“Don’t cook down to your kids,” caution Hugh Garvey and Matthew Yeomans in The Gastrokid Cookbook. Still, many epicures think they have to trade in their foie gras for fish sticks as soon as they become parents. But why not share your passion for food? Having kids doesn’t mean having to give up your gourmet palate, and a few simple tips can help you to raise a fellow foodie from birth.
Baby Steps: Introducing New Tastes Start early—believe it or not, flavor shows up in utero. What mom eats finds its way into the amniotic fluid that baby swallows, and flavors like vanilla and garlic are just a few of the many flavors that can be detected in the womb. Science shows that early exposure to a variety of flavors can encourage your child to try more savory cuisine later on in life. Does it mean that your kid will be demanding Jarlsburg and Brie instead of American in her grilled cheese sandwich a few years down the road? Unlikely—but at least you’ve given her an early start at a more exciting appetite.
If you’ve ever tried baby food in a jar, you’re likely to have been underwhelmed at how bland it tasted. To really give your baby a taste of what’s good, consider forgoing processed commercial baby food and pureeing your own culinary delights for him. Recipes abound online for baby food that goes beyond the basics, and books like Easy Gourmet Baby Food: 150 Recipes for Homemade Goodness and The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler make it easy to whip up fresh food for your budding gastronome in no time.
Toddlers Through Preschoolers: Variations on a Theme Got a toddler who won’t look at anything that doesn’t resemble a tater tot? Your 4-year-old will only eat peanut butter and jelly? Try negotiating; offer a variation on melted cheese and toasted bread by grilling up some Pepper-Jack between two halves of a ciabatta roll, for example, or substitute peanut butter and prickly pear jelly on rye for a twist on PB&J. Try keeping textures and shapes consistent for kids to make them more amenable to new tastes—who knew that rutabaga fries look exactly like the seasoned fries kids are used to from fast food joints?
Another great way to work in some cultured cuisine is to bring in something more exotic for your child’s snack—papaya spears instead of fruit roll-ups, perhaps. Consider a foodie fieldtrip to see food in action at a local grocery store, restaurant or farm. Just seeing the process behind preparing food can be enough to get kids enthused about new tastes.
Older Kids: Play Chef Your older child may be surprised to find out that young food critics—10-year-old Eli Knauer of Baltimore keeps his own foodie blog, for instance—are making headlines across the U.S. for their discerning palates. Invite your child to play restaurant critic the next time you’re out and order from the “grown-up” menu instead of the kids’ menu. Another fun way to experience new tastes is to coordinate your child’s classwork with international cuisine: if she’s learning about Asia, find a Thai restaurant and chow down together on some beef panang.
Being a true foodie means appreciating the culture behind the meal. When children get involved in food preparation, they are more likely to want to try their culinary creations. Kids at this age are more capable in the kitchen, and there are a ton of kid-friendly cookbooks on the market—try Cooking Rocks! Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals for Kids or Emeril's There's a Chef in My Soup! Recipes for the Kid in Everyone for starters. From shopping for ingredients to clean-up, older kids will not only develop their taste buds, but learn responsibility. If your local community center offers it, you can even take a cooking class together.
Bon Appétit! Unless your child has food allergies (and you’ll want to be alert to any reactions when you introduce a new food, particularly with babies), there’s no reason they can’t enjoy the same haute cuisine as you.