. So, I would caution against being dogmatic about anything, or feeling like if other parents just were less willing to compromise, their kids would not be picky.

                        2. -
                          --susan Dec 9, 2003 02:22 PM

                          Everyone's offered good advice, and you sound like you're on the right track. Don't sweat it. Really. Myself and many of my friends were ridiculously picky up through our teens, then "discovered" interesting food when we left the house. I grew up in a fairly conventional household -- I often joke that if my mom wanted me to eat spinach, she should've offered me saag paneer -- but there's no guarantee that I would have been less picky if raised on more ethnically diverse chow. Don't take it personally if your kid rejects chowpupdom -- food is one of the few areas in which kids can exercise some power. Don't fret when the mushrooms are separated from the lasagna with surgical precision...it's likely that they'll work their way back into the "edible" part eventually.

                          I fondly remember my mom and I making homemade cookies often. Let me tell you, Mom's oatmeal chocolate and butterscotch chip cookies blew junk food out of the water. Everyone who talked about cooking with their kids is right on.

                          Also, I remember being amazed to find out that my mom was still discovering foods, including ones that she has rejected when younger. It was okay to hate cauliflower based on one nibble, 'cause there's lots of food to try and I can always try it again in a couple of years. (Okay, I still don't like cauliflower. But I did change my mind on other formerly adamant dislikes.)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: --susan
                            w
                            WJ Dec 9, 2003 03:25 PM

                            Again, I don't have kids, but I was one, once-upon-a- time....The thing I keep noticing is that people who are picky and unwilling to try different foods translate this to their kids. Keep an open mind, don't force foods on them, but don't give them too many choices at any one time, especially when they're really little.

                          2. t
                            Tamar G Dec 9, 2003 01:03 PM

                            I have no kids so I can only say what my parents did. We ate dinner together and the kids ate what was served. (That said my mother did pander to our tastes a bit- very little fish because my sister and I did not like it.) As everone else has said, don't force your kids to eat something. The only thing I won't eat today is broccoli because my parents used to make me eat it.

                            My parents also always took us with them to nice restaurants. I ate my way through a number of Michelin starred restaurants in France as a 3 year old. Alas, I was too young to remember. Those restaurants were always happy to have kids as they assumed we would be well behaved (which we were) and they were always happy to prepare an omelet or steak even if it wasn't on the menu. (Any french kitchen, no matter how fancy, would have been appalled at the suggestion that they couldn't make a simple omelet.)

                            Lastly, wine. DISCLAIMER: I am in no way suggesting that you provide alchohol to underage children. But I was raised in the french manner. At 5 I got a wine glass filled with a little bit of wine and water mixed in. As I got older the amount of water diminished. I have a healthy appreciation for good wine and I never drank outside of the house in high school. Drinking never seemed like rebellion to me because I could do it at home. Also, the alchohol I got at home was so much better than watered-down cheap beer. Just my 2 cents- most of the people I know whose parents were relaxed and open about moderate recreational drinking did not abuse alchohol later on. The children also grew up knowing about wines, how to pair them with food, etc.

                            1. p
                              PollyG Dec 9, 2003 12:59 PM

                              Our chowpup just turned 4. As I listen to other parents complain about their picky eaters, I have found a pattern (far from universal)--the parents of picky eaters do not have sit-down family meals on a regular basis.

                              We value family meals and expose the pup to a wide variety of foods. About the only time we make a separate entree for the pup is when we believe the entree is going to be too spicy for her. Then we try to leave one piece of meat out of the marinade, or substitute hoisin sauce for her. If we don't offer her something, she is likely to request a sample.

                              When we go out, we occasionally allow a kid's menu selection, but usually end up either ordering an appetizer for her or ordering two appetizers and an entree for the pair of us. We taught appropriate restaurant behavior from the start and will not let her disrupt other patrons.

                              She is far from perfect--doesn't like shrimp, dislikes green salads, and would happily eat a hot dog if we let her. But she does like a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, thinks mussels are one of the best foods in the world, practically begged to be allowed to try the baby octopus 2 months ago, and was ordering from the dim sum cart this past Sunday.

                              So eat well with your kid and your kid will eat well with you.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: PollyG
                                m
                                Mrs. Smith Dec 9, 2003 03:57 PM

                                I agree so much about the sit-down dinner. I'm pregnant right now with our first chowpup, and I've been interestedly reading this thread and making plans for the future.

                                I have an older sister whom I love dearly. We grew up in the same household, but she is 13 years older than I am. We always had sitdown, be-on-time, compulsory, washed-hands, no shorts (except in summer at the cabin or outside on the picnic table), no caps, you-may-invite-your-friends, rather formal dinners at our parents house. I remember on Sundays and holidays having multi-course meals starting with soup, then salad, then a fish course, then meat, then vegetables, then cheese and dessert. My parents loved to eat, and my mother was an excellent cook, and we had a large family and someone to help my mother. Mealtime was special and important. I remember liking the formality of it most of the time -- though I did enjoy our more relaxed summertime outdoor dinners, too. My parents would throw dinner parties and, when we were old enough and had passed the manners test we got to be little "waiters" -- which was fun. Dinner was an event in our house -- I remember growing up liking. My older sister, however, always hated it and considered it a waste of time and energy.

                                She grew up, married, and had three wonderful kids. She NEVER makes those kids sit down for an entire meal, unless it's a special family holiday event ( and they never make it through the whole meal anyway). She "has to" make separate dinners EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for her two youngest kids -- and separate from each other, much of the time. This means by the time the kids are fed she's had enough of cooking. So usually the kids eat one at a time at the kitchen table, and she and her husband do catch-as-catch can from the refrigerator, from the frozen dinner section of the supermarket, and takeout. Its really sad, since my sister is a good cook, and they have a beautiful formal dining room that they only use for special occasions. These kids are great in every other respect, but they can't sit still for an entire meal, and they refuse any food that they haven't eaten before. I feel so sorry for them -- the youngest boy won't eat any meat unless you lie and tell him it's "chicken". He's had meat chicken, fish chicken, shrimp chicken. It's just ridiculous in my mind.

                                When the youngest boy came to visit his grandma (my mom) for two weeks last summer I was there for most of the time. My mother is an excellent cook, and she still keeps up the formal be-on-time dinner tradition. She makes what she makes and if you don't like it, you're sort of in trouble. The little boy tried his standing on the chair, getting up during the meal, asking for different food during the dinner for two nights, and when he was gently "encouraged" to sit through each meal he eventually gave up. By the end of the two weeks the kid was eating everything on his plate. He's a big, growing 7 year old and he's no doubt very hungry when he sits down to eat. My mother made delicious, varied, healthy food for him, that wasn't overly spicy and what most kids should be able to eat. In other words, she didn't spring entire dinners of eggplant or tofu on him, but she did do more varied dishes than he gets at home (which would be frozen chicken nuggets and spaghetti-Os). At the end of his time there he was eating tomato bisque, fresh crab, pasta with pesto, omelette for dinner, and a couple of Asian dishes. He didn't complain once he knew that Grandma (who raised 6 of her own and is a pro at kid meal managemnt) wasn't going to budge. The regular timing and comforting feel of a guaranteed dinner-by-6 every night was a new thing for this kid -- and he loved it! My mom, who I said was a pro, did let him exercise his "power" somewhat. If he absolutely hated one dish, she always made sure that there was enough of something else pretty innnocuous (salad, cheese, rice, etc) so that the kid would not starve at dinner. And of course, if he didn't eat enough dinner, then there was no dessert or treats. She let him choose his salad dressing if my mother hadn't made a homemade one, got to choose drumstick or white meat of the roast chicken, etc, and if he drank his glass of milk with dinner he was allowed to have ice water (which he started the week demanding, and he stopped after he knew Grandma would only let him after he drank his milk). He wasn't continually whining and asking for food in between meals, because he got enough good, balanced food at meals that he wasn't hungry all the time (my mother maintains that milk fills kids up, too, and makes them less hungry between meals, which I'm inclined to agree with. I'm not advocating milk for all children, though I will give it to my child -- I know there are some people who really think milk is harmful and I don't wish to ruffle any feathers.).

                                When little Andrew ate well my mother would make small homemade treats for him which totally delighted him. She would make him "smores" with a marshmallow cooked over the gas stove, in between wholewheat graham crackers and with a little of her homemade chocolate sauce. He loved it so much he'd eat everything on his plate -- all good healthy food including lima beans (which he later admitted he liked) -- just because grandma would make it for him if he behaved well at dinner. In two weeks his table manners miraculously improved. I was amazed by his progress -- for while I love the boy dearly I dreaded his coming because he was so difficult about food and was demanding inappropriate snacks all the time.

                                His mom doesn't buy it, and went back to her old ways the minute she got him back. She loves food and cooking, but because of her actions she never gets a meal in peace, because she lets these kids immature and inappropriate (not their fault, of course) demands rule her mealtimes. She's a very very good mom in every other respect, so I just don't understand it. My husband has witnessed this, and he and I agree that mealtimes will be family time, and will be pretty strictly enforced. He has enough respect for my cooking that I'm not worried about him encouraging our child to eat what's put in front of him. Of course, if the child hates lettuce, liver, or carrots for some reason we will not force him to eat it. I don't believe in that either. But the main sources of nutrition -- that is most proteins, starches, and vegetables and fruits we will serve him and not make a big deal out of it. I sincerely hope that this will take well, and he'll like and enjoy most of it.

                                I know there are terribly picky children out there -- but I can't help thinking that their parents must contribute to it somehow.

                                1. re: PollyG
                                  c
                                  Caitlin Wheeler Dec 9, 2003 05:06 PM

                                  My family ate dinner in front of the television every night. We always ate together, and we always ate the same thing (though I struggled with it at times, and I still don't like swordfish, which is one of my mother's favorites), but we didn't have the sit down meal. However, my mother is an excellent cook, so we always ate well. On special occasions (birthdays, holidays, anniversaries) we would have a special sit down dinner in the formal dining room, and I remember being included at these since I was a very small child. In addition, my parents ate out probably at least once a week, and always included me. We also travelled fairly extensively in Europe, and I was encouraged to try new foods -- my dad always said that I had to take at least one taste of things before I rejected them. As a result, my favorite meal as a 5 year old was escargot, duck with raspberry sauce, and chocolate mousse.

                                  I think the "way" you eat dinner is less important fundamentally than who you eat with. If chowish parents include their children in their food adventures, inevitably the children will want to follow suit. Now can anyone give advice on recalcitrant husbands?

                                2. a
                                  Ann Vuletich Dec 9, 2003 11:52 AM

                                  I have a 4 1/2 year old son. We also try to make dinner every night and Sam knows that he has to try what we put in front of him. If he doesn't like it, that's ok, and depending on what else is on his plate that he may eat, we may or may not make him something else to eat. But I don't ever make 2 separate dinners every night, one that I know he will eat, one that we will eat. He watches me cook a lot and loves to help (stir, break eggs, etc.). I really believe that exposing him to as many different kinds of foods and cuisines as possible is the most important thing. He already has a much more highly developed palate than I did at his age.

                                  I think that it's just like anything else with kids, they learn best by example. When they see their parents enjoying and experimenting with lots of different foods, they want to do the same thing.

                                  1. j
                                    janet Dec 9, 2003 11:07 AM

                                    I have two teenagers (boys). We have gone through various stages of what they will eat and not eat. They are now good chowkids and willing to eat most foods and try many different ethnic items. I've learned that the most important thing is to not make a big deal about food. We have what we call "Grandpa's Rule" in our family: (so called because my Dad first stated it out loud) "Eat it and shut up about it, or don't eat it and shut up about it." If we hear whining about what's served, we gently say "Grandpa's Rule is in effect" to the kids, and they shut up. In other words, we do not pander to their tastes. I let them order what they want in restaurants. I don't make separate foods for them. My husband is from India, and we eat a lot of Indian food in the house. If they don't like it, they are welcome to make their own PBJs. If they like a particular dish and request it, of course I will cook it for them....but not on top of what the rest of the family eats (I am amazed to see parents actually cooking separate meals for the kids because the kids won't eat what they eat....).

                                    The one tip I do have is take them to a variety of ethnic restaurants when they are young. Don't be afraid to experiment, and never let them know you're afraid they might not like the food. Kids are very good at picking up non-verbal signals. If they sense you're nervous about what's to be served, they won't eat it.

                                    Sorry to go on so long. I hope this helps.

                                    1. s
                                      Smokey Dec 9, 2003 08:02 AM

                                      Great topic! I'm also a new mom, and if it weren't for my job, where I'm occasionally able to slack, I would never be able to post here!

                                      This topic came up before, and i remember somebody posting that they had heard that breast-fed babies may have a bit of a leg up in the chow world. The argument was that formula fed babies learn that food is going to taste the same, predictable. Breast-fed babies learn that food is not predictable, tastes different from meal to meal. Not sure how old your children are, so this may or may not be relevant.

                                      The other thing I've heard (here? not sure) is that you shouldn't make an issue out of food and trying different foods. At meal times, give your child a variety of different foods. If there are some things they reject, that's ok, let them reject them. But don't consider it a permanent rejection. Try presenting said food again in a month or so and see what happens.

                                      Good luck, and thanks for posting the topic,

                                      Smokey

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Smokey
                                        m
                                        MkeLaurie Dec 9, 2003 05:50 PM

                                        My daughter was formula fed and she's a major chowhound. Her cousins - who have to be in the running for the pickiest children under 10 - were all breast fed. I guess there are always exceptions to every rule. What you posted makes sense, though, to a degree.

                                      2. m
                                        MkeLaurie Dec 9, 2003 07:09 AM

                                        Our chowpup is about to turn five, and I second the ethnic restaurant suggestion. Our daughter loves anything from the Far East (Chinese, sushi, Thai, etc.). It actually worked out well when she was younger because there were a lot of finger foods and condiments involved.

                                        We also have a small garden and she has been involved in planting and picking since she was a puplet. She also "helps" cook on occasion, and she can recognize a lot of herbs by smell or taste. She likes to sample as we cook, which I have always encouraged whenever possible (unless it posed a health hazard).

                                        We do McDonald's maybe once a month, if that. She's more interested in the toy than the food and has yet to actually eat more than a few bites of that crap. If we go to a continental restaurant, they usually give her a kid's menu, but we are at the point where we just order her something from the regular menu because the quality of the kids food is usually very poor (deep fried, high sodium, high fat, etc.) and she likes "real food" better anyway.

                                        1. t
                                          theconiglio Dec 9, 2003 04:05 AM

                                          i have a 4 1/2 year-old and 20-month old. while i haven't been at this for quite as long as the rest of you, i've found the secret thus far to be exposure, exposure, exposure. once they both got beyond the milk and baby food stage, they've always eaten whatever we're eating! and i'm always experimenting, so their palates have tried most every kind of meat/vegetable/fruit out there (and liked them!).

                                          because we don't substitute food they don't eat with food we know they'll eat, they've learned to eat if they're hungry and usually that includes trying something new that they find out they like! last night it was sunchokes! (certainly there are exceptions to this approach, i.e. when they're not feeling well, we feed them anything nutritious that they're willing to eat.)

                                          admittedly, i'm not a patron of mcdonald's and the like, but i'm just fine with my kids experimenting that when the opportunity arises with other people. i think that's part of childhood. but my approach is to inform and educate them about the benefits of better quality food -- health, taste, culture, appreciation, love, etc! i don't want them to snub their noses at other people who make different choices, i just want to educate them about their own choices and the benefits of the choices they make.

                                          so whether it's taking them to the farmer's markets to hand-select food, having fresh milk or organic vegetables delivered to our door, i think it's all about exposure and appreciation. my 4 1/2 year old is now cooking with me and my 20-month old is frequently drawing on paper next to me while i prep food on our butcher block. i think just encouraging them to be in kitchen is having an effect.

                                          just learned last night that my 4 1/2 year-old turned down some macaroni and cheese made with velveeta at a friend's last weekend (direct quote: "the cheese is terrible"). i'm okay with him turning it down -- that's his choice -- now we just have to work on his manners . . . . . . .

                                          thanks for bringing this topic up. it'll be fun to see how others deal with this issue and incorporate some new ideas into our own household!

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: theconiglio
                                            s
                                            Susanne Dec 9, 2003 10:43 AM

                                            Fantastic topic!

                                            We exposed our son (now 6) to lots of different cuisines from babyhood. He was open to trying new things and was one of those rare toddlers who could sit through a restaurant meal. His sister, now 2, gets less restaurant exposure (as does my son these days), because she just can't sit through a restaurant meal.

                                            She is pickier than he was (he would eat ANYTHING), and he is also pickier than he was. Is it peer influence? The fact that they're exposed to less variety than they were? Development? Who knows. I remember him scarfing down baingan bartha in an Indian restaurant when he was 18 months old. One of his first sentences was "Thai food 'picy!"

                                            We do hold the line at home. We don't prepare special kids' meals and just about everything available in the house is a nutritious choice. He may get pb&j in his lunch box, but it's on whole-grain bread with no salt/no sugar peanut butter!

                                            1. re: Susanne
                                              b
                                              Bobfrmia Dec 9, 2003 10:57 AM

                                              When my daughter was around 5 (so long ago) she ordered a salad with blue cheese dressing. The waitress looked at me and smiled. I said, "that's the only way she'll eat it".
                                              She still loves blue cheese, but became a vegetarian. I feel liked somehow I failed. :)

                                            2. re: theconiglio
                                              k
                                              kiliki Dec 9, 2003 01:08 PM

                                              I'm not a mom, but I used to teach children's cooking classes, and I was blown away by what they'd eat if they were involved in the process. There were 5 year olds eating (vegetarian) sushi and potstickers, because they got to make the item and choose what went in it. For the pizza class, I prepped a variety of veggies and just let the kids choose what to put on their own individual pizza, and they chose everything-even weird stuff like cauliflower and broccoli I brought just to see if they'd eat it, and they did, happily.

                                              1. re: theconiglio
                                                a
                                                amy tam Dec 9, 2003 03:44 PM

                                                I agree wholeheartedly that early exposure to a variety of tastes may really help.
                                                We, (ok, I...) made all the age-appropriate babyfood from scratch - steamed fresh veggies and pureed them - one half "greens" and one half "oranges" (beets, sweet potatoes, carrots), and fruits, and froze them in sterilized jars I would get from friends. Made my own yogurts too. As the chowbabies got older and could sit in a highchair at the dinner table, I bought a small plastic babyfood grinder and put whatever we were eating into it and made little balls of food for the chowbabes. That transitioned naturally into chunkier fingerfoods and we were off and running. They were exposed to so many different tastes, and I can think of very few that were universally disliked (asparagus maybe). We had very few processed foods and they never got refined sugar snacks or sodas. As young adults they have their preferences, of course, but they will still try just about anything. They all eat asparagus.

                                              2. c
                                                ChowMamma Dec 9, 2003 03:57 AM

                                                We always try to make dinner at home: something simple but tasty and varied. If I'm crunched for time (which is about everyday), I'd make pasta with meat ragu, or pasta with vegetables, or a simple risotto, or fried rice if I have the ingredients. Once in a blue moon, I'd take my older chowpup to grocery shopping with me. I'd ask him what he would want for dinner. One day he pointed to some nice looking shelled shrimp. From then on, pasta (or risotto) with zucchine and shrimp has become a frequent dinner item at our house.

                                                I don't know about other kids, but my chowpup loves condiments. Whenever he sees us dressing our salad with lemon and olive oil, he'd ask for a drizzle of olive oil on his plate too. And he has learned to eat boil chicken with soy sauce!

                                                1. t
                                                  Torty Dec 8, 2003 11:57 PM

                                                  Great topic! I have found with my 12 year old that exposure is the key. If he does not like it - oh well. But he will try just about anything. He recently commented on the broth in some pho as compared to some he had with a friend elsewhere. I was silently shouting "yes!!!" We live in a very ethnically diverse area and I think that because he has been exposed to different things he is very flexible. That whole "breakfast is cereal, lunch is a sandwich" does not exist for him- so whatever sounds good at any time is game. Good luck!!!!!

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: Torty
                                                    z
                                                    Zoe Dec 9, 2003 12:18 AM

                                                    When my Chowpups were puplets they were exposed to a wide variety of food - stuff like stews, organ meats (I was brought up on a farm) and a lot of variety. Since I went to boarding school I never eat the same thing two days in a row now I'm a adult so I pushed a hard course with different foods. Grown Chowpup asked last week that I should make her kidneys with a mustard cream sauce for lunch. ChowSon wants roast pork with caraway seeds when he come down for Christmas plus a big mess of goulash with spinach salad. Go to lots of ethnic restaurants and its bound to rub off!

                                                    1. re: Zoe
                                                      s
                                                      Susan H Dec 9, 2003 10:09 AM

                                                      I thought we were doing a great job with our chowpup when he was small -- he rejected mac and cheese out of hand, refused PB&J, loved calimari, guacamole, anything Chinese, salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Then he hit the teenage years. Now (at 18), his favorite food is beef (hamburger, steaks), he'll still do Chinese or Japanese (as long as it's beef or duck), will tolerate Indian (chicken tikka only plus the breads), and still prefers his salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, but otherwise is heavily into junk foods, pizza, and other college staples, and rejects our "fancy" dinner options. We have hope that as he gets older he'll remember his early years, but right now he is a dietary disaster.

                                                      1. re: Susan H
                                                        h
                                                        hillvalley Dec 9, 2003 04:54 PM

                                                        My sister and I are two years apart. We were raised exactly the same way. We were both Chowpups. I am a complete foodie and Chowhound. I have been told by a fellow Chowhounder that my parents raised me in the Chowhound vision (even though it was nonexistent at the time). My sister loves Chef Boyardee, powdered mac & cheese, lite oil and eats fast food regularly. There is only so much a parent can do.

                                                        Top 10 Things My Parents Did Right:

                                                        1) We ate what they ate. Everything had to be tried twice and then you did not have to eat it. If we did not make a big deal trying it they would not make a big deal about our not eating it. We could make ourselves a bowl of cereal, PB&J or yogurt instead. (I should mention that my stomach churns at the mere mention of those three foods.)

                                                        2) The only canned veggies I (knowingly) ate until college were beans, black olives, and canned tomatoes from Italy. We only ate fresh food. From the challah to the chicken to the green beans at Shabbat Dinner was as fresh as possible.

                                                        3) One of my earliest memories is of helping my mom fill the vegetable/fruit co-op bags when it was our week. Food was fun from the minute I remember. We got to touch it and squeeze it and drop it and taste it.

                                                        4) I knew how to use chopsticks by about age 5. When we ate Chinese,Korean, Moroccan and Indian etc. we ate they way they ate.

                                                        5) We could go out with my parents (most of the time) on the weekend when they tried different restaurants. My sister and I knew that we got to go because we were well behaved and tried new food without whinning. We also knew that if any of those behaviors disappeared it would be powdered mac & cheese with the babysitter.

                                                        6)On our birthday, we got to choose the restaurant. We also got to pick a birthday dinner for home, which we helped cook.

                                                        7) One of the reason's we traveled (which was not often) was to learn about the food of a new place. In Maine we had lobster every way. I have eaten oysters in every major city on the east coast from DC to Maine. Cony Island only for Nathans. Steak in Texas. Deep dish in Chicago. It was expected that if my father went to San Fransisco on business then he would bring home sour dough. Forgot once, and only once.

                                                        8) Food shopping was fun. We got to help pick what we ate and were allowed to ask to try almost anything. "The picture on the package of those shumi looks pretty? Okay, We'll try them." We also knew better than to try it with junk food. Farmer's markets were also a regular part of my childhood.

                                                        9) Once a year, for the week we were on vacation, it was a no holding back, anything goes, the less healthy the better week of eating. Sugar Cereals, Twinkies, potato chip galore and already made Chocolate Milk filled the grocery cart. The rest of the year, it cookies and chips a few times a week and no sugar cereals. Special box of cookies for your birthday and your sister's birthday. Same thing for McD's and Burger King. They were special treats too.

                                                        10) I saved this for last because I think it is the most important. We ate dinner together every night of the week. At the dinner table, with candles lit, no answering the phone and good music in the background. This lasted until my sister went to college. There were very few exceptions and religous school and basketball practice and most meetings did not count.

                                                        I did the top 10 list to make it short, but I guess it didn't work! They just did a really good Chowparenting job. On me anyway.

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