Tips for Foodie Parents


Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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37 Responses

  1. My daughter, age four, has so far followed a very strict rule in her eating:

    Eat foods in order of decreasing glycemic index.

    If there’s cake, she eats cake. Then on to bread. Then to starchy vegetables. Then meats. Then green veggies.

    Typically though she doesn’t want anything else if she’s had a starchy vegetable or anything higher. She’ll just stop eating entirely.

    So we run foods by her in reverse order. Green veggies, then meats, then on upward.

    I hope she grows out of this soon, and I worry a bit that we are rewarding a bad habit.Report

  2. Avatar zic says:

    +1 on getting kids in the kitchen.

    I began cooking with mine as soon as they were able.

    Crucial to this is engaging their noses.

    Sniff the herbs and spices. Which ones do you like? Then we look some recipes up that use that herb or spice. I had a cinnamon fan; and so roast squash with cinnamon (that he got to sprinkle on the dish) became a favorite. In the grocery store, I’d offer them things to smell, too. “Which kind of apple do you think smells best?” That would be the apple that came home with us; and it was the apple the kids were anxious to eat. This also helped them be better grocery shoppers.Report

  3. Avatar Marchmaine says:

    Nice article… it is a little distressing, though, that basic food culture must be (mis-)labeled “foodie.”

    There’s a fun little book French Kids Eat Everything that looks at the hidden cultural differences between eating tartare and nuggets.

    Fundamentally, children eat what adults eat, and learn to eat from adults (and other children)… on the boundaries question, there’s a French cultural assumption that one must try something 15 times before deciding whether it is an aversion or an acquired taste. With our children we did that naturally, but after reading the book, we’ve joked about it openly – now the children internalize it and tell that to other children. My best eater doesn’t like bananas(?1?) but he still tries them periodically even as he avoids them.

    What I liked about the book was the outsider’s view of French food culture, and how she unpacked the unspoken rules that govern the creation of that culture as only a foreigner could do. I wish I’d read it when I still had infants and toddlers, as there were some excellent practical tips on bringing very young children into a robust food culture. I should add that I’m not in any way a Francophile, but the informal sociology was fascinating.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Marchmaine says:

      There are few teaching tools more powerful than modeling. Re: 15 tries, I believe science now backs this up.Report

      • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Kazzy says:

        Yes, there’s quite a lot of discussion in the book about the importance of other children in reinforcing the dominant food culture. Not surprising, really… just jumped-up peer pressure.

        What was interesting from an American perspective was that the expectations among young French children were for food adventurism, not food bunkerism. Other fascinating kernels about which I was entirely ignorant:
        1. There is a cultural abhorrence of all snacking.
        2. The “little hunger” of well fed people is perfectly acceptable.
        a. Hence, no snacking
        b. It is ok if a child avoids a food and remains hungry… she will eat again at the next meal.
        3. By the age of 3, a French toddler will have tasted every part of the local cuisine, except organ meats.

        Ultimately there was nothing magic about French food culture that isn’t pretty universal among all traditional food cultures… it isn’t the “foodies” that are broken, its everyone else.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        The school I am currently in provides snacks and lunch for the children. And this isn’t your typical cafeteria food… it is pretty legit stuff. A hot, balanced entree with sides each day, plus a full salad bar, deli bar, and soup. It’s not the best food in the world, but as far as school food goes, it’s pretty great.

        I had never worked in such a school before. It presented some issues for me, as I had to act as the arbiter of food in some capacity or another. Spurred by some folks here (who I have since unfortunately forgotten), I’ve taken a new approach this year, modeled after something called “instinctive eating”. More or less, I let the kids be when it comes to eating. Eat what you enjoy, make sure you feel full and satiated, and we’ll go from there. All of our food is pretty healthy. I mean, sometimes there is cookies or pudding for dessert, but that only comes after the main meal anyway. Sure, goldfish crackers aren’t the best thing in the world, but they aren’t the worst thing either. And if a kid wants to eat a salami sandwich everyday, I don’t need to find a battle with them.

        Gone is any pressure to clear their plates. It ultimately discourages adveturism because it means if they take something new and don’t like it, they’ll be expected to finish it. It also prevents them from trying other new things. Gone are any rules about what they have to eat or what they can’t eat or what they can only have a little of. I do my best to model for them my own eating choices, while also talking concretely about the way different foods function for the body. “Proteins help your muscles and your brain grow. Grains give you energy. Vegetables have vitamins and nutrients to keep you healthy.” Stuff like that. Over simplified, sure, but my ultimate goal is to make sure they are well-nourished and that they develop healthy relationships with food.

        They have their whole adult life to feel angst and guild about what they eat. No need to sully up the early years with that crap.

        I’m going to have to look for that book. Thanks for the rec.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:


        There was a really interesting article I stumbled across several years ago that discussed school lunches in other countries. A quote:

        “Here’s what students in one Paris school district ate for lunch last Tuesday: cucumbers with garlic and fine herbs; Basque chicken thigh with herbs, red and green bell peppers and olive oil; couscous; organic yogurt and an apple. For snack, they had organic bread, butter, hot chocolate and fruit.

        Like the Japanese, the French take school lunch seriously. The mid-day meal is supposed to teach students good manners, good taste and the elements of good nutrition. Recommendations from the French government assert that eating habits are shaped from a young age and that schools should ensure children make good food choices despite media influence and personal tendencies.”

        I think the key difference is that they look at lunch as part of the curriculum and use it as an opportunity to not just emphasize good eating habits but also to work on good table manners (something that is woefully lacking in America IMO).Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        Mike, I’m not sure that American parents would support the amount of spending necessary for American school lunches to match the French and Japanese style even in liberal, high tax stakes. American public education is on a no-frills basis now and school lunches like this will be seen as an unnecessary frill. You’ll need quality ingredients, cooking facilities, and cooks to. All these things cost money.

        There other issues preventing school lunches from being on the level of French and Japanese school lunches. American schools have to consider the dietary needs of children for health and religious reasons, so picking the menu is going to be complicated; especially in the more diverse areas of our country where we can have kosher, hallal, hyper-algeric, and vegan kids in one school. All of these different dietary requirements have to be taken into account.

        There is also a lot of money in providing the food for school lunches and I’m pretty sure that big ag is not going to like the changes and fight against it hard. When he was still at Think Progress, Matt Yglesias wrote a bit about Finland’s school lunch program and the politics behind it. Apparently, there might be a bit of rose-colored glasses behind this, experts presented different potential programs to the Finnish Parliament and the members of Finland’s parliament limited their involvement to budgetary concerns. In Congress, different Congresspeople are going to have their own ideas or seek to make the legislation more favorable to the interests of different groups. The resulting legislation could end up a hash.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:

        Lee – While I do think better quality food is important, good eating eating habits and manners can be developed within the context of our current system.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Marchmaine says:

      From what I’ve read on the net, this isn’t really that true and French kids like their burgers, pizzas, and fries like their American counterparts. I can’t find the article right now though.Report

  4. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    I maintain a personal rule that for every food I think I don’t like, I must try it every 5 years or so. Sometimes, you’ll realize that your tastes have changed, and even if you didn’t like something before, that’s no reason to avoid it now. Thank god I realized I actually liked black beans when I was in my early 20s; I can’t imagine my life without burritos now. This seems like it might be a good habit to inculcate in your kids.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Dan Miller says:

      You might have also had a particularly bad experience with a given food. If your only taste of Chinese food is Panda Express, you might rightly lament it.

      For a long time, I avoided Indian food because it was so unfamiliar to me I feared choosing the wrong dish at the wrong restaurant and being turned off. Eventually, some Indian friends took me to a top notch place, ordered for me, and I’ve been hooked.Report

      • Avatar just me in reply to Kazzy says:

        Or the horrible being sick with the flu when you eat something and forever and ever associate it with upchucking.Report

      • Avatar Reformed Republican in reply to Kazzy says:

        I used to have a mental block about eating bananas after throwing them up once. It was only very recently that I tried them again. I realized I like the taste, but there is still a mental hurdle that I have to overcome. I have to convince myself that I like them before I take a bite.

        The mind is a funny thing sometimes.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        taste aversion is a real thing. i’m glad yours seems to have dissappated.Report

    • Avatar just me in reply to Dan Miller says:

      I still can’t get over the texture of beans. I try every year to eat them, because I really want to but, Gag, I just can’t. Though I am now happy to say that I can take my chick peas and make homemade hummus that is fantabulous. Finally a local grocer carries tahini.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to just me says:

        I can’t stand the texture of beans either. I’m an adventurous eater but the mushiness of beans is simply repellant. Its not even a good softness or mushiness like pudding. Beans just feel like having a load of waste product in your moth.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to just me says:

        Both of you: Try some miso. Or Quinoa.Report

      • Avatar Just Me in reply to just me says:

        @kim I have eaten both. I like them both. Isn’t quinoa a grain? I would eat it more often but it is so dang expensive. I even put miso paste in my chicken soup. I like the extra layer of flavor it gives.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to just me says:

        Quinoa doesn’t have much on its own, you have to mix it with good stuff to give it any taste. Its a healthy food but seems more like a filler that you have to add taste to. Good rice or beans are better options. It’s not like any body can knock beans..amirite?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to just me says:

        Justme & greg,
        Quinoa tastes a lot like beans to me.
        Also: chickpeas have a very different texture than most beans.Report

      • Avatar just me in reply to just me says:

        It’s not the taste of beans I dislike, it is the texture. Like GAG me with a spoon kinda reaction when I try to eat beans.Report

    • Avatar Reformed Republican in reply to Dan Miller says:

      I used to dislike a lot of veggies. I think some of the things I did not like were a result of my mom’s cooking, such that things got a bit mushy. When my son got onto solid food, I realized I could not require him to eat things that I would not eat myself. I forced myself to try things that I did not like. Some things I eat, even though I do not enjoy them. Some things, I started to like. There are a few foods, like yellow squash, that have to be just right for me to eat them.

      I definitely second the idea of revisiting foods every few years.Report

  5. Avatar zic says:

    I know it’s been mentioned, but I do want to say that encouraging kids to try foods, be aware that a dislike of something my be an indication to an allergy to something.

    I’ve a friend with celiac’s and an allergy to eggs, lactose intolerance, and other problems, and I’ve heard her tales of growing up being forced to constantly try things that made her sick, but not with hives or other obvious ‘allergic’ responses. I have this problem with seafood (and I live in Maine, sigh). One of my worst memories is the month that my mother decided we all needed a tablespoon of cod liver oil every day. You would not believe the fit I had to have to make that torture stop; reminds me of Mike’s daughter’s fit. Children shouldn’t need to be pressed that far.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to zic says:

      Ugg. Then there are the kids that “love” a particular food… despite the fact that it makes them vomit for hours afterwards. I think he thought that was normal… (also, it was about the only thing that his parents actually enjoyed making for him)Report

  6. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I wonder if kids’ aversion to unfamiliar food is due to a tendency of those who had no such aversion to poison themselves.Report

    • Avatar Rod in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Good point. I’ve often wondered how many people died along the way to figuring out which mushrooms were edible, for example.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      You’ve got a critical age where kids are naturally choosy, but mostly about bitter products, I think. (age 3-5 or so).Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kim says:

        I’ve seen research that indicates children’s tongues are such that bitter tastes can be much more unpleasant to them then to adults. Fortunately, many traditionally bitter foods don’t have to be that way. Many can be cooked in ways that bring out their other flavors and/or minimize the bitterness. I’d offer suggestions, but I’m sure @zic can do better.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        That’s definitely true. Also, kids socialize fairly easily. As a kid I grew up loving sesame candies — and sesame is a very very bitter taste. But as it was a candy, it was yummy!

        Kids have these defenses so that they don’t just stick random, poisonous things in their mouths. Parents can teach them that something that tastes weird is actually tasty.Report

  7. Or have you accepted that these might be the PB&J years and there is time for a foodie education later?

    This is pretty much where we are with the Critter. He has a will of titanium, and after many totally pointless food battles (which, for the record, I always advise parents to avoid but in which I found myself stupidly engaging) I’ve decided that my goal of making my kid love food will have to come on his own terms later on. (So far the Squirrel seems much more adventurous in her eating, so there’s that.) It’s far more important at this stage to have an easy-going relationship with my son as much as possible, and insisting on even one bite of something he doesn’t want to try will end badly for both of us.

    That said, I have a distinct memory of going through a phase where I only wanted PB&J for lunch every day. Further, I was raised in a house with a mother who didn’t like cooking and isn’t a particularly adventurous eater. But I turned out as someone who loves food anyhow. I figure I’ll continue to be a guy who loves food (as is the Better Half), and we’ve already got the Critter cooking, so hopefully along the way he’ll get more adventurous because he chooses to join us.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      This brings up an important point about the myriad of factors that go into children’s food choices. Kids in the 3-5 range spend a lot of their time trying to exercise power and control over themselves and their lives. Food becomes hugely important in this effort, as they can exert almost unilateral control over what ultimately goes into their body. Some children limit themselves because of taste, texture, pickiness, or just because they can. Each of these warrants a different response. And utilizing the wrong response can be disastrous. Ultimately, the goal should be for children to have a healthy relationship with food. There are many roads to get there.

      While we’re on the topic, the other major area children attempt to exert control over during this stage is toileting. Just as you can’t really force them to eat something without engaging inhumane practices, you can’t really force them to eliminate either. The first signs of stress or anxiety for most young children manifest around eating and toileting, bowel movements in particular (not eating them, of course). Every year, I have a number of students who simply refuse to poop at school. Hell, I know adults who refuse to poop anywhere except their master bathroom.

      Buttholes… the final frontier of human freedom and autonomy.Report

      • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy It’s reassuring how sympatico we often are.

        When I talk to parents of kids in this age range, I tell them that there are two things they can never really force their kids to do. They can’t force them to eat, and they can’t force them to poop. Any efforts at either will likely fail, and often fail spectacularly.

        Sadly, I was a lot better at taking my own advice re: potty training than feeding. I finally took my own advice and just stopped trying to coerce, cajole or dragoon my kid into eating what he didn’t want, since it always failed when I tried and only made him more set in his ways. I’ve decided there are worse things than raising a picky eater (and his sister seems to have a much more expansive palate), and I’d rather have happy mealtimes than battlegrounds.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        “When I talk to parents of kids in this age range, I tell them that there are two things they can never really force their kids to do. They can’t force them to eat, and they can’t force them to poop. Any efforts at either will likely fail, and often fail spectacularly.”

        Sympatico, indeed. This is almost word-for-word what I tell parents.

        The “fail spectacularly” part usually gets the biggest and best reaction.

        Funny story… at the start of my career, I worked in a day care and had a range of kids from 2.10 up through 5. One of the younger ones, Andy, took a real liking to me. He was in the youngest group, so he was a young 3 at the time this took place. Thing is, Andy never pooped. Not at school. He was one of those kids. He was a happy-go-lucky kid otherwise, very silly and doing all the normal stuff. He just didn’t have any interest in pooping at school. He was properly potty trained and pooped at home, just not at school.

        Until one day. Oh lord. That day. He comes running up to me, hysterically crying. I attempt to calm him so I can understand what the problem is. “Andy, tell me what’s wrong.”
        “I… [sob, sob]… have… [sob, sob]… I have to… [sob, sob]…”
        Then I felt it. Like a bomb exploded in his pants. I could literally feel the weight on my lap shift, from being properly fixed around his body’s center of gravity to putting direct pressure on my thigh.
        [hysterically screaming now] “I had to poop!”
        “Had to…?” [sniffs] “Yep. Had to.”

        He just couldn’t hold it that day. And it came. Lord, did it come.

        Going in another direction, I’m convinced we could perfectly plot people’s general level of anxiety by the number of different toilets they poop in in a given week.Report

  8. Avatar Reformed Republican says:

    As a kid, I was always an adventurous eater (and I still am). I always hated eating off of the kids menu. If I am was a seafood restaurant, or a chinese restaurant, or whatever, I did not want a burger, chicken nuggets, or a grilled cheese. I rarely repeat an order at a restaurant. If I can find something I have not had, I usually go for it. My son is also somewhat adventurous, and is pretty willing to try new things.

    As far as different tastes go, I think part of that is physiological. Certain people may detect compounds that other people cannot, or else they perceive that compound differently. Something one person likes and another cannot stand may taste completely different to the two of them. One of my company’s managers, who works on the fragrance side, has a very sensitive and discriminating sense of smell. He is also very picky about what he eats. I am certain the two facts are related.Report