My boys are what you’d probably call “good eaters.” They not only have hearty appetites, but they’re relatively adventurous and willing to eat what’s served to them (mostly). I often get frustrated with their particular habits (“Why is P. such a grazer???” “Why won’t L. willingly eat more fruits???” “Why don’t the two of you like Mexican food???”) but the truth is, there are plenty of parents out there who’d love to be in my shoes. The boys’ lists of foods they enjoy are vastly longer than the lists of things they’d prefer not to eat, and aside from the occasional unwelcome commentary from the 7-year-old, dinner is rarely a battleground.

Still, there’s always room for growth, and I’ve been happy to see lately that 9-year-old L. is beginning to branch out in a noticeable way. The biggest change I’ve seen is that whenever he’s at a restaurant, he insists on ordering something he’s never had before. When I tried to think back to where this newfound adventurousness began, the nearest I could figure was that it started with pizza toppings.

Now, pizza has always been a relatively “pure” concept in our household. I grew up eating a variety of toppings, but my husband’s Italian-American upbringing generally left pizza pretty much naked. There might have been the occasional dabbling in a single item, like sausage or pepperoni, but it became clear pretty soon after we started dating that the four-or-five topping pies of my youth were a foreign concept. Soon I came to appreciate the simplicity of the plain cheese (or preferably Margherita) pizza myself, and that’s how my boys came to recognize pizza: As a cheese-only affair. Pepperoni was a rare, and not universally agreed-upon, addition.

So it took me by surprise when, about…maybe a year ago now? Slightly less, perhaps? L. wanted to try anchovies. Of all things.

“What?” he responded, to my pained look. “I like pizza, and I like salty fish.” (Both incredibly true statements.) “Salty fish pizza seems like a good idea.”

I couldn’t fault his logic, and after all, J. and I have always tried our best to adhere to the simple rule that You Never Talk a Child Out of Trying Something. So I arranged for a side order of anchovies in a little cup, and he tried his Salty Fish Pizza.

And loved it.

From there, it was an easy transition to sausage pizza (his new favorite) and contemplating my favorite, pepperoni and mushroom. One day, at our favorite pizza place, he even asked me to share a Barbecue Chicken pie with him. I started to warn him against it (It’s got red onion! And what if he  doesn’t like their barbecue sauce?)…and again, stopped. What was I doing? We ordered the BBQ pizza, and as it turned out, we both liked it. L. grinned at me, face covered in sticky sauce.

The words came out before I thought about them, really.

“Thanks for trying,” I said, passing him the napkins. “It’s really great that you tried something so different. Thank you.”

He puffed up with self-importance. “You’re welcome,” he said. “After all, I AM getting older now.”

That he is.

It’s been open season on trying new things ever since: Duck pastrami, beef tongue, and barley in a fancy bistro on my birthday (all winners); Cheeseburger pizza on another outing (a big disappointment due to the ketchup and mustard, which he was not expecting); and on our family vacation to Philadelphia last week, he racked up fried oysters, venison, creme brulee, a traditional cheesesteak, Burmese thousand-layer bread, lemongrass braised beef, sweet and sour chicken, and authentic schnitzel from a German food stall at the Reading Terminal Market.

They weren’t all winners, but each time, I’ve tried to remember to repeat those three little words: “Thanks for trying!” And each time, he’s been proud. “It’s not my favorite, but I’m glad I decided to try something new,” he’ll say, or “This is one of my new favorite foods! I’m so happy I tried it!”

As nonchalant as I’ve tried to be in offering him this praise-by-way-of-thanks, it’s clear that it’s all starting to have an unexpected effect on a different member of the family: P. At just barely seven years old, P. is still not as adventurous with flavors as his older brother, and given his habit of eating less at meals, I’ve often given him the option of ordering from the kids’ menu at restaurants as long as it’s a decent one (a practice I never undertook with L., who would rather have shared a salmon entree with me at age 2 than eaten chicken nuggets). But as we sat at the City Tavern in Philadelphia, a place with a pretty great kids’ menu off which P. had happily ordered a grilled chicken dish, my praise for L.’s order of venison proved a bit much for my younger child to bear.

P. glowered at me. “I wouldn’t have even KNOWN about that food,” he grumbled. “Because you let them give me a KIDS’ MENU.”

I was caught off guard. He has never before wanted to order off the adult menu — in fact, I usually offer, and he won’t even look. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “You’re right. It’s not too late to change your order — I can get them to bring back a grown-up menu if you want to look at it.”

Grouchily, he said, “Nope. It’s too late and I won’t change it because that’s embarrassing. But NEVER give me a kids’ menu AGAIN.”

Fair enough.

The next night, in a Burmese restaurant in Chinatown, I mentioned a few items on the menu that I thought he might like, but didn’t try to steer his choices. And P. tried mango juice, thousand-layer bread, and Burmese fried rice.

“Ha,” he said to me. “I ordered like an adult.”

“You sure did,” I agreed. “And P….thanks for trying.”