Raising Adventurous Eaters: Part Three

This series covers the approach I took at each stage of my kids' growth to develop their taste buds and encourage them to try new foods. Part One was about pregnancy and the newborn phase. Part Two focused on how to naturally infuse purees with flavor and color, and also delved into finger foods. Today, I'm sharing how I fed my kids once they started eating "real" food and how we continue to eat to this day.

Making New Food Experiences Rewarding
When the kids were ready to start eating the same food as us, I did what I could to make their initial experiences rewarding. I made ample use of coconut milk and peanut butter in recipes. One dish I fed them early on, and which is our family's favorite meal to this day, was Oxtail, Carrot, and Barley Stew, which I make in the slow cooker. You can get the recipe here. I still remember so vividly my daughter eating up that oxtail with such gusto when she was probably only 18 months old.

I also feed them spicy food that tastes good, so they get used to the spice. When my son was maybe 2.5 years old, he got his hands on some Trader Joe's Ghost Pepper Potato Chips, which packed quite a bit of heat. That didn't deter him from thoroughly enjoying it, or seem to trouble him at all. I don't recommend feeding your kids these potato chips, but the story illustrates that delicious can override spicy.

In the past, I have added a scotch bonnet pepper to the oxtail stew, after removing the seeds and pith. I also buy red curry paste from the local Chinese grocery store and cook it up with a protein and some vegetables. I've found that adding some spiciness can encourage them to drink more milk too.

On Sugar and Processed Foods
I refrained from adding sugar to our meals for many years because I tried to delay their exposure to added sugar as long as possible, in order for them to develop an appreciation for other tastes. I let them have a bite of their cake on their 1st birthday, and I never stopped them from eating any of the snacks or treats at daycare because I didn't want to inadvertently give them a complex. Other than that, it wasn't until their second Halloween when they were almost 2 years old that we started letting them have added sugar at home on special occasions. It started when my son illicitly opened a lollipop while we were trick-or-treating, and the gig was up.

When my kids do have processed foods, I try to go with minimally processed. For breakfast every day, they have a spoonful of unsweetened applesauce topped with plain whole milk yogurt and frozen fruit that I've let defrost in the refrigerator overnight. We rotate between blueberries, mangoes, mixed berries, and cherries. I get the 3 pound frozen bags of fruit from Costco.

The nutrition factor in processed foods can be boosted by adding frozen fruit or vegetables. For a while, we were letting them have instant oatmeal packets on the weekends. They have a lot of added sugar, so I would mix in a bunch of frozen berries. Or, if I make frozen Chinese food from Trader Joe's, I'll add a bag of frozen broccoli or mixed vegetables.

Processed snacks are so convenient for kids. If I was really in a bind, I would pack plain Cheerios because it's relatively low in sugar and is made of whole grain. Otherwise, one of my go-to snacks for the kids was 2 or 3 slices of Emmentaler Swiss cheese between two slices of whole wheat bread, microwaved for 45 seconds. I would smush the sandwich down flat, rip it up into tiny pieces by hand, and then pack it into a snack container for the road.

Cooking for the Whole Family
I try to make recipes that the whole family enjoys. It's challenging with four people who have different tastes and because my daughter has the greatest number of food aversions, she usually has to deal with one or two ingredients she doesn't like. It's taken a lot of researching new recipes, and trial and error to get to maybe 25 dishes that we all kind of like, especially since I like to use whole foods as much as possible, and stay away from added sugar. Everyone's preferences are constantly evolving, so my stack of recipes is always getting updated.

Listening to Their Bodies
I encourage my kids to listen to their bodies and eat if they are hungry. They don't have to finish their dinner or any meal if they are full. However, if there are leftovers, I pack it up in the fridge and they do need to have it before they eat anything else. I've read that pressuring your kids on food matters can backfire and turn eating into a power struggle, which is something I wanted to avoid.

I do want them to try everything at least once. If they really don't like something, then I let them leave it on their plates and eat the parts they do like. I've read that kids have to be presented with a new food up to 15 times before they take to it. So I continue to serve dishes with ingredients they don't like, and they just have to eat around it. With four people in the house and four different food aversions, I can't accommodate everyone.

In Conclusion
It was important to me that my kids eat a wide variety of foods and be open to new eating experiences. Like other kids their age, they can be biased against foods that they haven't grown up eating. For example, I'm not big on raw vegetables, so they really are not into crudites, other than baby carrots. I never have to worry about what they'll eat when we dine out, or go to a friend's house for dinner, because there's always something they'll like. And the way I feed them has the added bonus of, they love everything on offer at school because it's more typically kid-friendly food than what they get at home.


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