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Don't let the kids set your food agenda


Jillian Bolger

Jillian Bolger

Jillian Bolger

MY seven-year-old wanted to know why there was Christmas tree in his dinner last night.

He had eaten some foliage and wasn't impressed. The greenery in question was actually plump rosemary leaves, but I can see how he made the funny mistake.

Of my three kids, my seven-year-old is by far the best eater. He doesn't need to ask what anything unfamiliar is – he just chows down with a zeal that makes his food-writing mum glow with pride.

I love that he sampled rosemary thinking it was Christmas tree. I love that he dives in to a plate of food without needing to know what it is beforehand.

Earlier this year I introduced him to one of my favourite vegetables – the artichoke. We served it steamed and as he nibbled the edge of the tender leaves he decided he wasn't crazy about the soft flesh. Minutes later we produced a dipping vinaigrette and he asked if he could try the leaves again, this time with the dressing.

I was so thrilled that he would give something a second chance. Most kids are so black and white with food. They'll usually decide on something based on its appearance and, if you do manage to convince them to try the tiniest morsel, they'll often spit it straight back out and refuse to touch it again for years.

I'm so familiar with this charade because my youngest fits the stereotyping perfectly. Since she began eating solids she's been vehemently anti soft foods. She's always refused to touch carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers too, and up until very recently refused both rice and couscous.

Plenty of parents opt to cook different meals for their picky eaters, but I've never pandered to my daughter's pickiness and have always served her the same food as everyone else at the table. That means she's been given everything she dislikes over the years and has had to work around it on the plate. If she won't eat it she simply has to leave it there.


After years of grumbles and tears over rice I once explained that it was the same ingredient her beloved rice cakes were made from. Once she heard this news she dared to nibble the 'fairy snow' and discovered that, surprisingly, rice really wasn't so terrible after all. Now she devours the stuff.

Last week she shocked us by eating a piece of raw pepper her daddy was chopping. She liked it so much that she came back for more. We were having fajitas for dinner and, for the first time ever, she loaded up her wrap with chicken and vegetables, and scoffed the whole thing.

For some reason my daughter's on a roll and this week saw her sample a piece of carrot from her stew. She popped it in her mouth, munched away happily and then went back for more. We couldn't believe our eyes. Her two-year standoff with this orange vegetable looked like it might be coming to an end.

Lapping up our praise, she dived back in for another piece and chomped away. After she'd swallowed this her daddy pointed out that she had actually eaten sweet potato this time! She hadn't noticed the difference and went on to clean her plate.

We're thrilled by this breakthrough and so pleased we never pandered to our daughter's fussiness. Sometimes it's best to follow your instinct rather than allow kids to set the agenda.