Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bringing the Family Together Over the Kitchen Table: Tips on Getting Kids to Appreciate Good Food

One of the things I am proudest of in my short 5 years of "parentdom" is getting my kids at a very early age to appreciate a wide variety of food. I was very proud of my 5 and 1-year-old on a recent family trip to Maine to visit our good friends, Cookie and Tony. As a family, we love eating the best local food or specialty dishes we can find. Of course, in Maine you must have lobster, blueberries, wonderful summer vegetables, and mussels. My kids ate everything with a passion along with harvesting their own mussels and devouring them for dinner.

I am not a child psychologist, expert or anything of the sort but I have made a few observations along the way that may be helpful. This blog entry is an introduction into what we will explore in upcoming blogs in more detail.

1. Its Up to You. Parents give signals to their kids all the time. Little facial gestures or unintended messages that you probably don't even notice. Studies have shown that even small babies have incredible facial-recognition ability. Trust me, they are watching you! If you are picky eater as a parent, your kids will be too. If you express disdain about eating a particular food, they will copy you -- especially young children. As a parent, you need to take the lead. If you expose your children to a wide variety of foods at an early age and express your enjoyment in eating something good, your children will pick up on it.

2. Start Young. Don't limit your child's palate at an early age. Expose them to fresh food. I see a lot of young eaters become picky when they first start on solid foods. I know it is convenient to purchase the supermarket baby food. After a long day of work, it is totally understandable. I have used them myself especially when traveling, but creating your own baby food ,even out of the simplest things, will start them out early on the right path. There is an early window of opportunity to get your kids to have an adventurous palate. In my experience, that age is between 1-3 years old. It is harder to change bad habits once they reach the age of saying "no" randomly and expressing their independence.

3. No Kids Menu. None of my children eat off the kids menu, but not because I say so. Chicken fingers, hot dogs, pizza or other dummied-down dishes for your kids are convenient pretexts for placating picky eaters but just plain bland. My husband and I have traveled with our 5-year-old since he was very young. When we would go out to a restaurant, Robb and I would order for ourselves and Matias would eat from both of our dishes on his own plate. Now at age 5, he refuses eat off the kid's menu and actually cried when one of our friends ordered from it on his behalf. Kids enjoy good food too!

4. Cook with Them. Kids love to cook and they will appreciate the effort of preparing food if they have participated in making it themselves. My eldest loves to claim that he is "a good cooker." Giving kids the opportunity to cook with you is an easy way to get them motivated to eat well and appreciate the effort. Finding small tasks and developing knife skills will give them the ability to actually help. The Montessori system in school helps a lot! This is my eldest helping Tony put the lobsters in the pot.

5. Show Them The Source. This is one of the most important elements. Kids need to understand that food doesn't naturally come in shrink-wrapped plastic. Showing children where vegetables and fruit actually come from with the local grower is a great way to introduce them to the concept. It is fun for kids to pick their own produce in the summer or better yet when you have a little garden in your back yard. When we were in Maine, we went to the Lobster pound to see how they are harvested. As well, we waded into the mud to gather our own mussels. Both kids loved getting muddy, trying to find the right-sized mussels. It gave them context to what they were eating and a great story to tell.

6. Appreciate Where You Are. We try to go on a family vacation every summer and eating locally is one of our favorite things. Getting the best of where you are is important, not only to appreciate the joys of traveling, but to expanding your child's palate. Don't just plan what tourist sites you are going to see, talk about what you are going to eat long before you get to your destination. My son was talking about the mussels, one of his favorites, long before we arrived in Maine. He enjoyed his meal even more after he harvest, cleaned and helped prepare them.

Coming up! The recipe that we enjoyed in Maine -- Lobster Enchiladas with Pipian (Mole Verde). It was so GOOOOOD! Picture below.

As always . . . Peace, Love and Good Food.

Chef Ana

2 comments:

Kiersten said...

Great post, Ana! You have also helped some of us adults be more adventurous in our food choices, as well!

the traditional gourmand said...

This is a wonderful post! It should be used a brochure. Seriously, these are wonderful tips any parent should read.