“Yuck, I can’t stand that”, as the squash hovers over the plate.
Or “the texture of the meat is too chewy and weird, I don’t want any”.
Or, “the broccoli smells, I won’t eat it”.
Children are highly sensitive to texture, taste, smell as well as sight. As humans, we learn through our senses, particularly in childhood. Anything we learn takes practice. We can help children practice trying new foods and broadening their palate, rather than throwing in the towel and serving another meal of pasta with butter or pizza.
Trying new foods is particularly important in childhood as palates are developed and habits formed. I do not advocate overeating or cleaning your plate. But the benefits of repeatedly tasting initially distasteful foods can change habits and palates. Children’s diets around the world vary culturally. What children eat is usually based on “nurture” (what we give them) and not “nature” (biological). What we share with our children everyday shapes them. But celebrations are a great time to remind children of the blessing we have in the food.
I think the best time to celebrate food is Thanksgiving. This weekend young and old Canadians will gather around tables across the country. The selection of vegetables for Thanksgiving is often overwhelming. For some families, it may be the one-time vegetables overthrow the meat and grains for domination. Our Southern neighbors will celebrate in November, both holidays present opportunities to savor favorite and new tastes.
Any chance to educate children about where their food comes from can change perceptions. It doesn’t come from the store; a plastic clamshell container or UBER Eats. Take children to Farmers’ Markets, to bakeries, to butchers and the harvest season is a great time to do this. Walk around discussing different fruits and vegetables. Ask the farmer/vendor how best to prepare them? Fresh local produce often tastes much better than the stuff that has been shipped for days sitting in refrigeration. Let your child choose two new vegetables. Then take them home and prepare them together. Better still, next year try and grow some in your backyard garden or balcony, enjoying them at their peak of readiness. My taste buds are already anticipating the fresh heirloom tomato on toast, with a tiny bit of salt and pepper for lunch today.
A couple of weeks ago I observed what looked like a grade 4 (9 years of age) class of students walking through our local farmers market. The teacher asked the children to name many vegetables and some struggled. But not one student recognized beets or could name them.
When I was head of a large Montessori school, we introduced a varied, locally sourced, lunch program provided by Growing Chefs Ontario. Government requirements ensured children had vegetarian meals, fish, and a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains throughout the week. The menu was set every day. To parents’ shock, most toddlers gobbled down their meal. The slightly older preschools took longer to get over already established biases about what they liked and didn’t like but within about 3 or 4 months many children were eating much more diverse meals at school than at home. Quinoa please, chocolate avocado pudding yum, vegetarian chili great. These children set the tables, cleaned up together, ate in a community, served themselves, and were expected to try a bit of everything. Everyone at their table was doing the same thing. Positive peer pressure can help!
What does all of this have to do with Thanksgiving, besides tables groaning with food? Thanksgiving is about stopping and being grateful for all that we have. But particularly for the harvest. It is easier for all of us to show true gratitude when we appreciate. Appreciation comes from understanding where our food comes from, what is involved in the preparation and from trying new things. If we want our children to be grateful, show thanks, they need experience. They also need expectation. Part of this also broadens eating habits. They can and should try a tiny taste of everything on the Thanksgiving table as well as be part of the preparations for the food laid out before them. Then incorporate these activities and expectations into every day. When your children get older they may be thankful to you!