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How to raise a foodie

Signing your child up for a cooking class -- either with you or with her friends -- literally puts new foods at her fingertips. © iStockphoto.com/Thomas Perkins Signing your child up for a cooking class -- either with you or with her friends -- literally puts new foods at her fingertips. © iStockphoto.com/Thomas Perkins


 

What’s the best way to get your child to eat something other than pasta and chicken fingers, you ask? Don’t try.

Most parents wish their kids were more adventurous with the foods they eat at home, restaurants or other people’s homes. But the harder you push, the more resistant they’ll be. “The sticking point is usually that you want them to eat this vegetable or eat everything on the table. In order to have a power struggle, everyone has to play,” says Matthew Amster-Burton, author of Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater.

The trick to getting children to try new foods is to create situations where they can discover that pleasure on their own. Here, three ways to lead your child to the table without making him eat:

1. Encourage your child to cook.

Signing your child up for a cooking class -- either with you or with her friends -- literally puts new foods at her fingertips. It also puts her in charge, which can be a big motivator. “When my daughter gets to do the prep work and the cooking, she actually wants to eat the food,” says Betsy Gibson of Weston, Mass. “We also take the recipes home and make them again later. Sometimes we’ll even invite a friend over for a cooking playdate.” Many supermarkets offer inexpensive classes aimed at various age groups, from young children to teens. Or form your own class with other parents and take turns hosting in your home.

2. Try new foods together.

Instead of forcing your child to eat something that you know and love but that he won’t go near, make a dish that none of you has eaten before. Choose a night to sit down as a family, take out the cookbooks and pick a recipe together. Agree that anyone who doesn’t like it can have a sandwich afterward. Have your child help with the cooking, and he’ll have even more incentive to give it a try.

3. Tweak “adult food.”

If you view things in terms of “kid food” and “adult food,” you’re not giving your child a chance to meet you halfway. If you’re making something you think is a stretch for her, don’t run to the freezer for a hot dog. Try preparing a variation on your meal that’s less “risky.” For example, if you’re sauteing tilapia with escarole, garlic and peppery lemon oil for you, take a piece or two of the fish and bake it with salt, butter and a little lemon juice for her. Then put some of your escarole in a dish for her to try if she wants to. “There’s a continuum between kid food and adult food,” says Amster-Burton. “There’s plenty of room for compromise.”

 

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