Something I love about living in a big city is the access to diverse cultures, and with that comes an array of culinary variety that allows me to introduce my daughters to so many foods at an early age. My daughter at age 9 is much more open minded than I was at her age, in fact I didn't taste sushi for the first time until I was well into my 20s when I slowly I opened my palate and started appreciating a variety of fruits and vegetables and international foods as well as learning about the power of nutritionally optimal food. I feel that living in California affords us so much access to healthy foods and a diversity of options, but really you can now live anywhere and access information on these foods and make them yourself.
Raising my children to appreciate different flavors and foods is not always easy but I feel it's extremely important because it makes them well rounded and flexible in any situation where food is presented. I am not one to accommodate them with pizza, chicken fingers and other bland and unhealthy foods simply for their comfort. This is not say my daughter is not picky at times, it's just that I don't accommodate that pickiness and when I find myself working in that direction I stop myself in my tracks and reboot the program, cooking what I want, albeit food that's healthy and flavorful.
Here are 5 tips to raise a foodie child:
1. Model by Example
If you don't eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, and the spectrum of foods available to you in your community, it's likely your child won't either. Often parents are frustrated that their children only eat 3 foods, but honestly I notice that parents themselves have very limited palates. Try and open up your own palate and likely curiosity will set in or by default your kids will try what you're eating and perhaps be surprised and love it. And if they are not, eventually they can grow to love it.
2. Tastebuds Evolve and Change
I not only remind my daughter of this but I remind myself. Even though she dislikes mushrooms one day she may suddenly enjoy them, this is because taste buds change over time. With this in mind, I continually put ingredients she claims to dislike in dishes and tell her if she has too to pick them out, so be it! I'm not being cruel, I just know that one day she'll have a change of heart, but if I eliminate this food from her diet forever she'll never have the opportunity to come around to appreciate it or even fall in love with mushrooms!
3. Take a Cooking Class
Not to be rude, but straight up, some people aren't the best at making food taste good. I have noticed that sometimes I'll feed my daughter's friends and they gobble up what I cook and then their parents pick them up and are shocked! "She never eats chicken with me," they'll say. This happens with my daughter as well- she may never enjoy fish when I make it, but we go to grandma's house and she loves the way she cooks fish. Sometimes it's not the food but the method and seasoning, so pay attention to what they like and try and recreate it at home where it's much healthier and ingredients like oil and salt are controlled. And taking one or two cooking classes can do wonders for switching up everyone's appreciation of mealtime. Last time I took a cooking class my daughter and I made jalapeño lemonade and to this day she likes making it! And if you can't afford cooking classes try some free tutorials on YouTube there's so much content available for free now.
4. Start Them Young
Literally if you're pregnant consider what baby is taking in from your diet in the womb. Eat crazy foods and flavors, curries, garlic, a variety of herbs and spices. Then when and if you breastfeed, continue this if possible (sometimes babies experience allergies or colic to what you eat so considering that do your best). Finally when it's time to start solids, feed the spectrum, again this requires you eat the same foods and experiment with cooking a wide array of foods. My rule of thumb is that I don't feed my baby anything I wouldn't eat myself, so I try the baby purees in those little packages and glass jars and honestly, they usually taste awful to me, hence why she doesn't seem to take to them.
5. Make Food an Adventure
If you're lucky enough to live in a city where there's food festivals and markets, I recommend them as outing with your kids. I take my daughters to the local farmer's market every week so that they can see and understand the seasonal tides of crops and connect to the reality that food, before industrialization, is a part of a seasonal cycle connected to nature. I know it seems obvious but when grocery stores make strawberries and stone fruit available year around, we lose touch with the fact that these are seasonal and taste optimal only specific times of year. Additionally a farmer's market strawberry or apple tastes and smells exponentially better than one bought in a store, this is a simple fact I want my kids to be aware of. And as far as food festivals go, even if they aren't going to try banh mi tacos or Korean cold noodles, it's good for them to be exposed to the fact that there's a myriad of culinary dishes in the world, and one day where they're in a situation when they're invited to eat at a friend's table or a boss's home, they're open and flexible to accept the blessing that is a new food experience.
At the end of the day it's a life skill to be open minded about food- and the benefits of this range from social to implications on health and nutrition. Raising a foodie child to me is just another way of teaching my children about love and respect, because food is so much more than just eating it is sustenance and joy.