Introducing Kids To New Food
article by Cindy G. Foust
I’m starting this month’s column with a huge sigh of relief. I’m finally getting the opportunity to write about a topic that is near and dear to my heart…food. This month’s BayouLife magazine is what we call our Food Issue, and I couldn’t be happier. Why? Because it’s not about fashion. Or make-up. Or weddings. Or should your toe nail polish match your fingernails. But food on the other hand, now you’re talking my language! I often say that I have no hobbies, no friends and no life (of course I have friends, some really good ones, I just never get to spend time with them), because all I do is work and chase my children. Sound familiar? However, that’s not really accurate, because I do have one hobby, and that is cooking.
Yes, cooking is my life in so many words. I study the art (not in Italy with an elderly Italian lady in some remote town, although, that is on my bucket list), and I’m constantly trying to figure out a way to make food taste better (well, I know butter makes everything, including kale taste better). I actually began my culinary career around the age of 15, when the church cookbook was the only real resource you had if you wanted to “experiment” and try something new. As a result, my family was often the guinea pigs for such delicacies, like “Cindy’s Stuff” (honestly, Julia Child would have had me deported to the moon if she had tried it), which included ground beef, and a can of everything my mom had in the pantry.
As the years began to pass and I found myself a poor college student with three roommates to feed, I began to really brave the culinary front and continued with constant recipe experimentation. You know, when you are a poor college student, you will eat almost anything as long as it stays within your $10 weekly food budget. Now that I am nearing the half century mark in a little less than a month, I guess you could say I have been cooking my entire life. Just like writing, it’s my passion. As a result, because it’s what they’ve watched me do all of their lives, my kids have taken an interest. I actually walked in the kitchen the other day, and my son had taken some left over steak and was warming it in a skillet with everything he could find in my refrigerator (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), including honey. Well, excuse me, Bobby Flay. Secretly, it did give me hope that he wouldn’t starve to death when I have to send him off to college, which is about a year from this very date.
Okay, where was I? I think I was trying to build a wholesome and nutritious bridge to getting your children interested in cooking, especially those picky eaters. Okay, thanks, I found my rabbit hole. I don’t know how it was for you, but when I was growing up, my mom (or Bitsy, who cooked many a meal for me) didn’t indulge her family by making sure there was something on the table that everyone liked.
She cooked it…you ate it. It may not have been my favorite, but we scarfed it down like it was. As we have raised our children, Scott and I have subscribed to the same sort of philosophy, we cooked it, and they ate it (well, not always, but most of the time.) My late son, Samuel, at just two-years-old, loved coleslaw and would “gnaw” the meat off a rib right down to the bone. But I have to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure we did this consciously; I think it has always been more of “we did what we were taught.” In my line of work, I get to interact with parents and teachers and grandparents very frequently. During that interaction, I often hear about issues that young children face and one of the most common problems we discuss is picky eaters.
As I try to qualify in every column, I am no expert, but I am a mom. And being a mom does qualify me to at least offer up a few ideas on how to get your child to overcome their, shall we say, food phobias. I did a little reading on the matter, and there are literally thousands of articles written on this very subject. Of course, a few ideas jumped at me, because I found them to be more realistic, than say, blending spinach into their strawberry banana smoothie. I actually think having your children help make the grocery list is a great place to start. Take this opportunity to let them put what they like on the list and then have them write different foods that perhaps they don’t like. Explain to them the nutritional value of each and even let talk to them about how you prepare the dish. Next, let them go grocery shopping with you (no eye rolls or heavy sighs please.) This can actually be fun, if you let your children help you find the items on your list and cross them off as you go. It will even help avoid a phone call, like I got a few days ago when I sent my son to the grocery for me (oh, the benefits of a teenaged driver) and he called to find out where the Cool-Whip was (I have failed him as a parent). And then a suggestion that I’m totally on board with, let them help you with food preparation. Now, I’m not saying you need to buy your six-year old a set of Wusthof knives, but, hey, teach them to tear the lettuce for the salad, squeeze the lemons or peel the hard boiled eggs. It won’t be long before they will be asking to bake a cake or even stir frying some chicken they saw on a video on YouTube. Finally, start introducing new foods to your child or children every week. One article I read suggested you do it every meal, and I say, they need to get in touch with picky eater reality. But once a week, introduce this new food alongside one of their favorites. As Dr. Rosales has always said, “Pick your battles,” and if they don’t like it, or they resist, just revisit the same food another time or prepare it a different way.
With all the culinary resources at our fingertips, especially on the Internet, there are literally thousands of ways to get your child interested in and motivated to try new foods. Anyone that has shared a meal that I have prepared will tell you, my mantra is, “It’s all about presentation.” Remember that as you prepare their plate and make it look as appetizing as possible. Shoot, I reckon (as Bitsy used to say), you could let them help you with presentation, but doing something as simple as using a cookie cutter to make their sandwich. It takes a little work, and I’m not guaranteeing your children will be eating roasted Brussels sprouts within a week, but there is absolutely no reason they shouldn’t be moving in a direction that will help them overcome their aversion to foods that taste delicious and are good for them. Bon Appetit, readers…the holidays are coming, and that’s a wonderful time and platform to get in the kitchen!