We strive to be the kind of family that shares meals–not the kind that “has to” fix nuggets and fries for the kid every night! The reality is somewhere in between. Many of my multi-week menus indicate adaptations for Nicholas: We prepared meal components separately and served his in separate dishes not touching, while we mixed ours together; or we set aside food for him to eat plain, while we seasoned ours in some interesting way; or we served him cucumber or apple slices because he wouldn’t eat our vegetables; or we even fixed a packaged food for him to eat while we ate leftovers of something he hadn’t liked so much. Different people like different things, and once in a while our menu bends around one of the adults disliking something.
Still, in general we want Nicholas to eat a wide variety of foods for nutritional and politeness reasons, and we want him to like what we like because it’s convenient! I’ve read–and I remember from my own childhood experiences–that children often come to enjoy a food they previously rejected as their tastes change with time and/or repeated tasting of the food enables them to notice its good aspects more than its bad ones.
Nicholas just turned 8 and just overcame his resistance to mushrooms, in almost exactly the same way as I did at almost exactly the same age. These are the features of this process:
- The mushrooms are incorporated into a style of food the child enjoys eating.
- The mushroom-containing meal is prepared by a non-parental adult who is liked by the child.
- The situation is such that the child needs to be polite about the meal, and alternative foods are not readily available.
- Parents do not make a big surprised fuss over the fact that the child ate mushrooms.
- Parents respond very positively and quickly if the child suggests the inclusion of mushrooms in a future meal.
- The next mushroom-containing meal served to the child is a style of food the child enjoys eating, ideally a menu suggested by the child.
Nicholas experienced his mushroom epiphany when we arranged for friends to babysit him while Daniel and I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. (Not taking an 8-year-old to this movie was a good decision; it has a lot of scary monsters and violent fighting.) We didn’t make specific arrangements with them about dinner; I just told Nicholas that since he was going to be there 3-7pm, they might be eating dinner before we came to pick him up, in which case he should be polite about whatever food they served. It turned out that they made a stir-fry that included mushrooms…and Nicholas loved it! He mentioned repeatedly how good it was. We agreed that it sounded delicious.
The next day, when I asked Nicholas for suggestions of dinners we could put on our menu, he asked for “kale and spinach sauteed with mushrooms.” Wow! After years of rejecting my delicious Blops, he was asking for basically the same thing! I controlled my surprise and agreed that that is a good dinner.
Due to Murphy’s Law, our local supermarket was experiencing some sort of kale shortage. Daniel or I stopped by 3 times in 3 days but found an empty shelf where the kale ought to be, and for once we didn’t have any kale in the freezer. Fresh spinach was more than triple the price of kale–and it wasn’t even organic, and we avoid non-organic spinach because it’s a highly pesticided crop. We didn’t have time to go to another store right away, and I wanted to get this meal in front of Nicholas before his mushroom fondness faded! Finally, I bought a pound of non-organic frozen spinach.
Daniel checked with Nicholas before he began cooking this meal: We’ll eat it with rice, okay? Do you want onions or garlic or both? Nicholas said he wanted the rice mixed into the saute, and he did not want onions or garlic in it. He informed me when I got home (just in time for dinner) that this meal was to be seasoned to taste by each diner, with soy sauce and black pepper. I used both of these but also crushed some raw garlic onto my portion, for flavor and to help get rid of the last vestiges of a cold.
Nicholas happily ate this meal, mushrooms and all! Now we’ll be able to mix mushrooms into food without creating instant conflict!
My own experience as an 8-year-old was a dinner hosted by my mother’s friend Julia, a long-haired violist whom I admired. I would be the only child among half a dozen adults, so on the way there my mom reminded me about table manners and not complaining if the food turned out to be something I didn’t like. Julia served homemade pizza! Like most kids, I was very fond of pizza, and I happily took up the challenge of eating it with a knife and fork for the first time. But I was appalled to discover that under the cheese of this pizza lurked lots of vegetables: mushrooms, onions, red peppers, and I think even eggplant–all things I disliked! Well, I had a whole slice of it on my plate and knew what I was supposed to do, and anyway there wasn’t anything else to eat but salad…. I found that the pizza-flavored vegetables actually tasted quite good, especially the mushrooms. I don’t recall requesting anything with mushrooms at home, but the next time we had dinner guests, my mother made her famous Chicken With Spices & Herbs which often has mushrooms in the sauce, and I tried eating those mushrooms–wow, so good! I have been a mushroom enthusiast ever since. (I also now enjoy onions, even raw, and red peppers and eggplant.)