Tender Tastebuds

Note on today's post--it may offend some.  Especially if you have kiddos who are finicky eaters.  Please, please don't get your pants in a bind!  I'm saying all of this as a fellow parent and one who wants to avoid extra hassle at mealtimes.  Anyway, you'll see what I mean.  Read on.

Today it's all about the kiddos.

Here's my tyke:

He's a happy soul.  Isn't he adorable?  I think so.

So why are we discussing kids?

Because they eat too!  And often they are labeled "picky," which, to be frank, drives me bonkers.

Often kids who are labeled "picky eaters" have simply been given options, far too limited options.  Oxymoron?

Not quite.

What am I rambling about?  Children who are allowed to choose from certain items parents know they will only eat, often don't get the diversified palate that other, more adventurous, children have.  Kids don't simply prefer hot dogs, white bread, peanut butter, and mac n' cheese- they are given them because parents allow it or limit their kiddo's taste buds to these four items.  Or, the parent will make a completely separate meal for the picky eater.  Of course kids aren't going to try stir fry when the mom (or dad) treats the kitchen as though it's a restaurant with menu options.  Would you?

I wouldn't.

However, my mother didn't give me an option!  I had to eat what everyone else was eating, and I had to finish my plate.

Now I realize there are psychological ramifications for forcing children to eat their entire meal.  I'm not advocating this, I'm promoting the idea that children should eat what everyone else is eating, no other "options" allowed.  If they don't like it, they don't eat.  This will be the rule with my own children.  I'm not above letting them go hungry for a meal.  They need to learn to accept what has been provided, no questions asked.

There have also been correlations with children who are given fruits before veggies when eating baby food, white bread over wheat when starting table food, and salty/sugary snacks rather than foods flavored with herbs/seasonings.  Those kiddos I know who aren't "picky" eaters are more adventurous because their parents diversified their palates at six month olds and beyond.

I'm starting this even now.

My son doesn't simply receive jarred peas or pears at mealtimes, he gets a pureed form of whatever we just ate (veggie ravioli, meatloaf, chicken noodle soup, beef stew, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, lentils).  So far, he hasn't refused anything.  I'm thankful, but I know the day will come when he does choose to dislike something and we will approach that day when it arises.  Until then, I'm sticking with my philosophy.

So why am I pushing this?

Partly because I loathe whining (it's one of my biggest pet-peeves) and if my child whines about disliking something it's going to drive me absolutely nuts; more importantly, though, it's because I want my children to be open to new things, to be respectful of others' cooking (when we are at someone else's house who may have cooked something we haven't eaten before), and to appreciate the vast flavors/textures/varieties of all that is in the culinary world.

Oh, I pray for this.

I'm already hitched to a man who despises most vegetables, stays away from most fruits, dislikes anything that isn't beef or chicken.  For this reason, our children are already at risk for being "picky".  However, Mr. K is getting better and our son is already showing promise!  Let's hope this continues.

So why the fuss?

While at the library the other day this book caught my eye:

OF course it caught my eye!  What's this all about?  I thought to myself.  I must check it out.  Literally.

So I did.  And I devoured the thing.  Not literally...but you know what I mean.

The book is the spawn of Hugh Garvey and Matthew Yeomans' blog and details the ways in which children (and adults) can and should be adventurous eaters.  They highlight 10 Gastrokid rules for "reclaiming the family dinner table,"  of which I will now share with you.


As parents, "get in touch with the wonder of food...become a culinary explorer."  If you are making the same meals, day-in-day-out, of course your kiddos aren't going to want to eat anything else.  Make eating fun, have the children pick out a fun-colored veggie or fruit to try when you go to the market, have the kids cook with you.  Your enthusiasm for cooking and eating a variety of things will be infectious.

"If you do, you're only giving them an excuse to refuse everything you offer them...there is no such thing as a picky eater, just kids with discerning taste."  This is all the more reason to make a variety of things, allowing them to explore more flavors.

"Offer them a taste of everything.  They might hate it, or they might love it, but you'll never know."  AKA, don't just make something because you think it will be kid-friendly.  Make it for the whole family and if one member doesn't care for it, they can eat the other items provided, or pick around the disliked item.

"Often kids' tastes change on a dime and have nothing to do with your food."  This will be something I have to keep in mind because I often get offended when my husband makes weird faces at a meal.  But truly, it's more a reason to not give up and keep trying their taste buds!

"Once you admit this, you open up the culinary horizons of your household...don't simply make a quesadilla for the kiddo while you consider what the adults will eat...make that quesadilla good enough for both child and adult, add fresh cilantro or chicken with colored sweet peppers."  This goes along with my own philosophy of not making something different for each member of the family.  Everyone should eat the same thing, no questions asked.  That's my policy!

Sounds more extreme than it is: a tiny pinch of salt, a dollop or real butter, a little bit of vinegar all turn flavors significantly and make any item more appealing.  This is something I've learned to be incredibly true.  The one thing I can't stand is undersalted bread; it tastes blander than bland.  Also real butter ups the ante in any baked good.  Contrary to popular thought--kid's aren't overly into bland foods, they love things with lots of sugar and salt.  However, turn those refined taste buds into something completely different by making the flavor come from other sources (herbs, spices, honey, etc).

"Browner is better when it comes to food...a good sear on a steak, a piece of bread that's been toasted...brown food is more molecularly complex and thus more flavorful."  Browning brings out the natural depth-of-flavor in most things.  It makes anyone (kid and adult alike) appreciate the finer tastes of the dish.

Find a local farmer's market, make it an outing with your kids.  Let them pick out a fresh apple and take a big bite out of it.  They will enjoy shopping even more when it's a fun pasttime.  Another neat thing I can't wait to do is grow a garden with my children.  Studies have shown that kids who cultivate the food themselves are more apt to eat what they grow and be more open to new things.  I saw this firsthand when living with my aunt & uncle during college.  My aunt has a lovely garden in her backyard and has always allowed each child to have a small plot to grow whatever they choose (flowers, herbs, veggies).  Her children have grown to be lovers of all flavors and textures--preferring a fresh pea pod, heirloom tomatoes, and crisp home-grown lettuce above all other varieties.  The youngest was eating fresh pesto and hummus as a toddler!

I mentioned this earlier.  This isn't always easy or time-saving, but it "invests them in the final dish" and allows them to be a part of the meal itself.  My grandparents and parents did this with me and I can't wait to invite my own little ones in the kitchen with me.

"We live in a world where we discard large amounts of food.  Make a weekly habit of taking the week's dying produce and make a quick vegetable stock" (or stew!  remember this?).  I am THE biggest proponent of this and was even more so after living in Africa for a year and realizing how wasteful we Americans really are.  Our family now lives on revived leftovers.  If you aren't one to enjoy them, really try.  Really.  You will save your family big bucks.  As of right now my family only consists of my husband, myself, and our nine month old son.  Therefore I don't really need to make mass amounts of anything and yet I do so that I can freeze things in individual containers for easy lunches/meals.  It makes my life easier, healthier, and stress-free (most days). It really isn't difficult to make a big 9x13 pan of lasagna, eat merely a 1/6 of it, and freeze the rest.  Things like soups and stews taste better as they sit so we do many of those.  Truly, truly, if there is a better cooking tip I could give I don't know it, this is it.  You can also re-invent things.  If you make a big beef or pork roast on Sunday, have BBQ beef/pork sandwiches on Monday night or tacos on Tuesday.  Don't you all recall the dorm food in college?  Once the apples in the fruit basket started to turn you would immediately see "apple-walnut salad" on the menu the next day.  I was always thrilled at the collegiate cook staff for recycling.  I'm not one to waste.   Many, many things can be revived and renewed.  Don't dump 'em!

I love this cookbook.  I likely wont buy it now because I'm severely over budget on my book-purchasing this month but I suggest viewing their website.  It has an array of fabulous recipes and tips!  Even if you aren't a parent, it's a great way to find quick, easy, healthful meals for everyone to enjoy.  It's a far better method than this:

I hate this idea.  I despise the "sneaky" method of tucking broccoli into brownies and weird things like that.  I mean, really?  Gross and more gross.  If I'm going to eat a brownie I want it laden with all the bad-for-you stuff.  No little flecks of green.  Nor would I subject my kids to this.  You shouldn't have to go to such extreme measures to get healthful foods into your children.  It just teaches them to be, well, deceptive rather than receptive, and it makes your job that much harder.

Boo to you, Jessica Seinfeld.

Anyway, in the same realm of kids, food, and bookdom I found this blog post the other day and was, of course, in love with it.

Just read it, you'll see what I mean.

Now go make something fun and exciting for your kiddos!

Or your husband.

Or yourself.

I want some real brownies.  No broccoli included.


Kirsten's Cooking said...

Oh, this may be my longest comment ever....I am so relieved that you are booing Jessica Seinfeld. When I saw the picture of the book I was silently in my head pleading, "please don't like this approach"! I am so thankful that my kids love fruit and veggies and are more than willing to try anything. They don't like everything I make, and that's okay. Before I married Rob he had never had crabmeat, lamb, many vegetables, and rarely, if ever, enjoyed local produce (a total crime, as our county is stocked with local farmstands). I understand that there were MAJOR budgetary concerns in his household growing up. Good job raising your totally adorable son (I always pureed our meals, too) and trying to open Curt's eyes to the beauty of whole food! The only thing I would add is that as a family we try to experiment with new things as often as we can...
we've tried lychee fruit, prickly pears, paw-paws, red bananas, etc. It's so fun to try something exotic, especially as universally available international foods have become (and a couple bucks is pretty cheap entertainment!). I am not good at involving my kids in cooking with me, it's a selfish pursuit, one I need to share with them (they are interested, and I know I am squandering many opportunities). So sorry for the long post!

Alli said...

My parents must have been in your camp, Abbie, because my favorite food as a little kid was lima beans, no joke. We're still without little ones for the moment, but I totally agree with your philosophy - as if we aren't busy enough, adding in extra "kids only" alternative meals just adds to the chaos! When my little ones start on solid foods, they'll be eating pureed versions of the same stuff we eat. And no whining!

Also, I read about that broccoli in brownies thing in a NY Times review. Can I just say eww? There is NO reason to mix yummy and healthy stuff with the yummy and sinful stuff - let each be its own thing and be valued for what it is, not for what it's pretending to be.

Shadley said...

We just had to "follow through" with this rule last night! I made a new recipe and Eden didn't like it and we had to say no to her attempts to get something else. There is one thing I never say no to- if they don't like what they are given but will eat broccoli, I will serve them broccoli! And we also choose not to make them clean their plates, but the must try what they are given. Whether they choose to finish it or not, is up to them. Good post!

Lianne said...

Hey! Can I just say that I love your blog? :) I can't wait to start making some of your yummy recipes. And cheers to you for this particular post - as a pediatrician, I cannot agree with you more about "picky" eaters and such. I have way too many patients whose parents are slaves at mealtime, making as many as 3 different meals for their kids - ridiculous!! I wholly support your philosophy.

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