Though I pride myself in the positive steps that my two young sons have taken towards eating their vegetables, I’ll be the first to admit that it has not been an easy path for them to follow.
Some days my boys will be willing to try anything and other days they will have NOTHING to do with new or familiar foods- especially VEGETABLES. Luckily, in this case, Fields was having a good day and was seriously loving my homemade veggie packed popsicles.
I struggle with the setbacks, as I am SO intent to get my boys consuming vitamins through more whole foods.
Still, there is one strategy that I have found to be successful, thank goodness!
Before I unveil to you the details of this awesome strategy, it is important to understand that if you want to help gently persuade your picky eater to even think about eating a vegetable, you are going to need to introduce them to the very beginning of that vegetable’s journey.
Let’s set the scene….
You have traveled to a foreign country and after 3 days of jet lag and mostly staying in your room, you sit down for your first dinner with your host family. A soup bowl is presented to you, full of lots of odd and unfamiliar looking food inside of it. The smell of the soup is oddly enticing, but the overall dish is completely NEW to you, and you feel nervous trying it since you have NO CLUE what you are about to eat.
Sounds pretty nerve-racking doesn’t it?
Now, let’s REPLAY.
I’m going to add one integral part to the beginning of this story. A part that can change your actions and your choice to try a new food completely. Here we go, take two….
You have traveled to a foreign country and your host family has let you stay mostly inside your room and eat the snacks you bought at the airport as you adjust to the jet lag. One the 3rd day, they invite you to be taken to a local market before dinner. You agree to go and find yourself inside a bustling city of new colors, foods, and smells. The host family excitedly introduces you to the fresh vegetables and fish that grow in their region. You get to see the fish be caught and prepared for the soup they will be making for dinner. You watch as it’s wrapped up in a clean paper, placed in ice, and quickly sent home with your host family.
When dinner is announced as ready, you sit down and are served a hot bowl of soup. You look down, not sure that you recognize everything in the bowl, but pretty certain that you have seen most of its contents at the market you went to earlier. The smell is enticing and the warm faces around you are encouraging……
Ok…so where do you think this story is going to go? Do you think you would be more open to trying that soup you were just offered if you had the experience of the market before hand? I know someone like my little Fields would be!
How does these scenarios apply to your picky eater?
The concepts of knowing what you’re eating and experiencing it in a more natural form can be useful when cooking for picky eaters. The picture above is a classic example. Both Beach and Fields had never been willing to try a raw carrot until the day I let them pull one straight out of the dirt from our garden. It was definitely a moment I will never forget.
The best part is positive food moments like these don’t have to be sporadic. They can be calculated and effective if you have a great strategy in place. This leads me to my favorite strategy and what I would like to share with you today.
Building Background “Food” Knowledge
Sometimes, a good food experience and the willingness to try a new food comes down to a good introduction. That is exactly what building background “food” knowledge is about. And, the good new is that there are lots of ways we, the main feeders of our tribe, can support this. Just like the scenario of you and your host family eating together, our reluctant eaters can feel uncomfortable in unfamiliar territory as well. That is why it is so critical to give them the upper hand and prior knowledge to feel the courage to try new food.
Essentially, building background food knowledge is a great way to make a food experience more personal and memorable from the very start. By engaging your crew in a fun and inviting experience, you are lowering their guard for new food experiences in the future. You are also introducing them to something new that they can associate a positive feeling with and can reflect on later.
Real life examples
It is up to us to offer teachable moments in which our littles can be pleasantly introduced to a new food. But how? And where to start?
In my experience with my two toddlers, sometimes all it comes down to 1) being open to taking advantage of my surroundings and 2) being willing to let things get sporadic and a little “unplanned.”
Here are a few ways that I have successfully built my family’s background knowledge of new foods in the past 2 years:
*Going to a local farmer’s market and letting my boys select the green tomatoes to be used for a green tomato and goat cheese frittata.
*Going blueberry picking and making a simple compote topping for ice-cream. (I let them squish the blueberries of the compote with their hands, too! Boys love blue hands 😉
*Visiting a neighbor’s farm and picking fresh cucumbers and tomatoes to be used in making veggie packed popsicles. (The prickles got them a little, but they were just fine.)
*Allowing supervised hands-on preparation of whole foods, such as sorting, washing, or pressing the button on the blender.
*Looking, feeling, smelling and talking about a food in its WHOLE form, before it is prepared for the meal.
*Planting seeds together in our little garden and watering the slow-growing plants ALL the time.
There are so many more moments that are popping up lately that I could add to list. The boys are really blossoming. I have found as they near the ages of 2 and 4 that these opportunities to build food background are helping them make sense of all sorts of new ideas and non-related experiences as well.
In closing….Don’t Give Up!
Even though it has been a headache at times to plan these little scenarios of introducing foods, I still keep at it. If they are positive, I put them in my mental “back pocket” and use them to build even more background knowledge with other new foods and food discussions.
Regardless, I have been pleasantly convinced that the rewards of implementing this strategy far outweigh the costs. Is it a little nerve-racking?
Sure, at times.
Do we spill more, make more of a mess, take longer to get inside, pull out vegetables that aren’t ready for harvest and much more?
But I wouldn’t trade it for all the picture-perfect scenarios in the world. My boys are truly beginning to embark on a fun trail of food acceptance and that is worth all blueberry stains in the world! 🙂
Well, I hope this was helpful to you. I especially hope to see your comments about what you just read. Please do share your effective ways of building background food knowledge with your reluctant eaters. We all could learn from one another!