Ewww. Gross. Yuck. Blugh. Ugh. Vom. Ick.

Arrrrgh. Give up?

I’ve been involved in some pretty impassioned conversations over the years, about a topic that is extremely close to my heart.

It’s invariably with the same kind of person, about the same topic. An exasperated parent, about encouraging their children to try new foods, their decision to just give up, and, of course, my insistence that that’s probably the worst idea ever.

This conversation usually leads to the same argument coming back at me- you’ll understand when you’ve had kids.

Right.

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I have had kids. Lots of them. Younger ones, Older ones, some inquisitive, some less so. Stubborn, acquiescent, and everything in between.

Together we’ve moulded and melded and muddled and meddled.

The classroom was our kitchen, the whiteboard our blank plate; the pen to paper, our spoon to mouth.

Knowledge was nourishment.

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Just like in homes across Australia every meal-time, some students* were happy to lap it up without question; others took more convincing. Some refused to pick up the pen entirely, choosing instead to leave the room hungry.

The one constant with these Junior-Burgers, across the board, even the good ones (especially the good ones) was that they were cheeky.

Kids love getting away with things. Getting their way. Often just to see if they can.

They will test your resolve. They will ask ‘why’ and they will say ‘no’.

Which leaves it to us, as educators, instigators and grown-ups to determine the boundaries. And to be patient.

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In the classroom, I did this by establishing expectations early: building rapport, creating a safe learning environment, and getting excited about trying new things. Together.

As the learning facilitator, it was my job to make them see the merit in whatever it was I wanted them to intellectually chew upon that day. And they knew they didn’t really have a choice. They were in my “kitchen” to eat, or go hungry.

It wasn’t a matter of “forcing” anything. And the students always knew, that no matter what, I had their best interests at heart. By the end of the first term, it was pretty rare for a student to choose to “go hungry”.

We were all on Z-Ship together. Riding it all the way to knowledge town.

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Ahhh, memories…

But back to the kitchen.

The same can be said of the “new food” process at home. At first, it can be a bit of an effort. And there will probably be times where you won’t be your child’s “best friend” (scary prospect, I know). There will be flavours that kids may balk at trying for the first time (like pickles or sashimi). It’s human nature to be wary of new things.

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But it’s an important effort to make.

Encouraging children to try new foods is tantamount to teaching them their ABC’s.

Aside from the nutritional benefits (I’m not a nutritionist, so I’ll leave that bit to the experts), not only will it help them to develop their palate – which is like a muscle that needs to be built up – it will also stimulate a healthy inquisitiveness and confidence in the unknown.

Just think – you’re building a champignon chomping champion.

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Taking the process a step further, and teaching your children to cook is not only equipping them with an arsenal of survival (and social) skills, it’s also giving them the opportunity to understand the process of cooking – enabling them to make better food choices now and into the future.

Having your children out for dinner, teaching them the appropriate way to behave at the table, toward wait-staff and to their fellow dinner-guests, is a skill that will hold them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

And, most importantly, whatever you do – don’t order the Kids’ Meal.

Nothing good can come from chips and chicken nuggets.

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“Kids’ Food” should simply be Grown-Ups’ food on a smaller plate.

In this way, you’re reinforcing the equalising nature of flavour and cuisine, as well as showing that you think your child is “mature” enough to handle new things. They’ll love that.

Ultimately, us teachers can only do so much.

There is only so much we can “feed” your children in our classrooms, and only so long that they’ll actually order what they say they will from the school canteen**.

It may seem a lot easier to just give in, make them a separate plate, or order takeaway.

But, if you’re able to ensure your child gets their homework done, can see the merit in reminding them to get the most out of their educational smorgasbord, then you ARE capable of getting them to eat their greens (and their gherkins).

And you owe it to them.

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* on a good day, or when the wind wasn’t up, or if they hadn’t just come back from recess, or if they weren’t waiting it out till lunch.
** let’s just say, in a very scientific, empirical study, c. 2011, all of the chocolate chip cookies were regularly sold out by recess.