Good eaters: How to raise an omnivorous child

These ain't SpaghettiOs! Maisie munches down on her favorite, tavola's pork ragu. Photo: Cramer Photo These ain't SpaghettiOs! Maisie munches down on her favorite, tavola's pork ragu. Photo: Cramer Photo

According to karma, I should have a picky child. (I once threw a fit when my parents stopped at Wendy’s because the hamburgers there are square instead of round.) But not only has Maisie never even eaten a fast food hamburger in her nearly five years of life, but she’s a better, more adventurous eater than many adults.

Eating habits are as much nature as they are nurture, so while I can’t take full credit, I can point to several things that may have contributed to the miracle that is our child who’s never said “eww” to anything she’s tasted.

As soon as Maisie was eating solids, I introduced single ingredient purées of whole foods, rather than blending three different components the way the commercial brands do. She gobbled up everything from beets to zucchini. Finger foods were tiny squares of tofu, sweet peas, black beans, and ditalini pasta instead of just Cheerios. I never muddled flavors by covering things up with ketchup or applesauce. Now, she can pick out even the subtlest flavors—like lemon zest in couscous or cumin on chicken.

The “try it once” rule stands in our household, though Maisie rarely needs prompting. She’s always eager to try something new and even foods she hasn’t cared for in the past, she’ll try again to see if she’s “grown up to like it” (as she says). She gagged the first time I gave her goat cheese at 18 months—I felt terrible, but she kept trying it and now eats Caromont’s Esmontonian like a champ. Capers, olives, cilantro, raw ginger—anything and everything goes into Maisie’s mouth —and even when it’s not a favorite, she just says so (and why) and moves on.

I never make an assumption about what she might like or dislike and am sure not to impose my own (albeit few) food aversions onto her. She actually gets a kick out of liking foods that others don’t.

Rather than suffering through meals at restaurants that cater to kids, we held off on dining out much as a family until Maisie was at an age to enjoy the entire experience. We wanted her to be part of the conversation and didn’t want her to think that watching a video on an iPad at the table is appropriate. Now, she sees dining out as entertainment and is an absolute pleasure to have at the table. She chose to celebrate her fourth birthday at tavola, loves the vegetable soup and warm rolls at C&O for a weeknight dinner, and brings her own “training” chopsticks to Peter Chang’s, where she delicately drapes the napkin across her lap before asking the server for “dumplings and Beijing duck, please.”

I imagine that karma might still be lurking around the corner with an “I’ll only eat white food” phase, but for now she’s a bona fide foodie. And I can’t wait to find out where she wants to take us for her fifth birthday!