My 10 year old announced a few days ago: "Mom, I LOVE chicken curry". Then, looking at my slightly shocked expression, she corrected herself a little: "Well, maybe it's not my favorite food, but it is really good."
Rewind a year. We moved to London and the girls started a new school where chicken curry, a staple for many British families, was served weekly. Everything about it—the spice, the aroma, the look - was very foreign to my daughter who promptly decided that she and curry were not becoming friends any time soon. She didn't even try it, and chose a sandwich or baked potato instead... for a whole year.
I asked her why she hadn't tried it before, and her answer made sense. She does not like a lot of spice and wasn't sure what to expect from this new food. And since she had only one chance to pick from the cafeteria offerings and could not change her mind later, she obviously went with what she KNEW she could enjoy, like the familiar sandwich or baked potato.
I am sure the staff in our school cafeteria is doing its best to feed a bunch of hungry students in a limited time. Probably they do not always have the time to provide tastes of food or explain more about it. All the kids are typically served a regular sized portion. They are also, unfortunately, often required to eat a certain amount of it before they can go play in the yard. This, on top of my daughter's cautious attitude to new foods, may explain why it took her so long to finally give the curry a chance.
However frustrating it may be, the way the food is presented at schools is currently outside the direct area of influence of many parents. But we can definitely help our kids learn to taste and like a bigger variety of foods at home, in a less rushed environment. Here are some of the strategies that may help raise good "tasters".
As grown-ups, we have a lot of experience with all types of food. Based on our extensive background knowledge, we know, at least most of the time, what to expect when we try something new. Our kids, on the other hand, are still eaters in training. They are novices in the world of food and they need a supportive and trusting environment in order to explore it safely. Help them become good "tasters" to feel confident around new foods and keep expanding their eating repertoire now and throughout their lives.
Natalia Stasenko MS, RD, CDN is a pediatric dietitian based in London and New York. She offers an online, one-on-one support program for parents of picky eaters called Feeding Bytes, and is the mother of three. Natalia is the cowriter of the cookbook Real Baby Food, and when not writing, teaching or consulting, she is in the kitchen cooking and eating with her family.