First off, this did not happen by accident. When my children were babies I had a very clear philosophy about food that I wanted them to embrace. You see, as a child I was a picky eater. However I grew into an adult that loves and appreciates a wide variety of food and I wanted the same for my children. I grew up thinking that I did not like a lot of things until I realized that I needed to train my palette to appreciate certain foods. Upon reflection, I realized that most of the what that I hated were foods with a bitter taste such as watercress, melongene, bhaji (amaranth) and caralli (bitter gourd). The other category of foods on my hate list were those with an earthy flavour, such as beets and liver. I recently had the displeasure of tasting arugula. Arugula definitely falls into the earthy category, ugh. Could someone not have warned me that the thing tastes like manure?!!! Peppery manure but still, gah!
Start early. Train children's taste buds to appreciate sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami tastes. My mother-in-law thought I was crazy when I led with pureed spinach and not mashed bananas. My thinking was that babies are a blank palette without any preconceived notions about food. They take their cues from the adults in their lives and can be taught from a very young age to love a wide variety of things.
I chose to start with what I considered to be the more difficult tastes to acquire. After all no one really needs to learn to like sweet. It seems to me that we all have an innate tendency to like sweet and salty things, don't we? Thus, I introduced those tastes last and in moderate amounts. When considering new foods you should also offer a variety of textures. I didn't do as well on that. As a result my children are more likely to balk at a strange texture more than a foreign taste. Can I tell you that peanut butter is a difficult sell around here because of that.
Expose your children to a wide variety of food. More importantly let them see that you are excited to try new foods. Of course we couldn't afford to eat like this everyday but once I see something new, you can be sure I get excited to bring it to the table at least once. I have never had asparagus before. It doesn't grow here and I have only ever seen canned asparagus in the supermarket. Naturally when I saw fresh asparagus for the first time, I immediately brought some home to try it.Introduce new foods alongside something on their plate that they like. Our table rule is that you don't have to like it but you DO have to TASTE it. You must take at least 3 bites before you will be allowed to push it aside. I point out to my children that there are foods that I do not like but in order to be healthy and have a balanced diet I still have to eat them.
Having stuff on the plate that you know they will like, ensures that they don't leave the table hungry and the entire meal is not a huge battle. Don't make a big deal of the uneaten portion. In the early stages my husband and I let them see us eating their leftovers. When they were toddlers we would ham it up a bit and say things like. "You don't like carilli. No problem, that just means more for me. Yum!'
Nutritionists will tell you that it takes 10 to 15 tries - possibly more for a child to start eating and eventually like a new food. The key here is not to stress and have lots of patience. In the mean time I suggest you dish out a smaller serving for yourself so that you can be prepared to consume the leftovers and not have it go to waste.
As the months went by, my children became less resistant to new foods and we encouraged more bites. I have read that the French attitude when someone doesn't like a particular food is to say, "You just haven't tried it enough times." I don't know about that. I grew up not liking liver and I am of the opinion that it was offered to me too often. Groan, I still don't like liver - let's not tell the kids! However I do now enjoy all the bitter foods that I once hated.
What is your personal philosophy about food? Are you yourself a picky eater? Are there foods you avoid?