It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Eating 101: They’re acing it!

We’ve been having a lot of fun with lunches these past three months or so. It started with my experiment — a huge success! — then was enriched by a book I read (more on that in another post), and has now become a highlight of my day.

A meal with five toddlers, a highlight? Yes, indeed.

Way back at the end of January, I re-jigged our food schedule. No more snacking at Mary’s! (Now, I’d have kept up the afternoon snack had the children not already been getting snacks on the way home from daycare. With them getting a snack from their parents already, there was no need for me to be giving them one as well.)

So we were eating less frequently. Lunch became a bigger deal. For starters, it now has three courses: a vegetable starter, the main course, and dessert. (Dessert being the snack they would have been given in the mornings.)

But, in keeping with the ideas in the book I’d been reading, I decided to make lunch more of an event in terms of attitude. So now, when we sit down to lunch, the children all in their chairs, I bring out the first course on a tray. I use pretty serving dishes.

They sit in eager expectation as each child’s food is served. The first portion is a ‘taster’, which they are required to eat. It varies in size depending on the age of the child, but that is the portion they are required to eat. The older children know to wait until everyone has been served before they begin to eat. The 20-month-olds, who don’t get the whole ‘wait for everyone’ thing, are given their bowls last.

We made a game of waiting, at first. I still do it sometimes. “No eating until Mary’s ready to eat, too! Is my bum in the chair?” And they’d all peer at my bum. I stand while I dish the food out. Then I’d begin to sit. Sloooowly. They’d wait, giggling, spoons at the ready. I’d slowly, slowly, slowly lower my butt (good for the thighs, this is!), and then, just before sitting would be accomplished … POP up with a jump! Giggle, giggle, giggle.

It made them pay attention, it got the point across. It was fun.

It was so much fun that they took the practice home. Jazz’s family was having a picnic on their living room floor one evening, and Jazz wouldn’t let anyone eat until she sat down. “Where’s my bum??” she asked. No one could eat till Jazz’s tiny butt was on the blanket. Which was kind of missing the point, really, since Jazz wasn’t serving the food. Still everyone had fun, and the point was made that we start eating together.

Daniel’s mother was thrilled to report to me that Daniel had instituted the practice with his grandparents, her in-laws. Daniel’s mother was accustomed to a meal beginning only when everyone had been served, but at her in-laws’ place, everyone begins as soon as the foot hits their plate, and so, by the time the last person gets their food, the first person is done! “That’s not even friendly!” she wailed.

But now, see, with their adored grandson declaring, “No! We don’t eat till Nana sits down!!”, the family is now eating together, and mom is delighted.

Gee. Now I’m providing family counselling along with the meals!

We sit down together, and then I pour water into each of their cups. For a festive touch, my water is in a wine glass. We tap our glasses around the table. “Cheers!” The children love this. LOVE.IT. I never forget this, for if it looks like I’m about to, a chorus of small voices pipe up. “Mary! We didn’t do ‘cheers!'” That can never be!

I love this. Toddlers earnestly clinking cups and sippy-cups around the table is freakin’ adorable, people! Little Rosie, who always sits on my left, is a highly enthusiastic cheers-er, and I’ve learned to keep a solid grip on my wine glass when her cup rockets towards mine.


So we ‘do cheers’, and then we hold our cups up, salute the others around the table, and chorus together, “Have a good lu-unch!”

And then, and only then, do we commence to eating.

Each child is given an initial ‘taster helping’. The older children (2.5 and up) are expected to actually ingest this. They don’t have to like it, but they do have to chew and swallow. It will be small: anywhere from one bite to four or so. The younger children don’t even have to ingest it. They’ll get one mouthful of whatever it is, and as long as it goes in the mouth, that’s sufficient, even if it comes straight back out. Sometimes, for the very youngest, it’s sufficient that they play with it a bit.

The expectation, you see, is that they probably won’t like a lot of things the first try. Or the second. So when a child says “I don’t like this”, I don’t apologize and remove it from her plate and hunt around for an alternate. I simply say, “That’s because you haven’t tried it enough yet.” I’ve explained how at first your tummy and tongue might see a new food and go, “YUK!” But then, you’ll try it again, and they’ll say, “Well, maayyybeeee.” And after a few more tries, your tummy and tongue say, “YUM! I LOVE this stuff!!!” All this illustrated with dramatic facial expressions, from disgust to utter delight.

Because tummies and tongues, they can be a bit slow on the uptake. But they get there!! We can now point out to examples of this: Jazz likes kiwi now; baby Josh now eats beets. The first time Josh encountered a beet, he wouldn’t even look at it. Seriously. Closed his eyes and turned his head away. Sometime over a couple of months, through frequent exposure and familiarization, he began to try it, and now? Now he eats them without any hesitation at all. Two and three helpings.

They’ve seen this happen. They believe it will happen for them.

“I don’t like this” is no longer an end-point. It is merely an expected passage on the journey to loving it.

Not that is not to say all is completely sunshine and roses. Only yesterday Jazz, the pickiest of the crew, had an almighty hard time swallowing her taster portion of salad. Seems she has a terrible time with arugula. Poor kid sat chewing and chewing and chewing and chewing, but just couldn’t make herself swallow. But you know? Because was genuinely trying, I had sympathy. Arugula is pretty peppery stuff, and a lot of toddlers have texture issues with leafy greens. But the taster isn’t optional. If you don’t finish that, your meal stops there. At four, Jazz is expected to stay at the table and keep us cheerful company, but meals proceed in sequence. Don’t finish part A, no moving to part B. But she persisted, and some sips of water, along with the potential reward of some dried cranberries (also in the salad), eventually sufficed to git ‘er down.

“I did it!” she said, with shining eyes, cramming those cranberries in.

“So you did, sweetie. It was hard work, but you did it.”

“And soon my tummy and my tongue will learn to like agooroola!”

That? Is pretty damned sweet.

May 14, 2013 - Posted by | food, health and safety | , , ,


  1. I’m very impressed. HOWEVER, I hatehateHATE arugula. And I remember too vividly that feeling of chewing and chewing and chewing something that just doesn’t want to go down – I’d cave on that one, if the child in question was normally game to try new things.

    Me, too. When Grace runs into this, she’s given a pass, but as you know, Jazz isn’t generally game at all, so I don’t feel I can risk cutting her any slack. It would never quit. Ever. Remember, too, that this was a ‘taster helping’. One mouthful, maybe two.

    I think we can all remember times whatever gross thing it was just.wouldn’t.go.down. I certainly can. Asparaus, when I was about seven, beets, about the same age. UGH. Know what? Asparagus and beets are now among my favourite vegetables. The same can not be said for lima beans. Never have learned to enjoy them…

    Still, I know from personal experience, and the experience of many daycare kids over the years, that you can feel this strongly against something, and come to enjoy it in time. It’s worth the effort!

    Comment by Hannah | May 14, 2013 | Reply

    • Ah, gotcha. I realize as I re-read this comment that it sounds a bit abrupt and I certainly didn’t mean it that way – I love how you’re working with your group to teach them not only “please” and “thank you” manners but also the joys of eating a meal together. 🙂

      Comment by Hannah | May 14, 2013 | Reply

  2. You should really write an advice book for new moms…. I really wish I’d done things more your way when my boys were little.

    Comment by Anita | May 14, 2013 | Reply

  3. Too adorable. I need to start instituting this stuff.

    Comment by IfByYes | May 15, 2013 | Reply

  4. Is the book you are referencing the one about how French children eat? I’m so curious!

    Comment by carolieCarolie | May 16, 2013 | Reply

  5. All my grandchildren love “Cheers” too. It starts the meal off on a festive note.

    My youngest hated tomatoes and mushrooms when he was little, but he’d never give up trying. I assured him that once his palate had grown up enough, he’d like them, and so he did. Funnily enough, he always liked blue cheese, olives and so on, it wasn’t that he had conservative tastes. I think it was to do with the texture.

    Comment by Z | May 17, 2013 | Reply

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