At around 8 months of age both of my children began eating family dinners with the adults at the dinner table. Occasionally we omit hot chilles or strong spices, but in our home there is only one meal to be served: you get what you get and your don't get upset.
The concept of cooking both "children's meals" and "adult meals" each day just does not resonate with me. Twice the amount of prepping, cooking and cleaning? No thank you. Of course I have heard the very common sigh as they sit down at the table, "Ewww, this looks disgusting!!!", but 8 times out of 10 they eat most of their dinner without complaint.
If I had continued to give my kids only the foods they loved at first bite and omitted what they at first rejected, I imagine they would still only eat bread, cheese, avocado, scrambled eggs, apples, honey, carrots and yoghurt.
Children need to try a new food 10-15 times before they acquire a taste for it. My children know they only have to try one bite of their meal and after that bite, if they still don't want it, they can instead choose to have it taken away and to sit quietly at the table while everyone else eats. Their meal waits for them in the fridge and of course nothing else is offered until the next mealtime.
Yes, it can be exhausting and quite depressing to have worked so hard to cook a beautiful meal only to have your children take one bite and then walk away but for me this is an indication that perhaps they have been snacking a bit too close to mealtime. In my experience if they're hungry, they'll eat.
A few other ways I try involve them and tickle their tastebuds:
- have them help prep: cut and grate vegetables, stir pots, flip with the flipper
- while eating, ask them if they can guess the secret ingredients in the meal (eg. coconut milk in pumpkin soup)
- tell them a story about the history of the food/meal: where it came from, how it was grown etc.
- tell them a story about the first time you ever tried that food
- no food at least 2 1/2 hours before dinnertime: most of the time I don't allow any snacking past 3pm which ensures that by 5:30/6 they're very hungry
Now, sitting in one place for the entire meal and having the concentration to eat calmly with beautiful manners? Well, North's getting there. And Indigo... that's something we're working on.