Of the interests that brought my husband and I together on our first date, travel and food were two of the top three. (The third was a closely related one—wine.) Thinking about this the other day I wondered, which would we give up—no more travel but we could eat delectable food for the rest of our lives, or lots of travel but the food would be nondescript? The reality is, part of the appeal of travel IS the food. When you travel to a new place, eating the food is an excellent way to learn about and try to understand the culture. Plus, it’s usually really tasty.
With this in mind, it was important to us that Luca be an adventurous eater. That doesn’t mean he had to be willing to eat insects in preschool, but it did mean that he not be TOO picky as a toddler.
Funny, right? As we inch closer and closer to his second birthday, I know that neophobia—the fear of new foods—is right around the corner. And between his increasing pickiness over the past seven months and the reality exposed in Hungry Monkey—the story of a food writer’s attempts to raise an adventurous eater—I know that we’ve got a challenging couple years ahead. But I still want him to want to try as many different kinds of food as possible, and that means doubling down and feeding him as many different foods as possible now, before it’s too late.
Are you also interested in raising an adventurous eater? Here are my three tips, based on what we did and what I plan on doing more of in the coming months:
1. Be wary of the kids’ menu. I’m not going to say to avoid it completely. In France I was amazed at how delicious the three course kids’ menu was in most restaurants and in Norway the exorbitant cost of everything on the regular menu makes the kids’ menu a welcome sight. But so many kids’ menus are just a collection of the same bland kid “favorites” (all of which we delayed giving to Luca for as long as possible) and in that case, we will usually get Luca an appetizer from the regular menu instead. The smaller portions tend to make an excellent main course for a small child and the flavor combinations are often the most inventive on the menu.
An example from our travels? When Luca was ten months old he dined on asparagus flan in Cinque Terre. (I think it is unlikely he’d go near it today, but it was a success at the time!)
2. Invest in a good baby cookbook or two. Probably the most frustrating advice I got when introducing Luca to solids was to “just give him what you eat.” While we did have the same dinner most days from the time he was about nine months old, in general I find that to be really poor advice, especially if your goal is to raise an adventurous eater. After all, most of us, no matter how adventurous our palette, don’t eat particularly interesting food most days. And if you figure that you’ll only have 4 to 18 months of eating solid food before the pickiness starts, you can’t waste any time introducing new flavors.
With this in mind, and feeling a little unsure about which adaptations to recipes were best for little ones, I started stocking up on baby-friendly cookbooks. But not just any baby cookbook. Specifically those that were aimed at helping parents raise adventurous eaters. Two of my favorites have been Around the World in 80 Purees (which includes more than purees and is thus relevant into the toddler years) and Little Foodie.
3. Consistently expose your kid to a variety of textures—and not just in food. I have a theory that introducing kids to textures is even more important than introducing them to a variety of flavors. Because if your kid doesn’t like the way something feels, she isn’t going to eat it, no matter how good it tastes. And that is going to severely limit the variety of foods she eats.
In my son’s case, he is not a fan of “mushy” foods, including purees and yogurt. It drives me crazy to watch him pick the berries and granola out of his yogurt piece by piece, especially knowing that so many restaurant dishes include purees on the plate, thus making them inedible in his mind.
That said, I have been very bad about actually trying to address the problem. I continue to offer them several times a week (especially in flavors he likes) and try my hardest to just sit back and watch him play with his food—even though it means constantly wiping his hands since he thinks that anything on them is “yucky.”
For ideas on how to deal with these aversions to texture (including a “pudding car wash” I keep meaning to do with Luca) check out Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater—which, incidentally, is an excellent parent book beyond feeding, thanks to its “parenting passport” concept.
What are your tips for raising an adventurous eater? Especially for those of us in or entering the picky toddler and preschool years?
Kristen Curette Hines / Stocksy.com (girl holding green pepper)
Brooke Lark / Unsplash.com (tropical fruits)