kids

When Simone married her husband, she was 'horrified' by her stepchildren's diet.

It was never our intention to create little foodies; that came about by accident. All we wanted were ‘conflict-free’ mealtimes, and the ability to sit down as a family over one meal, not two.

Let me start from the beginning.

I didn’t meet David, my husband-to-be, until I was 35. By that time, he was divorced with two young children.

Being well into our thirties meant we had a better idea of what we wanted (and didn’t want) in a relationship so, almost before I knew it, we’d moved in together and I’d inherited a two-year-old and a five-year-old.

David and I were working full time as lawyers, so it was always a race to get dinner on the table before the little ones passed the ‘hangry’ point of no return.

David did his best before I came along; wanting to ensure the kids ate nutritious food. But his repertoire consisted of two or three meals on rotation; pesto pasta with tuna and peas (tasty and nutritious), roast chicken and vegetables (for extended family dinners) and fish fingers (the kind that come in a cardboard box from the supermarket). And his limited time meant he was simply eating what he fed the kids.

The kids were like most other kids at that age; fearful of new foods and ingredients. Added to that, our two-year-old refused to eat any form of meat at all (and was anaemic) and our five-year-old was sticking steadfastly to a diet of only ‘white’ foods.

fussy eaters
"The kids were like most other kids at that age; fearful of new foods and ingredients." Image: Supplied.

David and I love food, and dinner is by far our favourite meal of the day. We very quickly decided that we would need to make dinner times work for all of us, which realistically meant cooking only one meal after work, not two. So, we had to find a way for the kids to enjoy eating the foods we did.

‘One meal, not two’ was our philosophy very early on.

We started naively and without much thought, with the old-fashioned approach of ‘eat what’s on your plate’. We very quickly realised that this could (a) be traumatic for the kids, and (b) encourage over-eating, neither of which we wanted.

We adapted our approach to one of ‘you must at least try everything that’s on your plate’. Over time, this proved the best approach when coupled with a number of other factors (all discovered through trial and error).

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First, to create healthy habits, we made healthy foods, such as salads, regular visitors on their plates. Even if they didn’t like something initially, we would consistently reintroduce it in various forms. Persistence.

Second, we didn’t compromise on the approach we took of expecting them to try everything. We set our expectation and stuck with it. Consistency.

fussy eaters
We also got the kids involved early on in preparing meals, and in growing produce in the backyard. Image: Supplied.

We used the foods they enjoyed to introduce new foods. This often meant creating dishes with things they enjoyed (such as pesto) to then introduce other ingredients (pesto pasta with added spinach for example).

We talked openly with the kids about what they were eating. Education. There’s no point ‘hiding’ ingredients in their meals – this is a short-term fix only – they need to understand when they’ve eaten, and enjoyed, ingredients so that they will be more willing to try them again.

We also got the kids involved early on in preparing meals, and in growing produce in the backyard. There’s simply no way of stopping a child from tasting produce straight from the garden that they’ve planted and watched grow day by day.

Over time, getting the kids to be involved, and to consistently try all manner of foods meant that their tastes matured and developed. Now, at 11 and 14, they both eat all cuisines and see food the way David and I do; not just as nourishment, but as an everyday pleasure. They get excited about trying new and interesting flavours and ingredients.

We’re lucky enough to be currently planning a family holiday to Japan. When I asked our 14-year-old last week what things he’d like to see and do in Japan, he simply said, ‘oh you know, I’m just really interested in the food when we get there’.

So, food has now become a shared family passion and activity for all of us. And we did win the dinnertime war on vegetables too.

Simone Kelly is the author of new, family-friendly cookbook Family Harvest, which details her family’s journey from fussy eaters to foodies. Family Harvest is available now via familyharvest.com.au, RRP $35.00AUD.

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