Where does time go? I now have a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old. Both are talkative, sensitive beauties with their parent’s love of good food. Oh, they have their own food likes and dislikes, but we rarely have to worry about ordering “kid food” for them when eating out. I am trying to pass on to them something that my parents passed on to me: a love of food exploration.
Exploring foods with my parents
While there were certainly more exotic foods that I wasn’t introduced to when I was young, my mother did an excellent job of sharing different flavors and foods with us on a regular basis. Of course, I loved the typical not-so-healthy foods as many kids do, but despite that, I got used to trying new things. With a mother who liked to try different recipes, I was well set up to learn the joys of food experimentation.
But to even further my love of trying new things, I had a dad who was always willing to try new foods outside our typical meals. It was he who often would take us to new places to explore new foods. This was true when he took us to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where the employees hardly understood English, but they served “real Mexican food,”as my dad put it. It was definitely not Taco Bell (a childhood favorite, if truth be told) but it was delicious in a whole new way.
It was with him that I first enjoyed an Indian food buffet. I still remember him urging me to try the creamy lamb curry, and finding to my surprise that it was delicious. And it was with him that my sisters and I roamed Asian food stores, admiring beautiful Asian soup bowls (my older sister and I collected these during our high school years and have them still), tried unusual-to-us candies, and wrinkled our noses at the seafood and unfamiliar cuts of meat. While I can’t say that I loved everything he introduced us to, and was even a fairly picky eater at times, the fruit of that childhood habit translated well into my adulthood.
Now, lest you misunderstand, my childhood was mostly full of typical, American food. We had slabs of fresh-from-the-oven whole wheat bread, and strawberry jam, we had oatmeal, and grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. I loved fast food, and soda pop, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. But the point was, that’s not all that I ate. We tried new things on a regular basis – even if that wasn’t our daily food – and that was key for me.
Exploring new food with my children
I’ve taken that a step further with my own family. When my husband and I first were developing our food culture together, he introduced me to sushi and other Asian delights, and I shared with him a love of trying new things. When our children came along, I decided to just feed them regular food after their first year (neither of my girls ate very much food before that point). My oldest was willing to eat bowls of sauerkraut, eat dried tiny anchovies, enjoy sushi, and dive into piles of dark greens from an early age. With her, the Japanese genes from my husband were strong in the flavors she enjoyed. My youngest took a lot longer to enjoy a wide variety of food. I found myself needing to introduce her to new flavors by chopping it up into small pieces and mixing it in her rice bowls. But now at 3, she is expanding her food likes at a good pace, and showing that her early pickiness won’t last forever.
Like all children, they have their likes and dislikes. But because we have explored foods with them, they like a wide variety of foods. A new favorite with them is a seaweed topping, fried in a little oil with sesame seeds, and then mixed in with a little coconut sugar. They like the usual noodle and rice dishes, but they also love fish and clams, and green salad with a homemade dressing. On holidays, they eat liver pate on crackers with the adults without a second thought. Can I get my children to enjoy all foods? No. But I can give them the chance to be introduced to many good foods, and help them develop a palate accepting of new flavors.
It was a gift I was given, and a gift I want to pass on to my own children. And now I pay back that gift to my parents by making them try all sorts of culinary delights newly discovered by me. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
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