Grape tomatoes, olives, eggplant parm, feta cheese, Quiche Lorraine, couscous, wild rice & roasted veggies, Thai shrimp & rice noodles, sushi, Starbucks Skinny Vanilla Latte (decaf) and for dessert…….. 2 gummi bear vitamins, 2 graham crackers & a sippy cup of milk?
Confused? These are foods my twins enjoy eating. Some in fact, like the grape tomatoes, are actually an obsession. Surprised? I thought you might be, let me explain.
One of my passions is cooking, or should I say food. But I didn’t learn to cook until I got out on my own. I grew up with the typical 5 to 8 standard meals most everyone did in the 70s.: spaghetti, fried chicken, meatloaf, pot-roast, burgers, tuna casserole, etc.
My goal was to share my passion with my kids and expose them to the culinary delights of the world. Why should a toddler’s palate be dumbed down to mac ‘n cheese when they can equally enjoy pumpkin ravioli with Gorgonzola sauce? And mine devour it every time I make it. Beyond the exposure that I wanted for them, I also wasn’t about to waste my time in the kitchen every night fixing two separate meals.
So, how do you develop a sophisticated palate in a 2-year-old? Well, you start from day one. The first day you introduce food.
HOW TO INTRODUCE FOOD
- Keep It Simple – When introducing baby food, go with the basics and start with veggies. Purchase frozen veggies (sans salt) and puree away, freezing portions or purchase basic baby food. Never fall for souffles, casseroles or desserts – look at labels. Babies need to learn to appreciate the taste of a basic ingredient for what it is on its own. Marketers try to ‘trick’ moms by offering options that appear to be ‘gourmet’, but in reality it’s mush for the baby. Taste buds develop over time and thus, taste over time.
- Go Slow– It can take a baby or toddler up to 30 times to develop a taste for a new food. Keep offering small bites of anything new. They will most likely refuse at least half a dozen times initially. Never push or force anything. You can instill a will-full rejection of new items out of spite. Sometimes a child has texture issues with food (my son did). Seek the advice of a pediatrician, speech pathologist or occupational therapist to determine the best way to work through it.
- Out with the Old, In With the New – Introduce new foods that may be questionable with an old standby you know they like. As they become more familiar with the new food you can replace the old food completely.
- Create Mini Chefs– Involve them in the cooking or prep work and they will be more likely to try the food. My kids started cooking with me when they were 18 months old. And they love it! Just make sure it’s ok with your guests first if your kids are going to cook when you have company because they really don’t adhere to great hygiene rules – they do a lot of double dipping. But that’s ok!
- Be Confident– Remember you are the parent. You do the grocery shopping, you control what they are exposed to and what they consume. For example, when the kids started eating solids, I purchased grape tomatoes instead of grapes. My kids developed a taste for tomatoes. They had never even had grapes until the tomato addiction was well established. Given the both as an option, they will choose the tomatoes over the grapes most of the time.
HOW TO DEAL WITH RESISTANT PICKY EATERS
Here’s a sad little bit of reality. I read about a study in ‘that’ magazine (sorry for lack of reference) that discussed how young kids tested on good healthy foods preferences. Same healthy foods served on plates. Beside one is a plain brown bag and beside the other is a McDonald’s bag Toddlers as young as 2 consistently preferred “McDonald’s” over other options even though it was the same meal. Marketing is driving our toddlers taste buds and I personally don’t like it.
So here are two additional facts to help you on your journey to developing a sophisticated palate should you be met with resistance.
- CHILDREN DO NOT HAVE THE CAPACITY TO SELF STARVE. This is a fact – ask your pediatrician. It may seem so, but they will eat when they are hungry. Especially younger children. They will eat what is available. So if they do not eat what is offered at 6pm. Wrap it up, put it in the frig and pull it back out at 7pm, etc., etc. Trust me, my kids have sat at the table at 9pm before eating dinner and it was what I served at 6pm. This can be a battle of wills. You will be tested. They know how to play the game and can raise the stakes higher than you ever expected.
- YOU ARE THE ADULT, DON’T CAVE. You have the power. You have the control. If you have been fixing them a separate meal to appease them, you can stop. It will be ok. Follow the techniques above. Life will resume to normal soon. My kids have done this. They did not die of starvation or dehydration. I promise I’m not a mean mommy, I just refuse to let them eat only graham crackers & milk for dinner. This was a very long night, a test of wills that tested my patience. But they ate like champs in the morning.
There are very few things in this world that give me as much pleasure as eating a great meal, drinking great wine and being with great friends. The reality is not every child is going to like quiche or sushi – heck, most adults don’t. But developing the exposure, willingness to try new things, a taste for food and culture beyond chicken nuggets & hot dogs is so important to me.
We live in such a fast paced, microwavable world. I just think we need to instill the ideals that food is to be tasted, each bite is to be savored, a meal is to be lingered over.
So, you do have any great ideas on how to develop a sophisticated palate in a toddler? Let’s hear them….
PS. On a side note, my son did get a sip of my latte one day behind my back, now he begs for it. So on a rare occasion, I will let have a few sips of decaf. Does that make me a bad mommy? It’s just a battle I choose not to fight. Oh well!