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How to Cure the “Yucks”

Food is hospitality. Food is identity. Food is culture. And sometimes, it's not your kid's favorite.

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It’s bad enough to have kids get mouthy about meals at home. But when their beaming Nonna presents them with a pot of stew she’s been cooking all day and they take one look and insult it with a cry of “Yuck!”—well, it makes you want to stow away in the landing gear of the next flight home.

I’ve been confronted with this issue more than once while traveling with my children. I tried scolding them—then scolding them again—without having a bit of impact on their behavior. Finally, I came upon a blog post (which has since vanished into the depths of the internet) that suggested teaching children an alternative to “Ick,” “Yuck,” and “Bleh.”

“It’s not my favorite,” lets them express their preferences politely.

One night over dinner, I explained to my 3- and 5-year-old that dumping on food was not only ill-mannered, but potentially hurtful to the person who cooked it—whether that happened to be Dada or a chef in a restaurant. We talked about how they would feel if someone insulted something they had made. I reminded them that they were entitled to their own tastes and opinions. And then I introduced four magic words.

“It’s not my favorite,” lets them express their preferences politely, to turn things down without creating a fuss. Getting the kids to use it took a little reminding—ok, a lot of reminding. Over many months. And sometimes I still have to prompt them when I see their little faces react to a food. But it’s worked, and everyone is happier for it. Even Nonna.

Sara Clemence is a parent, freelance journalist, and author of the book Away & Aware: A Field Guide to Mindful Travel.

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