First of all, I’m going to talk about my kid in this post in a way that sounds like bragging. I apologize for that. If you are of the STFU parents school, I apologize in advance.
Many people watch Ben eat, and then tell me that my child is a good eater. Even on the Park Slope scale, Ben is a good eater. He prefers the same junk food every other kid likes, and is especially partial to mac’n’cheese. But he does eat a lot of different vegetables. His favorites include roast parsnips, roast Brussels sprouts, and baby spinach side salads. He also eats a lot of different carbohydrate sources beyond wheat and white potatoes: yams are a favorite. He loves tofu, and will eat almost anything if it’s in soft taco format. And his favorite snack is an avocado with soy aminos. He eats platefuls of food, especially when he’s growing. He occasionally refuses to eat something – he does not like raw tomatoes, raw green peppers, overly spicy food or anything radish related – but I can always slap some guacamole or hummus and raw veggies in front of him and watch them disappear.
This said, there are two things I credit for my child’s eating habits:
1) Best quote ever from our pediatrician: “Just put the food in front of him”. This has consistently worked for years. Sometimes, we offer him the food five or six times before he likes it, but he always tries it. Yams are a great example here: he loved them as a baby, decided he hated them as a toddler, and now, after extensive offerings (starting with fries format, moving on to mashed), he loves them again.
2) Top Chef
I’ve been letting Ben watch Top Chef for two years now. Ben, for some reason, LOVES cooking shows. This may be because it is TV, and screens of any kind are Meth For Kids, but he does show a special interest in cooking reality shows. And I realized that, as TV goes, Top Chef is probably more educational than a lot of kids offerings. It teaches him about cooking & what flavors go together. It teaches him about how people work really really hard on the show, and that success is driven by hard work and practice. And, most importantly, it teaches him all kinds of new foods that he is actually willing to eat.
I was kind of surprised at the motivation the show provided for Ben when I first saw it, but it’s consistently worked over the last year. Ben will see a dish made with a new-to-him food: cherry tomatoes, polenta, a new kind of fish. I then cite the episode when I serve the food to him. Ben then willingly tastes the food with an open mind, rather than his usual “I’m going to claim I hate this just to prove a point” stubbornness. Sometimes, it becomes a new staple, as polenta did (until we found out about Ben’s mild corn allergy). Sometimes, as with tomatoes, it does not. But he shows an interest in new foods, and an interest in tasting the flavor combinations. He shows an interest in how food is cooked and served. And he is willing to try new things because that’s how the show works.
The other surprise that came out of Top Chef was that Ben is now a huge fan of Tom Colicchio. I managed to parlay this into a Good Behavior In Restaurants incentive last year. I told Ben that, if he could behave in restaurants and prove to us that he was a good diner, I would take him to Craft during Restaurant Week. This allowed us to go to restaurants like civilized people throughout the end of 2012 and early 2013, until I finally took Ben last February. Ben is not only a good eater, he’s now a good diner, and has managed to keep up a consistent measure of restaurant behavior ever since.
My next use of cooking related shows will be leveraging Masterchef Junior into teaching Ben to cook so he can be more helpful around the house. We already let him use the stove to scramble eggs, but after watching the entire season of children ages 8 – 13 cooking, he sees that it is possible for small children to start learning to cook. He doesn’t want to cook as a career, but the sheer possibility of cooking was opened up to him when he saw these kids competing on TV. And it gives me even more leverage to get him to eat different things: I just remind him that all the kids on Masterchef had to try everything so they would know how to cook it.
So there is one of my secrets to Raising A Good Eater: reality cooking shows. I honestly don’t understand how this isn’t a Thing with parents. It’s not UN-educational, like most reality shows, and I think it actually has more merit than a lot of the childrens-shows-masquerading-as-education, like Backyardigans or Doc McStuffins or whatever else is on Disney or Nickelodeon. Letting Ben watch forty five minutes of a cooking competition and then talking about the dishes served has truly helped us explain food to our son. And while he may still prefer a bowl of pasta to a plate of vegetables and protein, at least now, he’s willing to eat the vegetables and protein.
Provided someone used those same ingredients in a Quickfire, of course.