My daughter is 4 and my son is 2 1/2 years old. And they couldn't be more different in personality, eating styles and food preferences. My 4 year old typically eats like a bird with a few exceptions. One of these exceptions is pancakes. She can out-eat me any day of the week if pancakes are on the menu. And she's a minimalist: no butter or PB, just sweet stuff (which is typically syrup or fruit sauce).
My 2 year old generally has a much heartier appetite and is far more willing to try new foods. While my daughter has not yet acquired a taste for beets, my son scarfs them down so fast you have to be quick to get your share. He literally eats them like most kids would eat candy. While I typically serve them cooked from fresh, he has consumed nearly an entire can of beets all by himself.
A couple of months ago, I came across what looked like a marvelous recipe for beet pancakes. The blog showed the most beautiful heart shaped, magenta beauties that I was sure would get my kids excited. This was a week where I had it together enough to plan several meals and purchase all the necessary ingredients. I prepared the night before by cooking my beet in advance and reviewing the recipe--something I often skip. The next morning I got my ingredients together, began the work to make pink pancakes with raspberry fruit sauce and I went to work. The recipe on the blog said it made 6, so I naturally doubled (or was it tripled?) the recipe. Full of great ingredients (all whole grain, mostly oats, BEETS), I was excited to make something that was going to be nutritious , delicious, and cool looking.
A couple of pancakes into the process, I decided to sample a broken one.
Um. Hmmm. All I tasted was beets, and I was not pleased.
This can't be. They looked SO good in the blog. What was I going to do!?
"There's NO way my kids will eat these," I panicked.
I stared at the giant mixing bowl full of batter. I checked the recipe again. I had read it wrong. It didn't say 6 pancakes. It said 6 servings! I had just made enough to feed 3 families. But still, what was I going to do with SO MANY REJECTED PANCAKES?
There wasn't much I could do at that point but cross my fingers and hope that the raspberry sauce would mask the beety flavor and nobody would notice. So that's what I did. I served up the kids, topping each little pink disc with plenty of sauce, cutting each one into bite sized pieces, as requested, then slipped back into the kitchen.
I held my breath and braced, ready for cries of "Eewwww, what's wrong with these?"
I heard...nothing. Nothing but the happy humming my daughter makes when she's eating something she likes--a totally involuntary sound she's made since she was in a high chair. WHAT? Proof of eating pleasure?
Not only did she not reject the pancake, she was enjoying it!
Oh the relief. It was not a total fail! The beet pancakes were actually A HIT!
It's amazing how much joy a mom feels when her kids enjoy the food she's cooked--more so when you expect rejection. Conversely, it can feel pretty crummy when you've worked hard to make a yummy meal and one or more of your kids won't even touch the dish.
Expectations can really make or break your experience in feeding your family. If you expect them to love something and they don't, it's easy to either feel bad or push your need-to-feel-successful onto them, thereby ruining their experience too. Even something as innocent as cooking with your kids can disappoint you if the cooking was coupled with the agenda of getting them to eat what they helped cook.
Sometimes your expectations might be set by what you see other kids eating...or what it seems other kids are eating. You know, the Pinterest effect. Every internet mention of kale chips suggests that kids will just eat them like candy. Um, not mine! Same with spaghetti squash. Oh if I had a dollar for every time I've read something like "we use spaghetti squash instead of pasta and my kids can't even tell the difference!" My kids can.
Children, particularly those in the food neophobia (fear of new foods) stage that occurs between ages 2 and 6, have very erratic appetites and preferences. You just never know what they'll try, what they'll eat, or what they'll like. And even foods they liked yesterday might not get touched again for weeks, despite your best efforts to make them look mouth-watering good.
The lesson I've learned, ahem...am learning, from my beet pancake/kale chip/spaghetti squash efforts is to change my expectations. Or better, yet, don’t set any. Just cook and serve with consideration. I will still serve kale and spaghetti squash in different ways, that's the only way they'll get gradually accustomed to these foods. But I won't sit there on the edge of my seat waiting for approval.
I will never be able to predict with certainty what my young kids will eat. Trying too hard to make these predictions is a sure fire way to drive myself batty and ruin my motivation to even serve interesting new foods. My job is to plan balanced meals, expose them to new foods (alongside the tried and true) and then let it go. Their job is to surprise me (for better or for worse) ;-)
Adina Pearson lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, 2 kids and 2 labradoodles. She has been a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for over 10 years. However, it wasn't until she had her own kids that she became interested in pediatric nutrition and family feeding dynamics. She has always been an "everything" dietitian and is currently working in a medical clinic doing nutrition counseling for everything from type 2 diabetes to celiac disease to weight concerns. She is most excited about work when she sees a pediatric patient on her schedule.. Adina has recently started blogging on her new blog Healthy Little Eaters. You can also find her on FB.