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Adventures at the Table

by Deb Barracato, Contributor

Young Children Can be Culinary Explorers — You Just Have to Guide Them

Nathan Cyr likes his cheddar sharp, his chocolate dark and his marinated fish ceviche. This Idaho 4-year-old bucks conventional wisdom, which claims that young children won’t eat anything but bland, unintimidating food. While it’s true many kids like to stick with familiar dishes, their natural curiosity underlies a real potential for adventurous eating.

Any parent who has made macaroni and cheese four nights in a row knows the frustration of catering to a young child’s palate. But you don’t have to become a short-order cook in your own kitchen to keep the whole family happy. Even preschoolers can and will eat the food everyone else at home enjoys.

Those early years offer the best opportunity to establish a habit of adventurous eating, as slightly older children tend to resist change more, explained Anne Fishel, an associate clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and board member of The Family Dinner Project, a grass-roots movement promoting the benefits of family dinners.

The Journey Starts at Home


Employ your child as a sous chef in the kitchen to increase his personal investment in the meal. (photo: Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)


Making mealtime a cherished family ritual sets a tone likely to last a lifetime, said Sue Muncaster, editor of “Teton Family Magazine” and co-chairwoman of Slow Food in the Tetons. Part of that means involving your children in the preparation.

At 2, Muncaster’s son Nico eagerly followed his mom into the kitchen to help measure and mix ingredients. By age 8, daughter Mariela regularly cooked breakfast and dinner for the whole family, browsing cookbooks to find new recipes. Yes, kids make a mess of the kitchen, but just let it go, Muncaster said. The esteem-boosting sense of accomplishment your kids will gain from cooking will far outlast the sticky fingerprints on the refrigerator door.

Even if your children don’t show early signs of celebrity chef potential, you can improve their culinary comfort level by giving them some control over what they eat. Take your children to the grocery store and let them choose the night’s vegetable or meat, Muncaster suggested. Plan menus with build-your-own entrees such as personal pizzas, tacos and mixed salads, then let the kids assemble their own meals.

Better yet, enlist their help in the garden or take them to visit a farm. Knowledge about where the food they’re about to eat comes from often translates into enthusiasm for eating it.


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