Encourage your child’s culinary curiosity

Pop quiz!

Your child has made up their own recipe. Now it is time for a taste test. What do you do?

“Look! I put jelly on my peas! Want to try it?”

Answer: YES! Enthusiastically and emphatically! Open wide and get ready for the choo-choo, it is time for an Adventure Bite!

Your reaction to their creation is extremely important. When it comes to adventure bites, jelly and peas might be the same as you asking them to try a bite of casserole or stir-fry. The food presented is strange and different but might be a new favorite waiting to be discovered.

Unless the foods they are creating are dangerous, do not shut down this creativity. Cultivate it. Don’t stop your kids from getting playful with their food as long as the time and place allow.

Ask your kids open ended questions about their combinations, “why did you think to combine jelly and peas?” or “what do you think of the flavor?”

After you chew (and swallow!) Give your honest reaction to the new taste without shutting down their enthusiasm.

Go full on Food Network star with your answer. If you didn’t like it: “The combination of jelly and peas was reminiscent of eating a strawberry that had fallen on the grass and someone accidentally stepped on.” Or perhaps you were treated to an unexpectedly pleasant mouthful. Now be prepared to repeat this interaction.

You don’t have to go on a binge of dipping carrots in milk, eating raisins with tomatoes, or putting shredded cheese on your breakfast cereal (this turned out far less off putting than I was expecting) but no person, child or adult, knows what they will or won’t enjoy the taste of until they try.

I regularly fall into conversations about children who refuse to eat unfamiliar foods. Perhaps you can relate. If you can, think back, when was the last time you stopped telling and started showing your children how to be an open minded eater? I’m not talking about eating the broccoli you chose, prepared, and now want them to eat. I’m talking about trying something you are apprehensive about tasting for the first time.

AND! While we are on the subject – Stop telling kids what they don’t like!

Recently I found myself planted in the middle of our local self-serve frozen yogurt shop with my tongue clamped firmly between my teeth.

The shop offers a dozen or so frozen yogurt flavors identified by little cards featuring both the printed name and a brightly colored picture. Customers are encouraged to grab tiny sample cups to try the flavors before making a final selection. It is not unusual to see kids taking full advantage of the tasting buffet.

That evening I stood back and watched a little girl dance excitedly in front of the machines. She was not quite tall enough to reach the dispenser arms on her own.

She shimmied up to a machine in the middle of the wall and called excitedly: “Mom, I want to try that one!” But, her mother quickly dismissed her request: “No you don’t want that one, you won’t like Mocha Fudge.” Undeterred the little girl pointed to the next machine: “I want to try that one!” Once again her mother turned her down and pointed the girl toward one of the brightly colored fruit flavors. Since she was clearly going to allow her a dish of frozen yogurt, I was really stunned to hear the mother refuse to indulge her daughter’s requests.

Through the lens of my own experience I tried to guess at the mother’s line of thinking. Sampling takes time, fingers get sticky, and it is a “waste” of cups and yogurt when they don’t like the flavor. But I just couldn’t go there.

Here was a golden opportunity for the child to try a multitude of new tastes in a casual environment. What if she tries pistachio frozen yogurt and discovers that she actually does like the flavor? Conversely what if she discovers that even though the picture looks enticing the flavor is not her new favorite. It seemed like a missed lesson on several fronts.

Trying new foods goes both ways.

Teaching children to be open-minded eaters is a show-and-tell lesson. Kids are naturally curious and as parents it behooves us to nurture this curiosity as frequently as possible.

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