I was at the market recently, standing in line behind a family - mum and three children. She asked them what they wanted for dinner that evening. One wanted pizza, one wanted pasta, one wanted sausages. It was clear that four different meals were going to be prepared.
Why, oh why, was the question ever asked? This is just so not what I'm used to.
If we had asked my mother what we were having that night, she might have replied "liver with onions & parsley, mashed potatoes (pommes purées) and carrots" and we would have shouted "Yummy!" Perhaps we were lucky that both our parents made our food sound marvellous - and it was. Sitting together was not just normal; it was a very agreeable moment in the day. We were expected to have a story and more importantly perhaps, to listen to my father's stories! (My anglo-saxon friends were amazed that we were allowed to talk during meals!)
We were not asked what we wanted. We were told what we were having (like being at a simple country hotel).
So how do you make a gourmet? Perhaps you might ask first why you would want to make a gourmet.
Gourmets are easy-going, happy kids. They don’t make a fuss. They’re easy to look after, they’re enthusiastic, you can take them anywhere, they’ll smile at a bowl of lovely chips as easily as at a truffled guinea fowl with duck-fat-fried potatoes. They’re cheap, they’re accommodating.
Needless to say, you will be aware of any harmful allergies – peanuts might be fatal, chocolate could bring on unbearable eczema, prawns could inhibit normal respiration.
So, to make a gourmet, this is our method. It works.
Firstly, you must accept that everyone in the family eats the same thing and all sit together at a table for most main meals. No more one meal for Johnny, another meal for Annabel, another for Hepzibah, another for the adults. Serve the meal and don’t make a fuss. Allow your child to choose not to eat certain vegetables but put them out, nonetheless, day after day, day after day. Someone may not like carrots. Just keep putting them out.
This normalises the meal and your choices. Your child will not starve. This might be hard but it will work in the end.
Get everyone involved. Children can lay the table, they can peel carrots, they can wash lettuce. Food can be parcelled out individually but a platter brought to the table will illicit a "Wow".
And start them early on eating from a plate and with (yes) cutlery. Never too early to learn where to place that important little forefinger on the fork.
If we don’t encourage children to eat everything and develop a broad palate, where are the gourmets and polite eaters of tomorrow?
Never make a fuss, never penalise, never bribe, never complain, never explain. Just keep serving them. One day those discarded black olives will be tried and accepted, that grilled red capsicum will be eaten along with the rest. It’s a little bit of tough love. You are the tour operator around the world of good, real food. You are the adult.
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