June 23, 2006

Good Eatin'

I would be interested in knowing how you've developed curious palates in your children. Were they born this way, or do you have certain house rules that promote adventurous eating?

First a disclaimer: I'm not an expert in the area of feeding children. I doubt my children eat any better than most other children and I probably let them have more junk food at times than a lot of people would.

For our family, eating preferences have really been all about exposure to lots of different foods -- both at home and when we eat out at restaurants. I always figured that if Indian children eat Indian food and Thai children eat Thai food, my children are more likely to enjoy those foods if we feed them to them from the beginning and continue to eat them regularly.

My kids aren't much different than other kids in their tastes though really. They aren't wolfing down super spicy foods and they'd love having French fries once a day if I let them. My son's favorite dish at the Thai restaurant is noodle based. Their favorite Indian "food" is a mango lassi, not a curry. Their tastes are only as adventurous as their parents and perhaps not as adventurous as their father's -- you wouldn't find either the children or me eating sushi or raw oysters for instance, even though Justin will eat both and even though the kids do eat fish fairly regularly.

I do try to make lots of different things (both in terms of different kinds of foods and from lots of ethnic backgrounds) and when we eat out at a restaurant it is often Greek, Thai, Indian or something else along those lines. This is not to say we never hit Sonic for a burger. Everything, both ethnic foods and fast food come in moderation.

I usually make the kids try a bite of whatever we are eating -- and there are lots of things that the parents really liked that never get made a second time, because they are so strongly disliked by the kids. I'll even do something I said I would never do -- I will at times make food for the kids that is different from what I make for myself. At those times though, and they aren't common, the kid's food is related to what the grownups are eating and easy to make. For instance, since my children don't like fajitas, I'll make them a quesadilla, but I might make them try a bite of the chicken and bell peppers I used in the fajitas.

Sometimes my childern utterly surprise me though. For instance, the bigger kids both like spanikopita and stuffed grape leaves a lot, which I never would have guessed. And my husband and I were a bit surprised when we went to a tiny Ethiopian restaurant and the kids couldn't eat the injera bread fast enough and insisted on taking every scrap of it home with us.

I figure no matter how much they are exposed to it, some kids will never like certain foods -- be it broccoli or tuna fish or peanut butter, etc. There are things I hate eating -- peanut butter, sweet potatoes and cantalope being on the list. I never, ever tell them that those or any other foods are gross though and I try never to suggest that something is too spicy, too mature, etc. for them. Two of my children will eat every black olive in sight, while one would consider it contaminating to be in the same room with a black olive. But along the Green Eggs and Ham principle, they'll never know for sure what they like if they don't get a chance to try things out and the more things they try out when they're little, the more things seem to stick later on, in my, so far, limited experience.

If the kids don't like something, that doesn't mean they won't see it again and have to taste it again later, though I take their current food favorites into account when coming up with meals. Tastes come and go. The boy who requested nothing but "hot, cooked egg" for breakfast when he was two won't eat an egg now unless it is drenched in cheese and inserted between two slices of toasted English muffin now. Sometimes the Middle Girl would rather eat nothing at all than ingest the food on her plate. When they hate something totally yummy and wonderful, in the end, we tell them not to worry, that their mouths probably haven't grown up enough to enjoy the food and that they can check again when they are bigger.


Sounds like a sane approach. Our kids are usually pretty good about things, and we have experimented on a few occasions to surprisingly good results - oldest now adores avocado (though only raw form - guacamole doesn't do it for her). Mrs. read something recently that says a kid needs to try a new food ten times before they can be depended on to eat or not eat it.

Two things drive me crazy, though - when something they used to scarf down is no longer palatable, and the fact that they can be very difficult when asked to try something. The tongue sticks out, a molecule crosses the airspace between food and tongue, and the inevitable "I don't like it." That's why our usual rule is they have to chew and swallow one bite before they say "no".

Posted by: skinnydan at June 23, 2006 07:02 AM

We pretty much have the same approach--we expose the kiddos to as much as we can. Both John and I have spent time in Thailand, so Thai food is a staple--spices and all. Our daughter eats just about anything and is willing to try anything. She is quick to try onions again...and again...and again...hoping to like them. My son is not so easy. He has a few favorites and likes little else. But he has to at least try everything to get seconds of the foods he likes. I 'm hoping the exposure will develop his taste buds more to our suitings!

Posted by: Amy at June 23, 2006 09:05 AM

My kids have always been pretty adventuresome. There is the one daughter that won't eat saurkraut and the other that won't eat liver, but I credit their easy tolerance (wrongly or rightly, can't be too sure) with never throwing out leftovers. My mother never did and I never have so on really busy days, supper might be nothing more than a scramble fry of diced potatoes, weiners, shredded cabbage, and a few kernals of corn with spices like dill or cajun thrown in to knock it up a notch and raw celery or carrot sticks on the side. May sound ugly to some but it is one way to keep a palate confused and non-discriminating. :)

Posted by: Roberta S at June 23, 2006 11:52 AM

"...check again when they are bigger" is certainly a reasonable approach, IMHO.

The only thing is that when our daughter got bigger, she ended up with a whole palate full of things that she didn't check first with ME, hummus and a whole lotta vegetarian "specialties" being at the top of the list.

Though, to be fair, she did give us a clue about the whole vegetarian thing when she turned 3 and selected for her birthday meal with the family "hicoombur and ice," variously known as cucumber and rice. And that's pretty much the way it stayed: any vegetable (including the "dreaded" broccoli), fruit, starch, and dairy product (I guess eggs aren't a dairy product, but you get the drift) was fair "game" for her. Anything else, fuhgedaboudit.

Posted by: Patricia at June 25, 2006 11:43 AM

Same philosophy here - but I have noticed that texture has a lot to do with it. Squink won't eat straight cherries, but if I put them in these he will try it and love it. So far he loves pappadums with Indians spices, Vietnamese food, light curries (my choice in intensity of flavor)… and South American and German-Austrian foods of course!

Posted by: Blair at June 25, 2006 10:32 PM