How a stranger finally got my fussy eater to try new foods

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

My seven-year-old daughter Harriet is the world's fussiest eater.

It's a quality that she's had since birth. When Harriet started daycare at four months old, she decided she would not take a bottle, and despite all attempts to cajole and tempt her into trying that bottle (I'm embarrassed to admit all the unhealthy treats I blended with that milk to make it more appetising but they included maple syrup and – in a final act of desperation when she was a bit older – Milo.)

It wasn't that I didn't know how to handle a few fussy moments. Harriet is the youngest of three and I didn't think any child was a match for my "you're not leaving the table until you eat least try it" approach. It had worked on my other two, but this kid has an inner mule that makes her impossible to reason with.

It's actually impressive, and I'm sure will serve her well in life. I just wish she wasn't like that with me.

Cut to seven years later, and Harriet is a happy and healthy school kid. She still has a stubborn streak and will not do things she doesn't want to do, but luckily for all involved, there aren't that many of them.

But we still have issues with food. Harriet does not like cooked vegetables at all. Unless you count potatoes, which are their own entire food group. 

This rules out a lot of meals – pretty much any meal that is mixed together in some way, like stir fries, fried rice, or curries, or casseroles, or pasta that isn't spaghetti bolognese. 

What Harriet does like is plain pasta (with bolognese sauce, or butter and cheese, or on its own), plain protein (think any kind of meat as long as it's not seasoned or flavoured in any way), and three types of raw vegetable: capsicum, carrot and cucumber. 

Of course, being a seven-year-old, Harriet is also a fan of biscuits, cakes, muffins, ice cream and nuggets and fries – but this is not how we're going to live our lives.

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I had resigned myself to serving every meal with a side of raw vegetable trio, and had been doing so for years, when something happened that changed everything. Harriet brought home a note advertising after-school cooking classes, and begged me to enrol her.

I have to admit, I thought I was doing my dough. Cooking classes run by a nutritionist, who advertised that she makes things like sweet potato brownies and chicken sausage rolls with zucchini? Good luck, lady

But during the first class, Harriet's teacher told the class that she expected everyone to at least try a bite of everything they made – something Harriet solemnly repeated to me when she came home, as if it was the first time someone had ever given her such an important responsibility.

That was two terms ago, and Harriet has just returned for her third term of cooking classes. She has brought home some dishes I never would have asked her to try, from zucchini slice and lamb meatballs with harissa to muesli slice and chocolate and zucchini cake. And she's tasted every single one of them.

Sure, she hasn't liked many, but she's trying things and that makes me happy. And there have been some subtle but noticeable changes in her relationship with food. Always eager to help, she has learned to scramble her own eggs, and I have noticed her helping herself to the occasional leaf of lettuce at the dinner table too.

And now, when I ask her to try something, she does. It's amazing.

It's just a matter of time before Harriet and I are creating culinary masterpieces in the kitchen together – hopefully full of cooked vegetables.