raising foodie kids

I am the opposite of sly.

Dinner at my new Boca Casa tonight will consist of burrata balls, arugula, grape tomatoes, a ribbon of pesto, a whirl of Olio Santo and a smear of balsamic syrup. Because I refuse, absolutely refuse, to be a hotdog chicken and fries mama. Not happening.

Though the big question is, will the kids eat it? And can I be that mom? The one who says, “Eat that, or eat nothing. If you’re hungry, really hungry, you’ll eat it.” I tried it last night when I offered up a bowl of tofu.

“Yuck,” Abigail said once I told her tofu was for dinner.

“Don’t be rude. If you don’t like something, after you try it, then you say ‘no thank you.'” And then you go hungry, my friend.

Then, I got them involved in the cooking. Because you want to taste and enjoy what you make. We had a measuring spoon mashup, where they learned how to level, helped me count and pour. Smell. Taste. “Mama, what’s a scallion?” Immediately I thought, a young little onion who refused to take a bath, so she turned green! But downright foul didn’t seem like the way to go.

“It’s a green onion that makes cream cheese taste even better! Here, taste a sliver.”

“Mmm. I like it.” And yet, when I served up the tofu, she picked out every last scallion declaring, “I don’t like the green things.” Then eat around them.

She pushed the tofu cubes across her plate, then looked up and said, “I’m not fond of this.” And what can I do? She did try it.

What I did: “Okay, so you don’t like it. You tried it, you eat it or you don’t eat it, but you sit here until everyone’s through eating.”

Yes, but then I chased the proud words with the worst, cringe-worthy, I swore never ever to do this words: “And there’s no chocolate chip cookie unless you eat your dinner.” Cringe.

But here’s where I stayed strong. I did not offer her anything else to eat. No separate meal. I did not make her clear her plate. I simply told her to eat until she didn’t feel hungry, or not eat at all.

By the way, the tofu was absurdly good. But, uh, no, Lucas wouldn’t touch it until he saw a cookie. Bad bad parenting. Not doing that again. Take your burrata balls or go home (hungry).



  1. Tofu really? ha no way I could get my step kids to eat that maybe because I wouldn’t touch it.
    I have to admit living here in the UK getting the kids to try “American or Mexican” food was a hurdle but slowly but surely it has snuck into dinners no problem.

    I also hate when that dessert things sneaks out…You dont have to eat but there is no cereal or dessert and you can wait till breakfast. I always go darn why did I bother!

    I am all for trying new things and we have a rule you have to try it 3 times before you can say you don’t like it. That’s 3 separate times not 3 in one sitting.

    Start them young! The world is bigger then fish sticks and fries

  2. This meal looks delish!!! I love you staying strong and holding your kiddos to trying the food that you prepare for the family. As my 2-year old slowly approaches adult food eating age I will remember some of your pointers. Love it and stay strong!

  3. Good luck with that. I fear you are setting yourself up for failure…unless you can smoothly blend both healthy food to broaden their palate and healthy fast food to appease their wants. They will be surrounded with hot dogs and chicken in the real world much more frequently than tofu. School lunches, daycare snacks, sleepover or dinner invitations with friends. Absolute denial may lead to a secret stash or gorging of the foods momma wont allow. I am all for learning to eat a variety however, and two things worked well with my kids, to that end. We would have nights where they got to pick the menu- it either had to be all the same letter, color, or country of origin(when they got old enough to understand countries), also- choosing certain nights as “junk food nights”- if they knew friday was burger and fries night, they were more likely to try eat salmon and asparagus the night before.

  4. Hmmmm…

    I’m not a parent, but I’m failing to see why withholding dessert unless the kids finish their dinner is bad parenting?

    Please elaborate.

    1. Food as a ‘reward’ sets up association later on for unhealthy eating. Some might say adults who see food as a reward use it for comfort too much and it sets up a bad pattern. Or so I have read. I have withheld desert from my toddler stubbornly refusing to eat dinner for a week straight (it gets frustrating).

      1. I see.

        Interesting perspective — I hadn’t thought about it that way.

        Thanks, CC!

  5. Cynda,

    I respectfully disagree. If you expose children to a variety of fresh, high-quality food early in life, they will develop a palate that craves that kind of food. Think about french children (maybe not all french children, but just an example) – their parents shop locally, buy seasonal fresh produce daily, and cook flavorful/healthy food, and it becomes deeply ingrained in their way of life. I guarantee that such children are not going to be craving McDonalds or eating it into their adulthood when they have a variety of delicious and more flavorful foods at their disposal daily. I commend Stephanie for what she’s doing, and wish more American children were raised in this way.


    1. I agree. I saw a special on CBS (found the link below) about French school lunches and how they expose their children to everything from fresh fish to all kinds of cheeses from the stinky to the moldy, to escargot and pate. And this is public school, not private. The school cooks are practically world renowned chefs.

      I think you can introduce fine, fresh food to young children and have them form an appreciation for it despite the availability of what passes as square, plastic cheese (I HATE kraft cheese squares, but love cheese in general) and we-don’t-know-what-parts-of-the-chicken-are-in-this nugget.

      And this doesn’t mean a trip to Chick-Fil-A is never in the cards. Just that it’s not the norm.


    2. It may work that way for some. But not all and I have the 18 year old son to prove it. All kids are different, please do not pigeon hole all kids to the same belief you have, just so not fair to the kid or parent.

  6. Dinner tables are about much more than the food. I never wanted a power struggle to be what we did there nightly. At my house, you were permitted to say, “no thank you I don’t believe I care for any” (yes, even if they didn’t take a taste). Then you could ask to be excused and make yourself a PB&J. If they were eating the dinner I made and didn’t finish, they knew to cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the frig. That’s what is available when the “I’m hungry ” comes a little later. Not a cookie, not a bowl of cereal. And fruit is always the dessert and I don’t care if you eat it before, during or after.

    My mantra was: you must eat a fruit, a vegetable and a grain every day. And I put them in charge of making healthy food choices when they were four. When they came for a snack we’d discuss what they’d had so far. I had cheerio’s-grain check. I had an apple-fruit check. So how about some celery sticks?

    They are adults now and have great eating habits and enjoy a wide variety of food.

    I’d say this is one area that I really feel I did well with as a parent.

  7. Oh do I feel you on this one! I am determined to raise foodies and yet, they thwart me at every turn. I do try to continue giving them a broad range of food, but I also try to have something on the plate that they’ll eat. So if the entree is adventurous, there will also be buttered noodles. I used to tell them if they didn’t like it they could have a pb&j, but they don’t like those either so I stopped that. They can always have a banana before bed if they’re really hungry.

  8. This reminded me of Gilmore Girls ep when Lorelai realizes her obsession with junk food started because her parents only let her have adult food – “it wasn’t just a pop tart, it was freedom!”

  9. There is a ocean of opportunity between mandatory tofu and hotdogs with french fries. You can make fresh,local food that is also simple and not overly bitter/spicy (kids seem to have trouble with bitter in particular.) I don’t see anything wrong with panko-crusted chicken or a whole wheat pizza with fresh cheese and herbs. Or even just roasted salmon. My kids love these foods – I can’t say it’s as interesting as what you prepared, but it’s hardly processed junk.

    There is also the well-known Child/Food preparation paradox. It goes like this: the more elaborate your preparation and the more it “matters” to you that the children eat the meal, the lower the chance that they will touch it. No idea why this is so. They are probably picking up on our latent anxiety – we worked so hard, they had better like it!

    I love to cook, too, but the meal prep can quickly take over the day and become something the kids dread.

    I love your philosophy. I would just use caution to avoid making food An Issue.

  10. My mom had a strict policy in her house: you eat what’s on the table or you don’t eat. And, she did not stick with chicken fingers and fries. Actually, I don’t think she ever even made that. What she did do was allow us to eat whatever we wanted on Saturdays. Somehow it became a compromise. Although it sounds harsh, it worked and I’m glad for it. I love food; all types of food and I got to try amazing things when I was little and less picky. You’re nice; my mom didn’t let us leave the table, let alone have dessert, unless we ate all our salad… at every. single. meal. Still, healthy habits grow with you and none of her kids ever had weight problems. Best of luck!

  11. My father is Italian, my mother Colombian. Dinner was always cooked by my father and/or mother, and was a sacred time of day together as a family. I never ate fast food growing up. My father did not allow soda or candy in our house. Desert was normally fresh fruit, and sometimes ice cream, but never cookies or candy. I was stick thin until I was about 28. They made me try all kinds of food. 99.9% of the time I HATED IT. And 99.9% of the time I ate NOTHING.

    Now I love EVERYTHING….ya, even junk food. Love fish, tofu, meat, chicken, sushi, veggies, cheeses. I eat it all.

    I totally understand where they were coming from since I am now a parent. All I want is for my child to never say, “Ew, I don’t eat that,” and to learn to really enjoy good food (and know what that means).

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