Do I have to eat it?

Cooking for a large family can be a challenge some days. Trying to figure out not only what recipe to create but how many different palates in my family will actually appreciate it can be quite the conundrum. When our house was full of with all eleven of us, it was a lot of mouths to delight.

I know food is supposed to sustain us and all, but I am a believer in it should taste wonderful as well. Every night may not be a home run, but I want to sit around the dinner table and feel like I at least got on a base. So I do enjoy planning meals whether it be making faithful tried-and-true recipes or experimenting with new culinary creations.

In our house we don’t make everyone eat everything or every single bite. I personally detest cooked peas or liver. I could muddle through liver with a bucket of ketchup and mind over matter, but if you made me eat a spoonful of cooked peas, the experience would be just as unpleasant for you as it would be for me. The gagging, the choking, the noises and distorted facial expressions would be just awful. So everyone tries what we are having for dinner, but if a family member truly just doesn’t like the taste of something, they can pass on it. I don’t think it is an obedience issue, or an issue of disrespect or even being ungrateful or somehow misconstrued as evidence of a sad spiritual walk. I really believe it boils down to texture, taste or smell and we all experience the world through our own senses.

Age five seems to be a magical age in our house when their appreciation for the food we are eating seems to really kick in. We should have bought stock in Cheerios for Joshua when he was little and Lydia could be queen of Stonyfield yogurt. I know they are getting a balanced diet throughout the day and so it just isn’t worth a battle at dinnertime to me. Don’t read me wrong, I am not a short order cook. If they really don’t like our meal, then fruit and yogurt or good old pb&j it is. It doesn’t happen every night and the older they get the less frequently.

I think because we have not made food a forced issue my children have learned to be adventuresome with eating and willing to try new things. All my children appreciate a good meal and each one has a fairly seasoned palate. They love Greek, Italian, seafood, Thai, Chinese (even sushi), and Indian food, just to name a few. They will eat curry chickpea mushroom burgers with a Greek yogurt condiment, vegetable terrine, salads, vegetables (including brussel sprouts), any fruit under the sun and the list goes on and on.

So for my family, cultivating my children’s interest and trust in our dining experiences has aided in growing them into well-rounded, healthy eaters. Sure, they like pizza and nuggets, but they would choose a pesto chicken sandwich over chicken nuggets any day. So if you come to my house for dinner and a child under five is having an alternate meal, don’t worry. It won’t be too long before they will be asking for second helpings of citrus-seasoned tilapia with a parmesan citrus noodle blend with squash and zucchini.

I would love to hear your thoughts, theories and methods of how you encourage your children’s love of good food.

Butternut squash soup

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  1. BethieofVA says:

    That soup looks good, LOL! It was about the age of three when both of my kids decided to even eat. Now, there are times I wish they would go on a fast!

    1. Beth,

      It is yummy, I can send you the recipe. I know your children experience culinary delights often, I want to sit at your table for dinner.

  2. Phyllis says:

    I know you feed your children well, have had some yummy meals at your house. Enjoyed your blog.

    1. Phyllis, Thanks! I learned from the best!

  3. Sharon says:

    Unfortunately good tasting food is not something my kids have found in our house…lol. Mom, can not cook. They love it when I bring out the pj&j instead of trying some culinary creation…lol. Poor kids, I pray that they both find spouse’s that can cook because they have missed out here.

    1. Sharon, maybe you should turn the kitchen and cookbooks over to them? Mommy gets a break then too! 🙂

  4. Denise says:

    I love this. Did you know there is an actual website called I Hate Cilantro? It doesn’t seem so unusual now but I found it 15 years ago. I love cilantro and my SIL hated it so much she couldn’t even have it in the house. I researched it and found out some people think cilantro tastes like soap. There is also a theory (fact?) about how some people have bajillions more tastebuds than others so are more sensitive to taste. These are things moms need to know before they force food on their kids.

    1. Denise,

      Thanks! I will have to check out the website. I really do believe it is a matter of taste or developing their taste buds. 🙂

  5. We are similar. They need to at least taste it, but if they don’t like it, no forcing to ‘clean their plate’. We have good eaters overall and like you, I don’t make a different dish for each person. We always have bread, fruit or something that EVERYONE likes, so they won’t starve. Plus, a spoonful of peanut butter will fill their bellies if all else fails.

    1. Liz,

      Glad to hear that works for you too! Dinner time is too precious of a time to spoil it with squabbles, plus stress is bad for you digestion LOL! 🙂

  6. Lisa says:

    Greg and I also agree with you! The rule in our house is you sit down to dinner and you must at least try what is on your plate. I still have finicky eaters but they do at least attempt. Emily was great when we went to Kostroma – she tried it all and I believe was surprised at what she actually liked! Our old stand by when they were young was chicken. I always had some type of chicken on stand by for a quick microwave plate if they really did not like the meal. And of course, Leanne still to this day will not eat fish. So, we have enjoyed it quite a lot while she is away at school!

    1. Lisa,

      Oh how I miss fish right off the docks! Eat a bite for me!

  7. Linda says:

    Everyone tries what we are having but if they do not like it, they are free to make a PB&J. Mark cannot handle spicey food, so I will make a milder version just for him (if possible). I am not fond of spaghetti but my husband and son love it – I just make it for them when I am going elsewhere OR I will choose a salad that night! I would rather save my battles for other issues! Like cleaning up that room . . . .

    1. Linda,
      I am with you, not worth the battle!

  8. Diane says:

    The gagging, the choking, the noises and distorted facial expressions would be just awful.
    We now know where MaKenzie gets her dislike for peas. That is how she does it.

    1. So glad to know I am in good company with MaKenzie. Peas are just awful and worthy of that reaction! LOL!

  9. Kristin Boys says:

    This is really encouraging, Jamie! Eleanor is a very picky eater, and I hate meal time b/c of it. Thankfully, the few things she likes are healthy (e.g., greek yogurt, PB, fruit, oatmeal) so I don’t push other things too much, but good to know that I shouldn’t give up hope until she is five. 🙂

    1. Kristin, glad it encouraged you! She won’t eat her go to favorites as her only sustenance forever

  10. Elizabeth Kegans says:

    A few years ago my mom came for a visit from out of state, and she remarked that our children were wonderful eaters. She said most children, esp. younger ones, are very picky, but our children weren’t. I am also one of those who dislikes quite a few things (although I don’t go as far as gagging on them), so I can relate to our different children who have an aversion to one food or another. When I was a kid, I loved bananas and pears. I know it’s weird, but now I can’t stand them (esp. bananas). Most of the time I serve something which everyone loves, but for those times when I serve something that someone doesn’t like, we have them eat 3 bites, but we have other things that are served with it that they would eat. If it has something in it that they can pick out, we allow them to do so. One daughter used to hate mushrooms. A few months later, I found her nibbling on a raw one. I reminded her that she didn’t like mushrooms. She said that it was pretty good raw, but not cooked. Whenever I cooked something with mushrooms in it, she would pick it out and give it to someone else to eat. Many months later, I noticed that she was eating them in things! That was a surprise for me. My kids are generally adventurous with my cooking. They love cooking of all different nationalities.

    1. Thanks for sharing Elizabeth! It is amazing to watch their palates change 🙂

  11. JStevens says:

    Last summer, we babysat a friends daughter. She was a toddler and her mom warned us that she was a picky eater and that she would ONLY eat macaroni and oranges– nothing else!
    Well, I made chicken fingers and tater tots for dinner for everybody-including our kids. The girl ate a WHOLE plate of chicken fingers and tater tots with no problems. Her mom happened to walk in the door while the girl was still eating. The mom said “What is that she’s eating?” I told her “Chicken fingers and tater tots” Her mom rolled her eyes and said “Oh, she doesn’t like chicken fingers, she won’t eat them” and I told her “Well, she already ate a whole plate full with no complaints”…. Her daughter didn’t like certain foods ONLY because she had been told by her mother NOT to like it. (The daughter saw all of us eating the chicken and decided that she liked it.) That child was picky because her mother allowed her to be picky.
    What is allowed is what will continue…What is tolerated is what will continue…

    1. I appreciate your comment and agree. I think that is why my children have become “good eaters”. We have never told them or reinforced that they didn’t like something. We eat what the majority enjoys and we find that they really do want to join in with everyone else unless it is a true taste or texture issue. Great points, thanks for sharing!

  12. I’ve been worried to give my kids (both under 5) alternate choices at dinner because I thought that would create picky eaters. You haven’t found that to be the case? I’m concerned that they would eat nothing but oatmeal, bananas, and peanut butter.

    1. Allison,

      I haven’t found that to be the case at all. They each seemed to adopt a few of their favorites and then slowly branched out starting around age 4 and then trying more and more as they have grown older. My four years old, would eat yogurt and breakfast bars and strawberries, morning , noon and night. But now she is branching out and starting to try and enjoy other things.

    2. She also eats Pad Thai now, egg drop soup, lo mein, Japanese noodles, and edamame. I think part of it for us has been not making a big deal about food and not forcing them, but cultivating and showing by example an appreciation for a variety of food.

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