My Two Year Old Eats Octopus
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Nancy and family in a restaurant on vacation...
We 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.

As 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!”

His enthusiasm and delight were contagious, attracting attention and comments from diners at several nearby tables.

“I 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 that.”

That 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 time?

Willie 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.

That 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 more mature.

From 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.

My Two Year Old Eats Octopus -Forum

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.

 

“Sour” is 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.
 
“Salty” is 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.
 
“Earthy” is 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 easily.