It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Food Expectations

A small chunk of kiwi, speared on a fork, hovers in front of Alice’s mouth. She closes her mouth and tips her chin down and away, in that totally adorable way she has. All I can see is the curve of one chubby cheek under that amazing nimbus of tight blond curls. But, cute or not, I decide I’m going to see this through. Because she is now completely comfortable here, and is almost a year and a half old, I decide the time has come to begin to initiate her into my Food Expectations.

The first: “You can’t decide you don’t like something if you haven’t tasted it.”

Note, they only have to taste it. This means it merely has to get into her mouth. She doesn’t actually have to swallow, nor even chew it. If it sits on her tongue for a nano-second before she spits it out, that’s acceptable to me. It’s the principle of the thing. A first step.

Of course, the initial challenge is, how to get it in? In this case, as often happens, Alice makes it easy for me.

“Alice,” I say slowly, in tones heavy with portent, “You need to take one bite. Open your mouth.” Then I press gently on her lower jaw with my fingertip. Alice is highly offended at my presumption, and opens her mouth to express her displeasure.

Perfect! That kiwi is in there!

Alice is outraged. Her eyes widen, she takes a deep breath, she begins to roar. She is Not Happy with Me. At All. I commiserate with her. “That was a dirty trick, wasn’t it? What a thing to do to a girl!”

From here, it doesn’t much matter to me what happens next. She has tasted the thing, that’s all I ask. If she spits it out, I will praise her for tasting it. If she actually eats it, even better. I wait for a moment. It doesn’t come out instantly, at any rate. What happens next is something that I’ve come to expect a goodly percentage of the time: Alice suddenly looks surprised, stops crying, and becomes aware of the taste of that thing in her mouth.

“Not so bad, now, is it?” I lilt encouragingly, warmest of smiles on my face. “How about that?”

It goes down. Success! And then… she voluntarily takes a second piece from her tray! Ha! Stage One of Food Expectations has gone like a charm.

June 15, 2005 - Posted by | Developmental stuff, food


  1. I have a friend who has a child who won’t try anything. They don’t require it of him, so he doesn’t do it. But they complain about how little he eats and how difficult he is at the table. Makes me crazy. We have that same rule; just try it once. The Boy likes everything. So far the only thing The Girl doesn’t like is tomatoes. Her loss!

    Comment by misfit | June 15, 2005 | Reply

  2. Doesn’t it drive you crazy? People who expect so little of their children, and then complain about how little they get??

    “Just taste it” is a primary and fundamental expectation. It never changes. Once that’s accomplished, I raise the bar: one bite per year of age of something new, so if you’re two, two bites, etc. By the time they’re five or six, that’s probably as big as their portion (of any one item on their plate) is likely to be, anyway!

    Older kids, I let them choose a couple of items I’ll never require them to eat. (After all, it’s been years since I ate liver or lima beans.) Apart from that, they eat what they’re given. Or not, their choice, but there will be no substitutes made.

    When the children know these are the ground rules, mealtimes are so much more pleasant! They become relaxed, social family times, not incessant whining/coaxing matches.

    Okay. I’ll stop preaching now!

    Comment by Mary P. | June 15, 2005 | Reply

  3. I’m SO glad my parents made me try stuff. I have a friend who’s 37, and she’s still terribly picky. Of course, she’s a lot thinner than I am . . .

    Thanks for stopping by my site, Mary! The mad libs have been posted–stop by and check them out!

    Comment by Sharkey | June 15, 2005 | Reply

  4. I love how you write Mary P. I feel like I was there. I just got D to eat Kiwi… He is 36…

    Comment by August95 | June 16, 2005 | Reply

  5. Sharkey: Hi there! Your friend may be thinner, but she misses out a lot, too. You, on the other hand, show your full involvement with life in the lushness of your body! (That’s how I make myself feel better when the scales move in the wrong direction…)

    I’ll pop over now and check out the mad lib. That was fun!

    August: Thank you! I like to write; it’s nice to be appreciated for it.

    I laughed out loud at your comment. Tell D he was a “very good boy” to eat that kiwi. I suspect your repertoire of tricks to encourage his good behaviour goes way beyond what would be effective (or legal) to use with daycare kids…

    Comment by Mary | June 16, 2005 | Reply

  6. A few comments…

    My son hates all “green crunchy things”, as he calls vegetables. I make sure he takes a vitamin everyday, and luckily he’s not averse to eating lots of fruit.

    It is true that kids can adapt to anything, I still vividly remember sitting on a train in Korea and marveling as a mother soothed her teething infant by letting it suck and nibble on a piece of dried squid.

    Comment by Kevin B | June 16, 2005 | Reply

  7. Awww. The joy of discovery! my neice and nephew won’t eat much of anything, Drives me crazy. Can I send them to see you for awhile?Lol

    Comment by ASouthernGirl | June 16, 2005 | Reply

  8. Food. The ultimate battleground. A duel of wills that makes politics look shallow.

    We have relatively few problems. Not that the princesses don’t have lists of things they won’t eat, but thankfully they’ll both eat diary products and fruit. So we just take the approach of giving them the things that they’ll eat that we approve of. This means that princess number two eats quite a lot of cottage cheese, but it’s good for her so we just serve it to her for meal after meal.

    Both princesses had non-meat phases. Princess number two is still in hers, while princess number one is a steak hound these days, with strong opinions about how she likes it cooked! Fortunately she likes it the same way as daddy: medium with plenty of Toni’s seasoning on it.

    Princess number two will eat breakfast cereal, so she gets that in the morning and sometimes as an evening snack. If you’ve never tried cereal for supper, just try it sometime.

    Princess number one is funny, she has taken to asking if she likes a food when we mention it to her, so like any sneaky dad, I always tell her yes. It’s amazing how many things she’s tried and discovered she liked because she expected to like it because I had already told her she did. Psychology can be fun! 🙂

    Comment by Simon P. Chappell | June 16, 2005 | Reply

  9. Kevin: dried squid, mmmm, yummy. Didn’t you feed that to your teething babies??

    SouthernGirl: yeah, that moment when she realized she liked that stuff in her mouth is well worth the fuss that preceded it. I love that “click!” moment, the moment of discovery. The teacher in me, I guess. Her little world is that much bigger!

    Simon: Hey, now that you mention it, I remember one of my kids doing that, too: I wonder which one?

    I also remember one of them, when in her meat-hating phase (which is almost universal), would eat chicken. Suddenly, we were eating “chicken” almost every night of the week…

    The food battle is one, if you think about it, which is solidly weighted in the parents’ favour, because no matter how determined they are not to eat whatever nourishing thing you’re attempting to introduce, eventually they’ll get hungry enough to try it. All you have to do is be more stubborn than your two-year-old. Which can, I admit, be a daunting prospect. However, the end result (non-picky children, calm mealtimes) is well worth it.

    Comment by Mary P. | June 16, 2005 | Reply

  10. I too remember when we had to convince my little sister that all meat was chicken. She eventually caught on though. I remember the comment “I don’t like the red kind of chicken” pronounced at our father’s dinner table.

    My roommate is a very picky eater, and when she was little her mother too tried the “all meat is chicken” approach. In fact, up until my roommate was fifteen and babysitting her cousins, she was firmly convinced that tuna was just another name for chicken that comes in a can. (She is also, much as I love her, very small-town.) Her reaction was something along the lines of “It’s FISH? But I don’t LIKE fish!”.

    Comment by Mary's daughter | June 17, 2005 | Reply

  11. E.D. (eldest daughter): actually, the “all meat is chicken girl” I was recalling was you, my dear…

    Comment by Mary P. | June 17, 2005 | Reply

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