Ah, children and food; every parent’s favorite negotiation. I won’t pretend to have this subject figured out (the more children I have, the more I don’t know), but I do think that our children are growing up to be reasonably adventurous eaters. Whatever credit there is can be attributed to our parents, who didn’t have time for picky eaters, and are adventurous diners themselves. So we Cahoots adults are in turn doing our best to pass those characteristics on to our own children, who vary wildly in personality and preferences (and negotiation tactics and cunning…). Here are 5 techniques we employ to expand our children’s palates, figured out as the Krewe and Crew have expanded.
Tip No. 1: Let them pick a new food
The last time I took my entire Krewe inside the grocery store (honestly, something I usually avoid thanks to pick-up services!!), I let my kiddies pick out new foods to try; something from the produce, something frozen, some Mexican cookies, and something we spied in the canned section. We walked out with dragon fruit, baby lima beans, and pink beans. As soon as we got home they were begging to try the lima beans. So I let them taste them raw (not fans), then I cooked the beans for dinner. This would probably never had happened if I had just tried to serve the lima beans at dinner! But my kiddoes were eager to try out something that was their idea. (For the record, most of my Krewe decided they liked the beans!)
Tip No. 2: Repeated Exposure
At the top of the-not-very-enjoyable-but-pretty-effective list of techniques is repeated exposure. Practically, this means eating at least a bit of everything every time it’s served, regardless of whether you like it or not. I (Melissa) have one broccoli hater. (We took her to France. We ate glorious food. I asked her what her favorite part of French food was. The crunchy baguette sandwiches with rich butter? Chocolat chaud? Flaky croissants? The incredible éclairs? No, no, no, and non. “That there was no broccoli.” Major eye-roll…) Unfortunately for my broccoli-despiser, it’s a favorite green of everyone else in our house! But she knows the rule — she always has to eat one piece. When we were growing up squash was our universally hated vegetable, but my parents stuck to the one piece rule. (I have a grown brother who still hates squash despite eating it all of his life, but the rest of us now like it! I also had a sister who hated potatoes…who recently named potatoes as her desert island food. It works.) That rule may or may not result in my daughter ever liking broccoli, but it at least teaches her that dinner doesn’t revolve around her, and that eating something she doesn’t like won’t kill her.
Tip No. 3: Experiment with Preparation
Last week, to my aforementioned broccoli hater’s dismay, I made Broccoli Cheddar soup. She was dreading supper, but I talked it up as my favorite soup since I was a little girl her age, and she reluctantly tasted it… only to love it! I’m sure it was really the cheese that did it. Which is point number three: experiment with preparation. It will help broaden their palates at least a little.
Tip No. 4: Start Young
We don’t have special/different meals for the babies; generally speaking, if it gets cooked everyone eats it. I’ve found it helpful not to assume that there are foods the littlest ones won’t eat, and they’ve often surprised me by what they love and eat thirds of! The sooner they taste variety, the better.
(Rabbit trail: Did you know that the baby “tastes” what you eat when you’re pregnant, and then if you breastfeed the flavors of your food come through in your milk? You can start feeding them a broad range of food before they’re even born, ha!)
Tip No. 5: Start Small
Maybe you already have a picky eater who is reluctant to try new foods, and you want to know “Now what??” How about starting with “easy” foods, like an exotic cookie, or new sort of bread, a new fruit, or an ethnic variation of a favorite dish? Ease into a new mindset of trying new things, then slowly expand their palate from there. Start with tip no. 1 of letting them pick the new food to try. Look at recipes and books together about new foods! This is a really fun book to look at different foods and dishes.
So those are our tips and tricks for raising adventurous eaters; do you have any ideas to add?