I am regularly in awe of my friend and colleague Katie Morford, the mom behind Mom’s Kitchen Handbook. Because not only does she pull together the most beautiful and interesting recipes with ease, but her three kids also EAT those beautiful and interesting dishes without a fuss. In fact, sometimes her kids cook those recipes all by themselves! There is no “adult food” and “kid food” in Katie’s house. There’s just food–and it’s fresh, nutritious, and a lot more sophisticated than what’s happening on my kids’ plates. So how does she do it? I asked her to share her secrets.
How to Raise Adventurous Eaters
by Katie Morford, MS, RD
My three kids are all pretty open-minded when it comes to food. They are likely to greet a sashimi plate with as much enthusiasm as a slice of pizza. Likewise, colorful salads, roasted vegetables, and ethnic food of every stripe are all fair game in our house.
How did I end up with a trio of adventurous eaters? First off, it wasn’t always smooth sailing, and I’m sure some genetics and dumb luck have played a part. It might also be because we live (and eat) in the multi-cultural city of San Francisco or because I’m a food writer with an extended family of passionate cooks. Maybe it’s because we’ve hauled our kids all over the globe and sat them at tables where chicken nuggets and buttered noodles just weren’t an option. The fact that I wasn’t thrown any of the curve balls that can derail the best of intentions for nourishing kids, such as feeding issues or sensory challenges, certainly didn’t hurt matters.
But even if your kids aren’t adventurous eaters (yet!) there’s a lot parents can do to broaden a child’s horizons:
Eat a varied diet during pregnancy. Following the first nauseous trimester, during which time I subsisted on crackers, string cheese, and grapefruit, I ate everything during my pregnancies. This may have set the wheels in motion for my kids’ palates, since research shows a link between maternal diet in utero and a child’s appetite for certain foods.
Nurse. Breast milk reflects a mother’s diet. Translation: my kids ate what I ate while I was nursing — garlic, onions, spices, and all the rest of it. Those flavors and odors became familiar from the get-go. This is not a judgement on a woman’s decision or ability to breastfeed, it’s just one of many factors that may impact a child’s taste preferences.
Consider EVERY food kid-friendly. I try not to impose my adult biases about what foods might appeal to my children. Who am I to say that my daughter might not like smoked salmon as much as sweetened cereal?
Keep your mouth shut. When my kids accept or reject a particular food, I do my best not to comment, avoiding the likes of, “I don’t think you’ll like that” or “You’re going to LOVE this.” It’s always an adventure to see how they react.
Feed them what you eat as soon as they transition to table food. Don’t get me wrong, I relied on plenty of jarred baby food, but also pureed much of what was on our dinner plates, too.
Eat together as a family. We have shared meals from the time the kids were tiny. Family dinner most nights remains an important ritual in our house.
Don’t dumb down their food. I have always cooked what my husband and I love to eat. Sometimes that means something fairly conventional, like Chicken Parmesan; other nights it’s Indian Tacos or Quinoa Tabouleh.
Don’t throw in the towel. If one of my children rejects a food or a dish, that doesn’t stop me from continuing to put it on the table, without pressure or fanfare. My youngest, Virginia, for example, didn’t care for soup. But serve her soup I did. At first she played with it, then she ate it, then she liked it, now she asks for it.
Bring them into the kitchen. As soon as my kids could climb onto a stool, they cooked with me. I needed to get the job done and they needed to be busy. When they were tiny, I’d give them a simple chore. As they’ve grown, so has the complexity of their tasks.
Serve one dinner (and don’t cave). Every one of my kids has protested at one time or another about dinner. They have all begged for cereal, or pasta, or a peanut butter sandwich. And tempting though it is to give into their demands, I decided early on that tolerating a few tantrums is worth the long-term reward of kids who eat everything.
A registered dietitian, writer, recipe developer and mom to three girls, Katie Morford combines her expertise in nutrition with a passion for good ingredients and great-tasting food. She is driven by the simple goal of feeding her family well and helping others do the same. She writes the blog Mom’s Kitchen Handbook and is the author of Best Lunch Box Ever: Ideas and Recipes for School Lunches Kids Will Love (Chronicle Books, 2013). Her second book, Rise and Shine: Better Breakfasts for Busy Mornings, will be published in August of this year.
Author photo by Erin Scott.