You know them: parents who brag about taking their children to restaurants where they happily order off the regular adult menu. No buttered noodles, fried mozzarella sticks or grilled cheese for them. Instead, they dig into pad Thai, shrimp scampi or paella. How did these parents get so lucky? It turns out flavor preferences can be formed at an early age-and you can teach your children to eat what you eat.
Lemon Tuna with Greens
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 10 ounces tuna steak, cut into chunks
- 4 Tbsp. olive oil
- Large bag of spinach
- Bag of frozen lima beans, thawed
- 3-4 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- Fresh parsley bunch, chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Place the lemon slices in the bottom of a large skillet. 2. Sprinkle tuna with salt and pepper and place it on top of the lemon slices and pour olive oil over it. 3. Cover skillet and turn heat to medium-low. Poach tuna about 3-5 minutes, turning it with tongs to keep from burning. Move tuna to a plate when cooked, discarding lemon. 4. Add the frozen lima beans to the same pan and stir-fry about 2 minutes. 5. Add spinach in batches and sauté until wilted, about 1-2 minutes. 6. Sprinkle liberally with balsamic vinegar. 7. Add tuna back in to re-warm. Top with the parsley. Serve over brown rice.
Besides the obvious benefits of making life easier at home and while eating out, “good eaters” generally consume more health-promoting vegetables, herbs, spices and whole grains.
How problems start
One mom who discovered this is Nancy Tringali Piho. Her sons, ages 5 and 2, are “fearless eaters.” So convinced of her methods, she included them in a new book, My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything.
She says parents can fall into a pattern of feeding children the things they’re just “expected” to eat. We offer bland kiddie foods like pasta with cheese, French fries, fried chicken nuggets and sweet juice drinks.
Other flavors-real flavors, like sours and bitters and even things that are sweetened at the proper level-are deemed unacceptable, either by us or the kids themselves after one try. Naturally, we never serve it to them again. The result? We fall into the habit of just giving them what they want so they’ll eat something. It’s a vicious cycle. Kids never learn to eat other flavors because they are never exposed to anything else, and they are never exposed to anything else because we give up trying, Piho says.
The good news is we can offer babies and toddlers spicy foods a lot sooner than many realize. As Piho explains, “As baby advances in the world of food discovery, it is natural that she will begin to encounter added flavors like herbs and spices, gravies and sauces, along with foods that offer a range of temperature and texture. As long as these are not hot foods or spicy flavors that will literally burn her mouth or tongue, there is no reason she shouldn’t be trying anything that everyone else is eating.”
Parents who want to walk this path will likely be astounded how strong society’s pressure against this way of thinking can be. There is a lowest-common denominator mindset out there about what kids will supposedly eat-and these beige and white foods are generally what is served to them. Piho offers some tips for raising an adventuresome eater:
Become a more adventuresome eater yourself. Go to a new restaurant, order something different, try a new recipe.
Make positive comments about food. “Doesn’t that smell/look good?” “Wow, those peaches are beautiful, I bet they taste great!” Avoid generalized, negative statements about food. “I don’t like spicy foods.”
Start very young. Toddlers and even older babies at the table should be eating what everyone else is eating, as opposed to special baby or toddler foods.
If your child refuses spinach or broccoli, stay calm but offer it again. And again. Acquiring a taste for bitter foods requires repeated exposures-between eight and 15 times. Most of us give up after one or two.
At restaurants, stay away from most children’s menus. While some places offer a sophisticated children’s menu, most do not. In that case, have children choose something from the appetizer menu, or share your entrée with them.
While there will always be eating tussles between moms and dads and kids, serving them colorful, flavorful food from the beginning is the surest way to broaden young palates.