Teaching children (and ourselves) to eat

When children are small they can’t talk. They’re new to the world – how could they?  They learn speech by listening to us, but trying out sounds, that become wordsounds, that become words.

Some sounds are harder, some words more tricky. Different children struggle with different things. We help them by using those words, encouraging them to keep trying, even make a game of it to make it fun.

If a child struggles with a word, do we decide not to use that word? Do we drop it from our lexicon?  Nope. We might not go on and on about the word, we might just let them keep on getting it wrong until one day they sort it out.

Words aren’t just noise, they’re a sensation in the mouth, their sounds give us pleasure, sometimes in an of themselves, not even strung together. Words are part of our culture.

When children are small they can’t eat. They have still-developing digestive systems and it takes a while for teeth to come.  They start with milk, then move gradually onto solids. We introduce different flavours along the way. Some are easy to like, some are harder. Some things take more chewing, some less. What do we do about those foods? The ones they don’t like as much, the ones they find trickier?

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Do we encourage them to keep trying? Some do. Do we make games up so that eating is more fun? When they’re really small we might do, yes.  The aeroplane spoon. Funny rhymes. We might even read them a book about eating.

Teaching a child to like new foods is very similar to teaching them to talk. It’s educating their brain, firing new connections and  opening them to new sensations. It’s not always easy but, like speech, it’s absolutely worth the effort.

Food isn’t just fuel, it’s an experience. It’s sight, smell, taste and texture. Food is part of the pleasure of the day, another part of our culture.

So how come so many people say their children ‘don’t like’ so many foods.  I totally ‘get’ that children find new foods challenging.  I have kids – they find some foods challenging.  But when you’re a child everything is new. Life is a challenge. So why is it that some people just seem to give up when it comes to food?

If we don’t let the child off learning to say ‘car park’, why do we let them off learning to like broccolli, mushrooms or onions?  If we keep encouraging them to climb that ladder at the playpark, why let them off keeping trying scrambled eggs?

101027_IMG_1591I’ve been guilty of it too. My eldest loved fish, but my youngest didn’t.  It was about a year before I realised I’d stopped serving fish. At all. For anyone.  Sometimes we really have to make an effort to help our kids to learn to like different foods.  I reintroduced fish, looked up family-friendly ways to prepare it, tried different kinds.  Now I have a child who eats fish – even the fish fingers they serve at school!

Let’s make sure we keep food part of life’s adventure. A meal time CAN be fun.  Set ‘jungle night’, for example. and make foods that fit that theme.  Let them dress up a little, or put on some relevant music.   Have ‘cave man dinner’ and let them eat whatever you serve with their hands. A great opportunity to put something new on the menu.  Or simply reward your child when they try something new with a sticker on their ‘I was bold’ chart or whatever your rewards system is.  In our house a ‘family mouthful’ works pretty well.  Everyone, including mummy & daddy (or whoever is at the table when they eat) has to take a forkful of the food, and when everyone’s ready we all put it in our mouths at the same time and eat it.  For some reason my kids love this!

So come on guys – let’s raise a fabulous generation of adventurous kids who get that the adventure starts at breakfast 🙂

 


Credit to Alpha on Flickr for the ‘featured image’ of deep fried grasshoppers and bamboo worms. I’ll try some! Used under Creative Commons licensing.