My favorite expert/author on children and food is Ellyn Satter. Her books "Child of Mine" and "How to Get Your Kids to Eat" are really good reads, especially for parents who are worried about how their kids eat. She, and many other parenting experts and educators, talk about the power of modeling behavior that you want to see your children exhibit. This is true if you want your kids to put their dirty clothes in a hamper, or hang up their coats after school; if mom or dad drop things on the floor or not is going to have a big impact on your child. I know this because I go mad in my house, keeping after my kids and their messy messy room, only to walk into mine and see clothes piled on the foot of the bed! "Do as I say, not as I do" will drive parents mad until the end of time. Because. It. Doesn't. Work.
So goes with food! When my first son was a toddler, I wanted to do right by him and serve veggies and healthy foods, but I was pregnant and couldn't touch a green unless I wanted to become green, yet I was befuddled why he would not eat his veggies! Of course, it could have been a normal developmental stage, but a lot of it, I'm sure, is because he wasn't being motivated by parental modeling.
Fast forward another 6 years, and that now 8 year old is still so impressionable! At a recent party, I observed that he liked what his friend liked, and surprise surprise, he just happened to not like what his friend disliked! Well, it he didn't just happen to dislike the same foods, he is an impressionable child who likes to please others. He was modeling the behavior (trying new foods when others are trying) and opinions in lock step with his peers. Maybe not an Oprah "ah ha!" moment, but it was a Jennifer "ah ha!" moment. I thought, I need to get him eating around more good eaters. I need to use this to my advantage.
Even more interesting to me was that my not-as-much-of-a-people-pleaser 6 year old was also super impressionable by his peers! This is a child who will go a week without letting a veggie pass his lips; or anything with sauce; or anything new for that matter! But at the party, he made a couple new (girl) friends and they were "good" eaters, and it was a food party, and I watched him eat and like what the girl was liking; and not like what she didn't like. Amazing.
So I know that as a parent I need to model good eating, and I do. My husband and I eat pretty well, make lots of healthy salads and cook a few times a week from scratch (nothing fancy, mind you, but home cooked food.) We practice a type of food parenting that Ellyn Satter talks about (modeling good eating, offering variety, not forcing choices, etc.) but all of that good food parenting has yielded far less in terms of our kids trying new foods than that single party!
The question for me now is, what's next? I obviously can't create a party every week for dinner. Or can I? Instead of ending play dates before dinner, should I have them during dinner? And what do I do if the boys befriend worse eaters than they are? Might I be tempting fate by inviting super picky eaters into my house? Or do I need to just relish in the memories of one food party where my boys stretched themselves and their perhaps expanded their palates just a little bit?