I was 18 before I came across a Duck Medallion. I was on my first real sophisticated date
in a fancy restaurant and I felt like an idiot. My date knew the chef, (the venerable Yannick
Cam) and thought he would score more than points by taking me on a culinary tour de
France -- boy, did he have the wrong girl, I only dressed haute.
As item after item was sent to the table, we both became awkwardly aware that I ate none
of it. And, in "quelle grande idiote" fashion, I said something like, "Uh, does he have
chicken?" For the first time in my life, I realized my palate was not only unsophisticated, it
was an untrained loser.
After being dropped off, starving and cosmically detested by chefs everywhere, I found a
late night McDonalds and had a serious talk with my big mac; he and I would have a
more limited relationship. It was now my responsibility to change my palate's destiny.
By the age of 12, if your child is still ordering pasta with "butter sauce" in a restaurant, you
as a parent are pretty much to blame.
Don't boo me out yet, you're just one of many whose child's 'I-want-to-eat-what-I-want-to-eat' condition snuck up and wacked your judgement.
My husband and I hear it all the time, "oh, moan moan, my child is so picky..."
First, I'd like to dispel "picky" as a bad word. To be picky is actually a good thing. I'm
"picky" about the shoes on my feet. Imagine what I wouldn't allow in my mouth.
What you really mean to say is: my child's eating habits are "hindered," "untrained" or in
extreme cases -- "suck." I'm not just preaching from the pulpit of poo-pooing plain pasta, I
was that kid, but now, as a mother, like every parent, I want better for my children.
If you wrap your head around the idea: that your attitude and your relationship with food
is where it all begins... and, if you persevere when the "I don't like that" monster rears it's
head, your child will not only make the right food choices as they mature, they will also
find themselves proudly grooving in the foodie world with the other gastronauts.
While many believe eating is an intimate act, in our family we also view it as a sport. We
train and train hard. I am now so proficient my stomach could win medals.
Really though, it's just like anything else; you train your child to use the potty, you train
your child to have manners (well hopefully), to cross the street, to obey their teachers, not
to talk to strangers, etc...
Everything they learn comes from you and when they are especially young, they want to
be just like you. If you don't eat your greens, then guess what? Diverse eating habits do not
come naturally, you must teach them how to eat by example. Armchair warriors who
expect Johnny to snack on fruit or nuts while they gorge on chips and dip is probably not --
I scratch my head at financially fortunate parents who give their child the advantages of
piano lessons, ballet classes, private coaching etc... but neglect education in the art of
food and proper dining etiquette. I'm not talking hoity toity, I'm talking basics -- what you
put in your mouth is important, how to behave during dinner, and why it's not ok to throw
food on the floor -- that sort of thing.
Thankfully, this country caught the culinary fever. The increased number of cooking shows,
blogs, and recipe books proves it's a fast-growing community and you're not doing your
soon-to-be-young-adult any favors if you've cultured their musical talent, brain, and sport
ability -- but since you didn't insist that they eat a proper dinner -- properly, your babies
end up looking like real gits during a business dinner with the boss.
Sadly I see it too often, diners ordering the best of stuff, with one exception: "Oh, I
couldn't eat that... Can you make sure the lamb does not touch the (cringe) sprouts?" Or
they refuse to eat pork belly (but bacon's OK), can't eat fish (but shrimp's OK), then feign
"allergy" to anything with roots, anything green and cheese "that stinks."
Sorry, but truth be told, 'the eaters' kinda make fun of you. So parents, you if want your baby
to play in the good sandbox, know it's not too late to sway their gustatory organ in favor of
the food gods.
Children learn through repetition. You must give their tongue enough time to become
accustomed to a flavor (it takes about 17 times before that happens); they'll come around.
Limit sugar as early as you can. It's in everything, not just sweets; sausages soaked in
maple, honey in bread, agave in cookies. Yes, these are natural, but if your child is
'accustomed' (see above) to a sweeter taste, then suddenly true bread is too bland.
Eat what your family eats. Children's menus are a grotesque invention. We don't allow our
children to order from the 'kids' menu (unless at The Majestic -- same food, only smaller.)
They order politely from the main menu and eat family dinner, just like everyone else -- it's
the only way to teach children not to be fussy about food.
Serve a new food with one they already like. It just makes it easier "to make friends."
Talk about food positively. Don't say things like "I hate cooking, it's such a chore to clean
up," blah blah... "Oh, its too hard to make, lets just order out"... or "I'm so fat, I have to
diet!" (then order freaky foods that come in boxes). Instead, one day a week, make a
commitment for the entire family to produce a beautiful meal at dinnertime.
Yes, all of this takes work, time and effort, but ask yourself, "Why did we have kids again?"
Really, if you commit to them and give them culinary adventurism, I promise you, they will
become better humans, respect food -- and enjoy every bite.
Follow Meshelle Armstrong on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MesheAtEve