When my husband and I were first married cooking dinner was actually a sour point of our nascent marriage. Scott had been a bachelor for 11 years and for 11 years he had pretty much decided what he’d eat for dinner. Usually it was a salad. . .or some take out. This arrangement worked well for him until the new wife decided that she, armed with the wedding gift, Marc Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, was going to do just that. . .cook everything.
She thought it was an act of love. . .he felt it resembled gastronomical homicide–and it seemed a little threatening to his bachelor ways. It wasn’t that she was a bad cook. . .it just was that he wasn’t used to the cooking. . .and then the inevitable clean-up. Life was so much easier with a salad or ordering take-out.
It probably took us a good part of our first couple of years for Scott to realize that cooking was my way of showing love (oh, he could have thought of a better way. . .). And, even when kids arrived on the scene, cooking was still my norm because. . .well, have you ever taken two newborns and two toddlers out to eat. Don’t. Ever.
I remember Scott coming home from work one day and saying that one of his colleagues couldn’t believe that I cooked dinner every day. I looked at him quizzically and asked, “Well, what would we eat if I didn’t cook dinner?” And, honestly dinner time is the WORST time in a mom’s life. The kids are hungry and needy and cranky and many a dinner was cooked with literally one hand as I was holding someone in one arm while the other child tried to scale up my leg. I’d then put one child down and pick up the other and continue cooking. Rinse. Repeat.
But, on the flip side, and if you are one of those mothers or fathers who try your hardest to get a meal on the table, there is a flip side, my kids are pretty much good eaters. And, they will eat almost everything. . .well, except for Will who has a thing about tomatoes. . .and sautéed fresh spinach. . .and if truth-be-told would have Honey Bunches of Oats for breakfast EVERY DAY if it was available.
So, when I read Mark Bittman’s article from the NY Times, Getting Your Kids to Eat (or at Least Try) Everything, I felt somewhat vindicated that for the past 14 years I’ve been cooking my family meals. (Bittman’s actually been all over the media these days promoting his new book, How to Cook Everything Fast.) He is also an advocate for home cooked meals and his newest book is about how easy it is to get something on the table for you and your family.
So, how do you get your children to try or eat just about everything?
- Cook real food. Yes they’ll eat heated chicken nuggets until you think they’ll start to cluck. . .but you replace that with a roasted chicken (it is SO EASY) or parmesan crusted chicken breasts –another super easy recipe.
- Offer a broad variety of food and let them decide what they like or don’t like.
- Serve at least one healthy thing you know they’ll like but if they refuse to eat what you’ve prepared, let them make themselves a sandwich. Don’t make food a power struggle.
- LIMIT SNACKING and GET RID OF JUNK FOOD. This is a hard one. . .but let me tell you that kids are a lot finickier when they are only somewhat hungry because they’ve been snacking. Food looks good to someone with an appetite and kids are more prone to try something if they are hungry.
- Engage children and your partner in the food prep. Teach them how to do things. TALK OUT LOUD about what you are doing and why as you are cooking. Even after you set the meal on the table tell them HOW you made one of the items. (Last night we had chicken noodle soup—so so so easy in the pressure cooker–and I told the children that the broth–which was delicious–was from the bones of the chicken wings we had a week ago. Then I told them how I did it because I was just so darn proud of the process and the amazing outcome.
- Always honor the meal AND the cook. . .have someone set the table with real placemats, forks and plates. Heck, get some of that china out and set the table with that! Light some candles!
- Even if children didn’t like something the first time. . .serve it again and maybe again. Babies sometimes take 15 times of trying a new food before they’ll eat it. Their palates are just developing. Countless times I’ve served something that flopped only to serve it again to RAVE reviews.
- BE UNAPOLOGETIC about cooking for your family. Never say something like, “Oh, because I’m a stay at home parent I have time. . .” or “Well, this part time job allows me to get home. . .” I’ve qualified my meal prep with these words. But the truth is that I’ve made some of these decisions in order to feed my family and I shouldn’t have to feel that my choices were somehow less than someone who chooses to work a 60 hour week. But in the long run. . .oh heck, even in the short run. . .everyone in your family will be better for that meal that you made.
Last, but not least, there is nothing in this world better than when your child walks into the house and says, “Mmmm, what smells so good, Mom!”
(A huge shout out to my mom, Judy, who had a good meal on the table almost every night and who raised a daughter and four boys who are damn good cooks! Thanks mom!)