and family in a restaurant on vacation...
began our meal by ordering a ceviche appetizer
to share. The large platter contained calamari,
octopus, and shrimp “cooked” in
the traditional lemon and lime juices, along
with baked plantains and a smattering of local
diced sweet onions. It looked absolutely delicious.
he had been taught (or perhaps trained) to
do after so many previous experiences in restaurants,
Willie asked the waiter to bring him a small
teaspoon. The waiter smiled as he complied,
asking, “Is he really going to eat that?” “Mmmmm!
Octopus!” Willie squealed at the first
bite. “More octopus!”
enthusiasm and delight were contagious, attracting
attention and comments from diners at several
can’t believe that child is eating ceviche,” one
grandmotherly-looking woman said. “He
loves it!” her companion noted, adding “The
kids I know would never try something like
comment stuck in my mind as I thought about
the youngsters I am in contact with, the children
who live in our neighborhood, the members of
William’s playgroups, and my friends’ children.
Why is it that so many are described tenderly
as “picky eaters?” Why are so many
parents afraid to try out new foods and new
types of dining experiences on their kids?
And, perhaps most important, why is it that
people automatically assume that all children
want to eat standard, mundane kid-fare such
as chicken fingers and French fries all the
liked the ceviche, I realized that night, for
the same reason that my husband and I did.
It was simply good, fresh food, expertly prepared
and properly seasoned. In the absence of the
abundant fat, sodium, and sugar found in so
many children’s foods—and indeed,
in too many adult diets as well—the wonderful
flavor of the seafood, juices, plantains, and
onions could shine.
evening’s restaurant experience, considered
with others we’ve had as we have introduced
young William to the flavors of Indian, Vietnamese,
Thai, Mexican, Greek, and many other ethnic
cuisines, convinced me that my husband and
I are onto something in the conscious decision
we’ve made to teach our son
how to eat and enjoy a wide range of foods.
When Baby Daniel joined our household three
years after Willie’s birth, it was even
more interesting to go through the food introduction
process a second time. It’s fascinating
to compare each child’s receptiveness
to new foods and his different recognition
and acceptance of various flavors as both grow
our children’s earliest days, we have
focused on exposing them to the ideal flavor
profile of individual foods. When he was about
two years old, William could, by taste, identify
capers, discern black olives from green, and
distinguish among various types of cheese.
The more exposure he has had to different cuisines,
the more he has come to understand how to taste “real” foods
and how their flavors contrast with foods that
are run-ofthe mill, overly processed, or “flavor-enhanced” with
chemical sugars or inexpensive deep-frying.
As a result, we have seen him develop a happy
appreciation for the joy that food can bring
to one’s life.
The Book Begins...
On a family vacation trip to Miami, my husband Paul, our then two-and-a-half-year-old
son William, and I strolled past a Peruvian restaurant near our hotel. We stood
outside for a few minutes, admiring the al fresco dining environment, perusing
the menu, and prepping young Willie for the experience ahead. “Oh, look
at all the good things they have to eat, Willie,” we said. “Plantains!
Dark beans! And lots of seafood. You love seafood!” Reassured by the
presence of a highchair and a friendly maitre d’, we decided to go in. ...doctors, psychologists,
chefs, and just-plain-experienced parents—agreed:
If you want to want to raise a child who will
love to eat everything, you’ve got to start
setting up that expectation at a very early age.
And that means this: What we’re having
for a meal is what you’re having for a
meal. No exceptions.
So as she begins to experience
different tastes and textures, now is the time
to start talking to Toddler about the concept
of flavor. The best message is a simple one:
All foods taste “good.” Foods have
different flavors and you will like some better
than others, but each contributes to the overall
palate picture. And remember to add that “yum
yum” as she’s trying something new,
and learning to taste and savor. Some examples:
“Sweet” is easy
and probably won’t require much encouragement,
so let Toddler begin to discern flavor differences
here. Apples are sweet and plums sweet, but they
don’t taste alike.
a fun one; try oranges or sour grapes. And
an amazing number of children this age (Willie
and Daniel included) loved licking lemons,
so there is definitely some kid appeal.
peanut butter or piece of good cheese. Teach
Toddler that it is delicious, but a little
goes a long way.
“Sharp” is dark
chocolate, anise, broccoli, or spinach. In proper
food context, this flavor is called “bitter.” But
after some debate, I agreed with husband Paul
to eliminate that word from our food discussions
and replace it with “sharp,” although
I admit to a fondness for “bitter,” as
it perfectly describes so many foods. But that
word does have a negative connotation in many
settings, so better not to use it, I suppose,
in communicating to children about something
we want them to like. Interestingly, the Chinese
use the expression “to eat bitter” to
mean “endure hard times.” I’m
afraid that a lot of tots concur with that as
they eat their vegetables.
mushrooms, soy beans, balsamic vinegar. It’s
the wonderful “fifth flavor” that
is sometimes referred to as unami. This is the
most sophisticated of all the flavors, but is
one that even young children can take to very