My 6-year-old son is a fearless, adventurous foodie who is willing to try just about anything. I like giving him opportunities to try new things and watching him embrace his personal preferences without applying restrictive limitations on his options. I didn’t realize how unusual this was until I spent time with kids that only eat chicken nuggets, french fries and noodles without sauce.
How Did We Get Here?
I think it is equal parts nature and nurture.
First of all, I want to clarify that this is not a judgement of picky eaters, or a condemnation of the foods they prefer. Some of my best friends are picky eaters and I’m quite fond of chicken nuggets. When I learned that some people are wired to experience cilantro as an awful soapy essence, I realized that there are just some things that don’t work for certain people. I feel lucky to have a child who seems to naturally enjoy a variety of flavors and who also has no known allergies or sensitivities.
With nature on my side, I can take credit for many of the choices I’ve made that led me to nurture my child’s willingness to experiment. Long before I had my son, I learned that babies can taste flavors of the foods their moms eat while in utero and through breast milk. When my time came, while my other pregnant friends were leaning into traditional pregnancy cravings like pickles and ice cream, I was intentional about indulging in my favorite strong-flavored foods. I ate loads of garlicy, curried, spicy or tangy foods. I made sure to eat a range of colors and flavors from around the globe. And when the baby came, I kept it going so that he would be exposed to those same flavors through my milk.
Once he was ready for semi-solid foods I was fortunate to have the time, energy, tools and resources to mostly make my own baby foods from scratch. In many ways, my son ate what we ate as a family. Before making a family meal item, I would isolate extra vegetables and fruits, steam and puree them individually and then freeze them into ice cubes for future use. My freezer featured an array of baggies filled with brightly colored cubes of various single vegetables. Later I would combine them into fun flavor combinations like ‘squeach’ (squash and peach), ‘spinana’ (spinach and banana) or ‘pinacado’ (pineapple and avocado).
I slowly introduced various grains like quinoa and farro for texture and fresh herbs for flavor. Time invested aside, this method became a cost-effective way to make sure my child had healthful and flavorful meals beyond the standard pre-made foods.
All this made the transition to him eating the same meals that we ate as a family pretty seamless. My toddler loved eating the curries, stews and casseroles that were easy for me and his dad to make in the instant pot, dutch oven or baking dishes we used regularly. It helped that we didn’t have to make separate bland versions of our meals for him at all.
Over time my son began making specific food requests. We took his proclivity for traditional spaghetti in red sauce as an entry point for all things noodle-based. He responded well to all forms of Italian and Asian noodle dishes. He was amenable to the idea that dumplings were basically goodies wrapped in giant noodles and that ushered in an array of noodle-adjacent items. This in turn made him open to samosas, patties, and savory buns. He found rice a useful carrier for saucier foods and that lead us down the path of still more Asian foods along with Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Latin, Creole and African dishes.
Helping Mom in the Kitchen
Now that he’s a big kid, my son likes to join me in the kitchen and occasionally ‘helps’ me cook our meals. Sometimes, when I’ve grown weary of his cartoons, he lets me control the TV and he’ll watch cooking shows with me. Last week our family went to our favorite Vietnamese restaurant and, to my dismayed surprise, Quinn ordered off the menu. He had his heart set on something he didn’t see available. He politely asked the waiter if they could make ‘glass noodles with beef and broccoli’. Moments later, the chef came out to discuss some ways he could accommodate this special request. The dish ended up being fantastic and I think the kid just might be onto something.
As a fearless foodie myself, I am both proud and inspired by him every day.