October 13, 2014

Picky eaters have always been a pet peeve of mine. When I had children, I wanted to do whatever I could to ensure that they were not picky eaters. As soon as they started eating solid food, I was determined to expose them to a wide variety of options.

Fish, being brain food and all, was high up on my list of foods to try.

While doctors suggested that I start them with mild fish like tilapia and cod, I thought otherwise. The food we had in the house was the assertive stuff: smoked salmon and gefilte fish. Anchovies, creamed herring and sardines. Canned tuna. These are funky fish.

And what did I have to lose? If my children didn’t like these fish, we could always try a milder fish. My children eat mulch, chalk, dog food – even a small wriggling worm once (and I’m sure it wouldn’t be the last). Gefilte fish? How bad could it be?

So I tried. And they ate. And they took a second bite, and a third. Soon these funky fish were regular parts of their food routine.

Yet here’s something I noticed: when I asked a babysitter to feed the boys these foods, they were rejected. My babysitters tended to be pickier eaters and were turned off by these foods. I think the boys picked up on their disgust.

So I’d sit down, eat the food with them (the best way to get a baby to eat something is to eat it yourself), and go crazy with mmms and ooooohs and yums. Sure enough, the children would wonder what all the pageantry was about and open their mouths.

Every time I think my boys won’t like something (blue cheese, dark chocolate, gefilte fish), and make myself a plate of it as a snack – they absolutely must have it. They’ll point and yell until I offer them some. (They aren’t total animals, they’re just toddlers.)

I haven’t tested this scientifically, but my gut says that food preferences are about 95% mental. People eat crickets and cicadas and termites in much of the world. Dog and horse, too. People eat what they’re fed.

And kids don’t have mental hurdles when they’re just starting to eat. There’s no gross out factor. Our food preferences are in large part based on what we are exposed to in our home and in our larger culture. What we’re exposed to and how we’re exposed to it matters. A lot.

I don’t feed my children anything I wouldn’t eat. So when we eat, we eat together. I feed them, and they feed me. If you want your children to eat more fish, enjoy eating it with them.

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