Last year around this time I had the pleasure of working with a group of 20 students in an after school program run by parent council volunteers at our local school. During the sessions we made a variety of dishes including: whole wheat bread from scratch, pumpkin macaroni and cheese with broccoli, apple crisp and wholesome banana and chia seed cookies. One week we made, dare I say, kale salad! I will admit I was nervous as I prepared to get 20 children to willingly accept trying such a thing. Come on, I know many adults who turn their noses up to this super veggie. But I reminded myself of the theory that I have come to know – that if I used the right approach and got all the children involved in making this dish that the chances of acceptance would improve.
All my worries were for nothing. The cooking class was a success. The kids were excited about this dish. But how did I do it? How did I get 20 kids to form a line and happily load up their bowls with two giant heaping handfuls of kale without a single complaint? I focused on the rainbow. Instead of rhyming off what I know to be the awesome health promoting qualities of the ingredients, I focused on the colours, tastes and textures. I got the students to list what each ingredient was as we went through the colours of the rainbow. We talked about how they tasted and about how the sweetness of the mango would take away the bitterness of the kale. I taught them that kale can be a tough veggie to chew so we were going to add an apple cider vinegar dressing and cut the kale really thin so that it would soften and take on the sweet and tangy flavours of the dressing.
Most importantly each child got to pick up a peeler or a knife and lend a hand in creating what they would later try at home with their family. When children are resistant to trying new foods, the more you can involve them in meal preparation the more willing they will be to try it.
When you sit down to meal time, try to refrain from pressuring your children to eat their meal. The rule is always that you decide what will be served and when to serve it and your child must decide what they will eat and how much. Accepting a new food will take time. Be patient and continue to offer it at future meals even though your child may refuse it. When I spoke with one of the students this morning about the salad they had for dinner last night she said that her mom loved it. I was so happy to hear this great example of role modelling. I mean this mom probably really enjoyed it (because it really is that delicious and you can find the recipe here). That being said if you want your children to accept new foods you have to take the lead and role model healthy eating for them. I asked her if she enjoyed the salad. She said it was good and she ate it but not too much. I told her I thought that was great. All we need is for our children to try a little. Believe me I know how frustrating it is after you have worked hard to put a meal on the table to have your child only try one bite. But really that’s all that we can ask. I think it’s completely appropriate to set a ground rule in your home that everyone will try one bite. Provided you set up a positive meal time environment without pressure to finish unfamiliar foods, one day your child will surprise you and say can I please have some more.
Since those cooking classes last year I have had so many positive experiences in the kitchen at Eat Grow Play. Every time I cook with children I am amazed by the level of enthusiasm they bring to the centre island of my kitchen. Not every child loves every dish we make and that’s alright. Overtime I know that with the right positive approach they will eat more and experiment with different tastes and textures more often. One thing is for sure – the more I provide the environment for children to unleash their creativity in the kitchen the happier they are at meal time.
For more information on creating positive mealtimes visit the Ellyn Satter Institute here.