How you can help your children get a taste for different foods
Sharing fun food facts and dishes from around the world is a great way to get picky children try new things, says author Zoe Bather
There can be nothing more frustrating than slaving over a hot stove to make a delicious new family meal, only for the kids to refuse to eat simply because they don't like the look of it.
Married couple Zoe Bather and Joe Sharpe know the feeling. But rather than just entering into another mealtime battle with their kids, they decided to do something positive about picky eating and wrote a book in a bid to help solve the problem for other parents.
The book, Around The World With The Ingreedies, is a children's picture and cookbook that aims to get kids excited about new foods through sharing fun food facts and recipes from around the world.
"There's nothing worse than feeling like you're accepting an ever-growing list of 'I don't eat...', and consequently ever-diminishing options for family meals," says Bather.
"We don't expect kids to like everything they're given to eat. But we do believe if you tell them about the history and culture of food, it will inspire them to try something new.
"Eating together should be a pleasure, not a pain."
Bather suggests the following tips to combat dinnertime dramas:
Expose children to new cultures
Through books, TV or trips out, encourage children to explore the history and culture that surrounds food from around the world. Chinese tea rituals, Mexican pinatas, Spanish tomato throwing festivals - these weird and wonderful exotic tales of food will spark their interest in associated ingredients, flavours and recipes.
Plan meals together
Get some cookery books out and involve the kids in deciding what you're going to eat. If they see you implementing some of their ideas, they'll be much more accepting of what's put in front of them. Plus they'll realise it's no mean feat accommodating everyone's likes and dislikes, and so start appreciating the need for compromise.
Go shopping together
If they're old enough, you could challenge them to find some of the ingredients on your list. But simply handling some veg or counting out some fruit gets them familiar with raw ingredients - demystifying what's in their dinner. They'll also see how much effort goes into preparing meals, and start to value the food they eat more.
Grow an ingredient
A yoghurt pot of cress, some herbs on your windowsill, or sugar snap peas up a wigwam - there are loads of crops that are easy to grow and good for small spaces. Watching a tomato seedling emerge from the soil, develop fruit, and slowly ripen, is a tantalising, magical experience.
Involve them when cooking
If children have invested even a small amount of their own time in meal preparation, and understand the ingredients used, the chances of a clean plate increase dramatically. Get them to taste or smell an ingredient, and have them play some small part in the preparation or cooking (a stir here, a teaspoon of something there), and they'll be excited to try the end result with you.
One meal for all
Eat together round the table whenever possible, and eat the same thing. Don't separate what they're eating from what you're eating, as you're setting yourself up for making several dinners each night. You're not a restaurant. On the subject of eating out, hunt out restaurants that don't have a separate kids menu, but offer half portions and can be flexible on toppings, sauces and condiments.
Look for recipes that have some optional bits and can be communal in their presentation, like Mexican wraps where everyone can pick a selection of fillings. Try putting bowls and platters of food on the table, along with side dishes and condiments, rather than plating-up everything beforehand. Giving kids a choice means they'll be more open to trying a few things, as they're not burdened with the commitment of finishing a plateful.
Kids won't always like everything you cook. But talking about what they liked or disliked in a dish goes a long way to keeping stuff off the dreaded dinner table blacklist. Get them to describe the tastes or textures they weren't keen on, and perhaps you can change that for next time by going easy on the lemon, leaving out a spice, or swapping couscous for rice, etc.
Make food exciting
Try something new as a family once a week - explore an unfamiliar cuisine, have a go at a new recipe, or just try using a new ingredient. If they see you trying something new, they'll want to be part of the experience and fun, and will ultimately have a much more open and less anxious attitude towards food.
- Around The World With The Ingreedies is published by Laurence King, £12.99. Available now