Guess what I served my kids for dinner last night? Cabbage. Do you think they liked it? No, not particularly. Also on the menu was pork chops and potatoes, both of which they like, so they hardly went hungry. I knew that cabbage wasn't going to be a big hit, but I cooked it up anyway. I sauteed onions until they were sweet, threw in chopped savoy cabbage, and then added some chopped pear and apple cider vinegar. Pushing up the sweet quotient, I hoped, might win them over to the dish.
How did I handle it at the table? I served each kid a very small portion and asked, "just give it a try." All but the two-year old did. I never force my kids to try new food, not even one bite. I suggest; I encourage, but never force or threaten. If I really think they'll like it, I say so. If I think it might be too spicy or it's not all that good, I say that too. I might require that they keep the food on the plate, but it never has to touch their lips or even their fork.
Actual results on the cabbage, eating-wise? No comment about the cabbage from my 12 year old. My older daughter said she thought the pears in it were "actually pretty good, " and she picked those out. My 2-year-old loudly declared, "I DON"T WANT IT!" and pushed it off her plate. (She is in a very bossy-toddler phase and often not even willing to sit at the table. Since I am picking my battles with her, I decided to ignore this for the greater good.) My oldest, however, quietly explained to her that we can pretend to push the food around on the plate, but never say you don't like it to the host, "which in this case," he said,"is mommy. You might hurt her feelings." Priceless.
Nutritionists say that a child must be introduced to a new food 11 or more times before he or she will like it. It's hard for me to imagine cooking a dish 10 or more times without some verification that it will get eaten. Still, I always keep that number in mind and am not afraid to offer something 3 or times before giving up.
So bottom line: Keep trying!