Yucky and yummy. They seem to be the words that every kid likes to declare when at the table. As parents we tend to encourage it, too. It's usually our default when we are talking to kids about food. "Mmm, yummy!" or "Yucky?" Sound familiar?
We would never rely on just those words to talk about food when speaking with other adults, though. Can you imagine if you were at a restaurant with friends and when they asked how you liked the food you shook your head and said "yucky"? Or even "It was yummy," and that's it? I would bet you tend to rely on something closer to "It was a little too spicy for me," or "I wasn't a fan of the texture, it was too mushy."
Beyond Yucky and Yummy
We don't describe foods so simply as adults, so we shouldn't teach our kids to, either. Teaching them from the start how to describe food can help them understand their own preferences, relay them to you, and increase their vocabulary to boot. How nice would it be if your six year old, instead of saying "yucky" and making a face when you serve dinner, took a bite and said "it's too mushy for me?" Granted, it would still be frustrating that your meal received this declaration! At least it is more specific than yucky, though. It's also something you can keep in mind as a preference down the road.
So What Do I Say Instead?
When I first started trying to incorporate more descriptive words into my food vocabulary around the table, I admit that it was really hard! As in, my husband and I were drawing blanks when trying to say something other than yummy. So it takes practice. We try really hard to not use the word yummy at our table, or at least not to just leave it at yummy.
Some words that we use instead are spicy, bitter, sour, chewy, or crumbly. You can describe both the texture and the flavor. To help ourselves out in our search for descriptive words, I created a printout for our fridge with a whole host of potential words. The hardest thing for us is teaching the negative words along with the positive. Because let me tell you, future me is really tempted not to teach them to our daughter. I'd never have to hear "too mushy" or "too lumpy" from my future six year old. But professional me knows that that would be doing a disservice to her. She is allowed to have opinions. Even if I'm not going to like them.
It should go without saying that this recommendation doesn't mean that we give our kids cart blanche to pick apart a meal. It is equally important that you teach your child when it is appropriate to make such declarations about meals. There will be some trial and error, clearly. As parents we all know there's a reason the phrase "out of the mouths of babes" became a saying. Hopefully if they declare a meal "too lumpy" at a friend or family member's house at an inopportune time the friend will at least be gracious about it. The end goal is that your kid will know when it is socially appropriate to comment on food. It is also that those comments will be more than the cringeworthy, and blood boiling, "yucky!"
The Importance of Validation
As you start teaching your child descriptive words for food, there is likely to be some misuse of words. Perhaps they will call something that should be spicy crunchy instead. Or say it is spicy when you don't feel that way at all. A key point to these descriptions is that you do have to allow your child to have their opinions when it comes to food. That's not to say that you don't help them figure out what word they truly mean to use. But if they say something is spicy, try not to reply with "No it's not!" That discredits their own feelings around food. A better way might be, "Hmm, I don't feel that it's too spicy, it's just right for me!" When you respond, make sure you keep it focused on your own feelings. Everyone likes different foods, even kids. Making a blanket declaration saying that they are wrong and something isn't spicy, or sweet, or whatever word they use can shut down their desire to form opinions about food and express them.
Do I Really Want to Know?
Let's be honest, on some level the thought of our kids not having an opinion about our food is tempting to encourage. Teaching them to dissect our meals can lead to some interesting conversations and feelings, for sure. Most of us wouldn't mind just having people eat our food and keep it to themselves if they don't like it. But encouraging this in our children can hinder their enjoyment of food down the road, and can lead to them not knowing their own preferences. If they don't know what they like they can lose their connection with food and their own bodies. The exact opposite of what we want to encourage as parents. So start practicing using descriptive words with your kids at meal times, even if they can't talk yet! And know that your efforts will pay off as they get older, promise.