In our house we have a rule – be nice to food. Be polite to sweet potato, courteous to carrots and there’s no need to badmouth broccoli.
This rule comes in handy when starting the experimental food phase with a toddler. Kids at this age tend to jump to extremes and exclaim they ‘hate’ certain foods, but it’s important to create a really positive vibe around food, particularly healthy foods, during this critical phase of establishing habits.
The food politeness rule is very important to older children too, especially those who are role models to smaller siblings. We want our kids to keep trying and re-trying foods until they learn to like them. Being nice to food helps to create a positive vibe around the dinner table, creating a supportive environment for your children to try, eat and enjoy.
If kids do feel the need to express themselves regarding a new food they’ve tried, then encourage them to be descriptive instead, whether they like the food or not – is it crunchy or soft? Sweet or sour or salty? This works best with mum and dad setting the example. Talk to your kids about their five senses and describe the foods in a positive manner using these senses. Talk about the colour and smell of foods, does it make a crunching sound when you bite it as well as the mouth feel and taste of the food.
When posing questions to your kids about a new food or a non-favourite food, make sure to ask the question in a way that encourages a positive response. “What is your favourite part of this meal?” or “wow, isn’t the red capsicum so crunchy today” will usually result in more positive answers than “do you like this?”
If the child eats a food they love, encourage him to sing it too the world! This apple is so sweet and crunchy! This vegetable lasagne is so colourful and delicious! And if you really don’t like it and can’t say anything nice about it? Then take some advice from Bambi’s Thumper and “don’t say anything at all”.
When teaching this rule, have fun with it. Practice with the kids. I get my kids at home and in cooking classes to take a bite of their favourite food on the plate and tell the whole table. Then we all take a bite of something that’s not our favourite and smile, cheeky grins and all and say nothing. The kids love it!
If your child still uses the words “yuck” or “hate” then nicely explain to them “ooops, remember to be nice to your food” or as my older kids prefer the rhyme “don’t be rude to food”.
Creating a positive vocab around healthy food is also essential to engage kids at a level they understand and maintain a fun vibe in the kitchen and around the dinner table.
Your family can even create its own words and phrases surrounding healthy food. For example you can refer to vegetables as colours – it’s about eating as many colours as you can. Meanwhile, fish might be ‘brain food’ or ‘smart food’, essential for that math’s test or assignment.