As an avid cook (and eater!), it’s my mission to make sure that my daughter, Ivy, doesn’t grow up to be a picky eater like I was. (When I was 9 years old, I hid broccoli in a heating vent so I wouldn’t have to eat it at dinner.) As Ivy gets older, these are the rules I plan to live by when feeding her. I think this approach will pay off, but as a new parent I have also quickly learned that you never know what to expect. So maybe I’ll do a little praying, too.
As adults, we sometimes think that if we don’t like a certain food, we just don’t like it—end of story. But the truth is that we don’t like it yet. When I was 20 years old, I realized that I could actually learn to like a food. It’s a little known fact that if you eat something enough, you will eventually develop a taste for it. This is important to remember when we try to add more veggies to our kids’ (and our own!) diets—it’s all about repetition. With Little Ivy, I plan to introduce a flavor she’s not as fond of over and over and over. When she is a baby, I will mix a small amount of a puree she doesn’t like with a larger amount of something she does like. As Ivy grows, I love the idea of taking something with a “bad” reputation—like broccoli—and folding it into her mac and cheese—or finely chopping it and mixing it into taco fillings or quesadillas. It’s all about getting creative so she can get used to—and eventually enjoy—the unwelcome flavor.
My nieces and nephews crack me up when they decide they don’t like their meal simply because their pasta is shaped differently than they are used to or the sauce is a slightly different color than it normally is. My goal is to avoid ever getting into a routine of serving staples like mac and cheese the same way every time. I want to use different noodles, different cheeses, and different veggies each time Ivy eats it. This way mac and cheese becomes more of a concept than one (and only one) particular looking- and tasting-dish. You can do this easily with boxed mac and cheese by replacing the noodles from the package with whatever you have in the cabinet, folding in whatever veggies are in your fridge, or adding toppings like extra parmesan or cheddar cheese.
Many of us tend to immediately treat veggies like the enemy. We say things like, “You have to eat your veggies before you can have the good stuff!” I’m going to try my best not to treat veggies like the less desirable items on my child’s plate. An easy way to do this is by making dishes where all of the ingredients are incorporated together. I’ll put cabbage in my grilled cheeses, make zucchini and cauliflower into pizza crusts, and put anything and everything into tacos and pasta dishes.
Many people say that cooking with your kids ups the chances they will eat what is being served—because they had a hand in making it. I completely agree! However, if you don’t have time for hands-on cooking sessions, I have some other ideas on how to get the kids involved. My plan is to create handmade menus for the day or week, getting my girl involved by having her color them with pictures. Another idea involves Ivy writing out “Today’s Specials” on a chalkboard. Not only will activities like these get kids excited and focused on meals, it will let them know what’s coming, which in turn reduces the need for discussions (and arguments!) over what they want for dinner.
In my cookbook, Meat On The Side, I have an “FF” notation that stands for “Family Friendly.” When you see “FF” on a recipe, it means you will find a tip on how to make the meal for the whole family. For instance, if it’s a pasta with veggies, my “FF” suggestion might be to puree the veggies for the kid-version so that the veggies become a sauce; you could also do this for the adult portion, or decide to leave the veggies whole as the original recipe suggests. Another “FF” idea is to add extra cheese to a kid-version of a meal—to cover up some of those “scary” veggies. You could also present kid-version veggies in friendly forms—such as making veggies “fun” by putting them inside a taco shell! I like the idea of the whole family eating the same meal, but with a slight tweak or twist on the kid-version.
Nikki Dinki is the author of Meat on the Side: Delicious Vegetable-Focused Recipes for Every Day (St. Martin’s Press). Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.