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The Power of Engagement: Getting Kids Involved in Their Food

Last night at dinner I set out a beautiful platter of salmon fillets surrounded by sautéed baby broccoli. The colors were striking and appealing and I invited the boys to serve themselves. Both boys, as expected, dove into the salmon and the millet (which I served for them since it was still quite hot), but watching them with the baby broccoli, which neither of them had ever had was fascinating and reminded me of the importance of encouraging your kids to pay attention to what they are eating.

My “picky” eater immediately reached for the baby broccoli and put some on his plate. (Just that was a huge success for us!) He left it there and began to eat the other foods. About half-way through the meal, he quietly picked up the baby broccoli, took a bite, and set it back down, returning to the other food.


My “adventurous” one scooped up the two biggest stalks of baby broccoli and crunched away. He then moved on to his other food and I was surprised that he didn’t go back for more baby broccoli.

As I was eating my own broccoli I remarked on how good I thought it was. My “picky” one quietly said that he didn’t like it. I acknowledged that he had tried it and that I was proud of him for that, but did not ask him to try it again. I let it be. The other said he didn’t like it either. I said I was surprised because it seemed like something he would like. I then asked them both for suggestions for how to make it differently next time. And this is where it got interesting. Both of them sat up in their chairs and began to give ideas, “add sugar,” “roast it,” “salt and pepper,” etc. I then asked what they were hoping would be different next time and the “adventurous” one said that he liked the stems because they were sweet, but the tops were bitter. So then I asked if cutting it into smaller pieces would have helped and they both said yes. I then invited the “adventurous” one to eat just the stems if he wanted more. The kid almost fell off his seat as he lunged for the baby broccoli that was left of the platter, finishing off every last piece, leaving the tops on his plate.

This whole exchange really brought home to me how important it is to engage our kids about their food. By inviting a discussion about what they liked and didn’t like about the baby broccoli, without pressure or hidden agenda, they became more open to it and excited about sharing their perspectives. Furthermore, once they were able to articulate what they didn’t like about it, one of them was then able to say what he did like, which brought him back for more.

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