While browsing photos on Flickr I came across Emily Mitchell and fell absolutely in love with every aspect of her work. I wrote to Emily to see if I could use the above photograph for my previous post on Adventurous Eaters. The turnaround was too short, but when Emily read that the photo was to be used for a post on food struggles in toddlers she replied with the most amazing response.
My son will eat just about anything (as will my daughter), but this didn’t happen on its own. We travel a lot, and you cannot have picky eaters when you travel. They have to eat what they’re given when you give it to them, because you’re constantly on the move, constantly experimenting, moving, going long hours, eating wherever you happen to be. We stay out late, we enjoy good food, we enjoy good wine and long conversations. And our children tag along. That is just our lifestyle. It’s not unusual for us to be out at a restaurant for close to 3 hours, and the children do great. Even when they were just 2 and a baby, we’d take them to 5-star restaurants. This summer, they dined with us at their first Michelin star restaurant, Le Petit cave in Saignon, France. They ate everything. And the owner invited us back.
We were able to travel several weeks in Canada in the fall and again in the winter, and spend all summer in France without issue. If we hadn’t trained our children to know and love good food, we’d have had mid-afternoon meltdowns over Goldfish and cheese sticks in a country where they didn’t exist. Instead, they ate pate and escargot and salads and all kinds of foreign cheeses and exotic foods. They ate Andouille sausages, quiche, rabbit, steak, and duck regularly without complaint.
Our philosophy is that if a child is hungry enough, he will eat what’s in front of him. So what we do is simple: starting around age 3, they must eat at least 2 regular-sized bites of everything on their plate, or the entire plate is re-served to them at the next meal or snack time and they must eat it all before they are served any other food. We are religious about this rule. We have served plenty of dinner leftovers for breakfast. I’ve taken leftovers out to restaurants. I’ve taken restaurant leftovers home. Some think our strategy is unfair, but it works. And to me, the health benefits outweigh the risks of their temporary discomfort and unhappiness. When sickness makes the rounds at school, our children almost never fall ill.
With our first child, I think we only had to re-serve a plate a second time on 7 or 8 instances before we no longer had a problem. With our second, only 2 or 3 instances. There was only one time I had to serve a meal more than twice. It was tortellini, and it took 9 times! And I did feed him milk and a mercy banana during the course of the day-and-a-half-long battle. After that, we agreed the children would be allowed dislikes and honor them respectfully within reason. For my son, it’s tortellini or tuna. For my daughter, it’s tomatoes. So when those things are served, they just get larger portions of the other side dishes and may get themselves bread if they wish. And neither likes tootsie rolls. My son won’t touch cotton candy, and he’s also quite picky about artificial dyes now. He tells me that fruit snacks are “not real food.” And he can recognize other fake foods as well, like colored cereals, cheese puffs, and bologna. GoGurt, for example, also really weirds him out. And he thinks single-serve applesauce squeeze packets are a strange and wasteful idea. I can’t say I blame him.
I got the idea that our children would not be resigned to “kid” food one night when we were travelling through Utah and I saw an episode of Bizarre Foods in our hotel room. The host showed a little Brazilian girl a plastic jar full of peanut butter without a label on it. He asked her if she would eat it, and she scrunched up her nose and giggled in joking disgust, as an American kid would if you suggested she eat a cricket. He irreverently squeezed the jar of peanut butter at her until it looked like it would ooze forth. And they both laughed. I watched her happily eat what the rest of her family ate. And that was it for me. At the time, my eldest hadn’t started solid foods yet, but I knew from that moment how things would be.
We rarely order from a kid’s menu, unless it’s a burger joint. They eat food from our plates. We never, ever cook a separate meal for them at home. And now that they’re 3 and 5, there are rarely ever snacks, so they are hungry for dinner.
The result is grateful, adventurous eaters who are at home wherever they go in the world. No arguments, no pleading. Better nutrition. No portable applesauce required.
I’ve re-read her email about ten times and every time I just am so amazed. Thank-you Emily for opening up my eyes to other ideas.
What do you think? Do you think it’s way too intense or a very short amount of hard work for a lifetime of benefits?
And lastly, thanks to Emily for not only the detailed response above but wonderful responses to my other queries and for her beautiful photography in particular. I really fell in love with it to the point where it inspired me to start to fall in love with doing photography again and in a professional manner. Her photos were the first family photos I ever saw and said ‘yes – I get this and I want to do this’. They changed my world.
Check out her website and watch her videos. This gal is amazing.
(Photo Credit Emily Mitchell at Everyday Films)