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Mar 13, 2009 07:51 PM

Growing up with good food-affecting the kids

I was reading the following post:
and was happy to hear that some kids like what their parents make, even if it included pieces like lungs.

Personally, I grew up with food considered odd, including things now no longer considered wierd (yogurt, roasted meats instead of deli meats, whole grained breads, and an entire slew of so-called oddities like chicken feet, pickled fish, guava, etc.).

I'm happy that I grew up with "odd" foods, as it has helped me with my on-going exploration with foods. But as a kid in the suburbs, it was not so much fun. People thought it was wierd what I ate and what my parents served (fresh food, made from scratch mostly, plus ethnic things from my French-Vietnamese-Chinese-Spanish-Mexican-German-English-Danish-Irish-Swiss-Austrian-AMERICAN heritage). That in addition to growing up with foods from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Greece (Chicago has great enclaves).

How do you introduce other kids to "your" food or make your own children okay when they are eating what they like but what is considered foreign or odd to the other kids, particularly when they start bringing lunch to school?


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  1. We have never made any distinction between different foods. The rule is you must eat what's put in front of you. If you think it weird or foreign then it is ok to have a "no thank you helping". This gets the kids to be ok trying new things and if we just don't make a fuss about the food then the kids won't. They seem to pick up on the grownups reaction towards the food being served. basically... start them off young and they won't end up being the kid who only eats velveeta mac and cheese and chicken nuggets.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Lenox637

      Yep. My view is that what I made is what we have to eat for dinner. I ask the kids to at least try it though. I don't make them clean their plates, and chances are, there is at least one food there that they like. I don't make exceptions too. If they can't eat enough to fill up, I'm not making them something special. Also, dessert is only going to be served if the kids made a good dent in their food. If not, they must not be hungry, so why would they want dessert :p

      Oh, and if something isn't being eaten after it's tried, I ask if there is one thing that they do like about it e.g. is it crunchy, sweet, cold, spicy, etc. It sometimes makes it easier for kids to eat it if they can focus on something they like about it.

      This works for me. Thankfully, they eat well, and don't complain about unusual foods.

      1. re: madgreek

        We have the exact same policy. I don't give outrageous portions. If kids have dessert (often just a square of chocolate) kitchen is closed afterwards. We had a problem with them eating the small portions to get to dessert and then being hungry after - so we want them to eat veggies first.

        They get to choose breakfast and lunch, but we only have relatively healthy things around.

        We also eat out mostly at places without kids menus.

        As a result they will eat quite a bit of varied food - they don't always do it with a smile, but they seem to have a healthy attitude about food and when we eat at others' houses folks are amazed that they are willing to eat.

        Of course the flip side is that they are produce snobs - the know how fresh seasonal produce should taste and will comment if it is not good, they are critical of low quality food, and have been brainwashed enough that they make snobby comments about fast food (I don't like McDonalds - never have), etc.

    2. I always hated when we went somewhere for dinner or had friends over and the parents would cook them something completely different like PB&J or a hot dog or grilled cheese. They wouldn't even make them try anything they were eating.

      I made my son eat what we had. If it was a dish with onion, I just served his with 1 to try and just didn't put any on his plate. When I made spaghetti, I just took out a spoon of ground beef before I added the onions and then add the sauce to his and the main pan. I was barely any extra work and I didn't have to make a whole different dish. But almost every time he just ate what we did.

      Even he wouldn't eat it he could go hungry. There was always something that was edible on the plate. And I hated it when he would say Jimmy's mom lets him eat whatever he wants. YIKES I could of killed Jimmy's Mom :)

      When my son was young I would sometimes make the food look "kid friendly." Same food but put it on the plate in a fun way or my son liked stuffed cabbage rolls, but to start him eating them I just wrapped a few small ones for him to try. Same food, I just a couple small for him. Same with crab cakes, I just made a couple small ones so he could try them. I used to cut his corn in 3 pieces. He didn't like drinking milk for a while a few months, even chocolate (very young). So I used a 1/2 of teaspoon strawberry preserves mixed in, just enough for some color. A few months later, no preserves and ever since he has loved it. For the most part he was a good eater. Now at 20, he is horrible. Just his friends are so he only eats what they do. Hopefully he will go back to his ways.

      1 Reply
      1. re: kchurchill5

        At home we've thoroughly indoctrinated the kids to eat whatever is made, which is pretty diverse, heavy on fruits and veggies, etc.

        The school lunch thing can be an issue, if kids don't eat the school lunch (as mine didn't / don't).

        When they were very little (e.g. pre-K, KG, and Grade 1) their 'different' lunches were less of an issue (e.g. my daughter took things like rasam-rice and upma in an insulated container, and so on). It's less of an issue at this age because teachers closely monitored kids' behaviors.

        But somehow, starting in Grade 2, the class micro culture seemed to change, and my daughter started hearing comments.
        They were still young enough that we spoke to the teacher, who gave the class in general a talking to about 'minding your own lunch and your own business' and the comments died down.

        We live(d) in a diverse area where there were kids of lots of different ethnicities, names, foods, and the adults also (in general) valued diversity, so these tactics worked. However, some other kids in other classes where teachers were not so clued in, did report a pretty bad time with being 'different', ranging from names to food.

        But we under no circumstances want the kids to eat the school junk lunch, and the kids didn't want to either, so every so often we 'touch base' with the kids to make sure that they are getting lunches that they and we agree on, and how to deal with closed minded comments from schoolmates.

        I'm going to make sure both kids have some basic cooking skills in their teens. However, when they grow up, I think my daughter will continue to eat a diverse variety, but my son will become a junk food critter (that's their basic inclinations now). But I hope if someone else takes the trouble to cook and feed him good food, he'll eat it.

      2. Thank you (everyone) for your reports. We're planning on kids soon, and I was curious about what people did and how they managed the "wierd food" thing with school lunches. I've heard diverse ideas about things already, and have been thinking about how to introduce things to children first, and then how to manage their lunches. I know it's a future idea, but it's always good to be prepared.

        Thanks again!


        8 Replies
        1. re: Caralien

          You know, no one has mentioned that it really depends on the kid. My Goddaughter (now 14), was asking to order sushi by the time she was 2 1/2. Her idea of a good evening involves going out for Indian food. She will try absolutely anything that is put on her plate.

          Her brother (9 or 10 now) has NEVER eaten a piece of fruit in his life, including the time I offered him 20 dollars to eat one strawberry. He basically eats cheese and bread, although he also really likes fish, particularly raw, and will happily devour a plate of mussels. As a child he cried if food was not exactly the way he wanted it to be, for instance if the tuna salad had anything beside tuna and miracle whip (not mayo) in it. He's a little better now, but not much.

          They were raised in the same house, by the same relatively adventurous parents, but are very different. I think a lot of kids have sensory integration issues that lesson as they get older, and that textures play a very big role in some children's food likes and dislikes.

          1. re: lulubelle

            I didn't go into details in my post, but my kids are different in the way yours are.

            Daughter (now almost 12): always an adventurous eater. Took sauteed asparagus in her tiffinbox to pre-school. Said "yum" to broccoli. Liked almost all fruits and vegetables, and loves foods from different countries.

            Son (now almost 8): totally opposite. Wanted mostly white foods (mac and cheese, idlis and ghee, yogurt-rice, bread butter and cheese, scrambled eggs, etc) and these are still his favorite foods. At age 2.5, sat under the table for 45 minutes with one green bean tucked into his lip, weeping bitter tears. He does have some sensory issues but no allergies, intolerances, etc.

            But I remained very strict with him because I did not want him growing up thinking it's OK to be so picky. Some likes and dislikes are OK, but eating vegetables and fruits and eating what the family eats are basic expectations.

            So we've been through years of "please taste at least one bite" and "we don't make bad food in our house" and "taste with your mouth and not with your eyes" and, as a last resort "you don't have to like it, just eat it".

            He now eats just about everything we serve. He still has likes and dislikes, but we rotate around different people's likes and dislikes so everyone gets a turn. Left to himself he would probably still eat only white foods, and still eats pasta plain with the sauce on the side, swallowed like medicine. But as long as it goes down, that's OK. Because of various "international days" in his elementary school, he's discovered a love for Ethiopian food (especially injera), Chinese food etc.

            He's made a lot of progress, enjoys many fruits and some vegetables. So we'll keep at it.

            What he does when he's grown and on his own is his lookout, but while he's under our wings, his diet is good.
            So I believe that parents can play a big role in shaping a picky child's tastes, if they don't keep caving in, or if they don't fall for the myth that kids only like this or that.

            1. re: Rasam

              I wonder if your son perhaps has an especially sensitive palate. I've heard that some people taste things more intensely than others, just like some people hear music or perceive color differently. It could be interesting to see, as he matures and is able to express what he's thinking about food more eloquently, what exactly he objects to in the foods he doesn't like.

            2. re: lulubelle

              I think you have a good point. I was a picky eater and VERY underweight, so it wasn't as easy as saying "You eat this or you don't eat anything at all." When you're an underweight kid, your parent's main goal is to get your child to eat something so she can gain weight and remain healthy. It doesn't mean they won't get better later, but each kid has different issues to deal with and a one philosophy fits all kids mentality is probably not going to be successful.

              1. re: lulubelle

                Agreed, and I have mentioned this in other posts. Niece and nephew (now ages 12 and 7). Same house, same parents, same food. Niece -- good eater. Nephew -- it is painful to sit at a table with him because you just want the kid to eat something, anything. He weighs less than my 4 1/2 year old daughter. So when he wants to eat 3 hot dogs for lunch, you better believe that my sister gives him 3 hot dogs for lunch. Because that might be it for him for the rest of the day.

                It is funny, though, that most of the picky eaters here are boys (including my husband!)

                1. re: valerie

                  You know, now that I think about it most of the picky eaters I've known have been male as well....

                  My own son fell into that category for awhile. And I'm a little ashamed to admit that I might have encouraged it by trying to cater meals and even restaurants chosen to his likes and dislikes....My husband tended to get stressed if he wasn't eating and THAT stressed me. At least he wasn't as extreme as some examples I've seen...and he did grow out of it. BTW, the thing that got him to spread his culinary wings a bit was the usual: a girl. My husband is from India and we often had Indian food in the house....but he would eat little more than a puri or two and maybe some rice. He survived India on bananas, peanut butter (brought from home), tomato soup, chow mein (ubiquitous in India because of the number of Chinese cooks), and bread. One of my best moments was the day he asked me (He was a college student): "Mom, have you tried the new Indian restaurant in town? (____ - insert girlfriend's name here - and I ate there yesterday and Its pretty good...."

                  So I guess the best advice is to just try and have healthy foods around the house; don't cater too much; and remember that this too shall pass....(good parenting advice in general....)

                  1. re: janetofreno

                    Not to pat myself on the back, but the thing that changed my husband with regard to food, was me (when we met he was 30). I was clearly the chowhound (and still am), but I have to give the guy credit. When we met, his dinner almost every night was spaghetti with Kraft "parmesan cheese", yes, from the green can. It never even occurred to him to buy the real stuff. And while he still would die before he would eat most vegetables and fruit, he has vastly improved in the variety of foods that he eats. And when we go on vacations (or even just out to eat with our own kids), he is always excited at what kind of Chowhound place I have lined up.

                    In my husband's case, though, the problems stem from a childhood where he was forced to eat things that his father deemed "healthy" and guess what, it I said, my DH wouldn't eat most fruits or vegetables to save his own life. I've learned to accept it.

                    1. re: valerie

                      Same thing here with SO. Grew up with a wonderful but spacey single mom that gave them boxed "spag" (which he and his siblings still use for comfort food) but loves the way I cook and loves it when I say "I have a new recipe to try." Even if he didn't like peppers before, he does now. Ditto with cranberries. And now his sons are also more adventurous as well as wanting to learn some basic cooking skills. I think that adding slowly to what they grew up with makes them more willing to try other things as they come up on the table.

            3. My kids grew up in a pretty awesome multicultural community, where their friends were as likely to have rice balls, or samosa or bahn mi in their lunch boxes as Vegemite sandwiches. We had always eaten well (read "diversely ethnic") at home, so it wasn't much of a shock.

              Despite raising one semi and one devoted Chow kid (My 17 y.o son, The Lima Bean kinda pretty much weaned himself when, at about 10 week, he THREW himself out of my arms, at the dining table, and launched head first into a plate of spaghetti Bologna. He did the same thing a week later with a bowl of Vindaloo.), I think peer pressure holds more sway that we give it credit. If kids have "weird" food in their lunches, and they get teased for it, they are more likely to want food that helps them blend in.

              As far as raising and maintaining Chowpups, I'd say the most important thing is exposing them to a range of foods, and then sending them to schools that promote multiculturalism.

              3 Replies
                1. re: purple goddess

                  Peer pressure sometimes doesn't even include teasing. My kids went to Washington DC public schools in a very diverse neighborhood and there wasn't any lunch that ever stood out as weird. They were all over the place. Of course, 25 or 30 years ago, even yogurt wasn't a common food, but there were some waaaay odd lunches and nobody got poked about what they ate.
                  The biggest fight was "the lunch box" itself. If they wanted a crappy pink plastic Barbie lunch box, so be it. I wasn't going to buck the tide by making them carry some chi-chi thing that I had found in a darling little shop on a trip to New York or London. Now, THAT was weird and would have made them look like dorks.
                  Kids NEED the security of fitting in.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Oh if only!!! The level of hell that was my lunchroom experience is flooding back! Weird lunchbox, weird food, ugh. On the bright side, I've developed a devil-may-care attitude as an adult about what people think about me AND I'm happy to at least try just about anything I may be offered to eat.

                2. The first food I ever refused was strained green beans, when I was 11 months old and we were snowed in at a hotel in rural New England, and the ONLY baby food in the place was strained green beans. I had always eaten whatever was spooned at me, up 'til then. And I remember spending an entire afternoon with a plate and some stewed tomatoes in front of me; my mom, for some reason, put torn-up pieces of stale bread in her stewed tomatoes, and I thought soaked bread was beyond gross. When the tomatoes and I were still there at supper time, I was sent to bed (and NEVER did that again!). Now, some would assume that I grew into an adult with major food issues, but the only such thing I have is a deep willingness to eat too much of almost everything. There are perhaps six things I don't much like, two that I hate, and a very narrow range of things I would refuse to try, starting with those shit-filled intestines Tony Bourdain forced himself to eat. Makes soppy bread seem downright ambrosial, don't they?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Will Owen

                    I do think Tony Bourdain was downright decent for eating food that even he found awful (even while watching the show I was considering how it would be easy enough to simply cook the ostrich egg in its own shell instead of mixed in with the dirt...only to be surprised by the end).

                    I do agree that there are some kids who are picky, and others who aren't, even given adventurous parents (that said, difficult to serve parents rarely seem to begat easy to feed children in my experience).

                    I know that when I've cooked for my neice and nephew, they have their likes and dislikes even seeing their parents enjoy so many things (at the oyster roast I sent my husband to play with the kids--grouping the non-oyster eaters together).

                    I do have dislikes myself, but some things I've gotten over. Having not been allowed to choose my own food until I made it myself (12), I really had to eat whatever I was served otherwise I wouldn't be excused from the table. And yes, there were sandwiches and lunches ditched at school out of fear.

                    It's interesting to read other people's experiences, and that really has reduced my fear (along with the far more varied diet of many Americans compared to the 70s-80's).

                    Thank you!

                    1. re: Caralien

                      Bourdain's experience was a fine example of good manners, but the results did nothing to allay my fears: he has since reported that he was struck down shortly after the gut-feast with a massive internal infection, and was the sickest he'd ever been.

                      I'm glad I'm not the only person around here who didn't get to dictate the home menu. Each of the three of us eventually gained a limited right not to eat certain things - John got to pick the visible mushrooms out of his tuna casserole, for instance - but only at our own table. When we were guests we REALLY ate what we were served and said nothing. I still do that.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        We had two rules at the table: at home, we each got one food we were allowed not to eat. We could change it, but only if we announced the change prior to dinnertime...:-)

                        And of course there was the infamous "Grandpa's Rule" whenever we ate out or with others (named by our children after our father): told here before but worth repeating: "Eat it and shut up about it, or don't eat it and shut up about it."