Raising Adventurous Eaters In The Land Of Chicken Nuggets

We can have this idea that kids’ food looks a certain way. Think about what’s on a typical kids’ menu at a restaurant: chicken tenders, grilled cheese, a hamburger, french fries, and maybe some pasta. There isn’t much variety in color, flavor, or texture. Maybe there’s a side of plain broccoli. It most likely doesn’t get eaten. But honestly, if we had only plain vegetables to eat, we probably wouldn’t eat them either.

This is a typical American kids’ lunch (from “Photos Of School Lunches From Around The World…”) :

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This is one of the article’s meals for Finland, based on government lunch standards and photos of school lunches that students had uploaded to social media:

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 9.07.21 PM

They’re pretty different in terms of what is considered “kids’ food.”

What about introducing kids to “grown up” food and flavors while they’re too young to know that “kids don’t usually eat _____?” Your child will get a wider variety of nutrients, and you won’t always have to make a separate meal. If it’s well cooked and/or cut into tiny pieces, there’s a lot that young kids can eat that isn’t typical “kid” food. (There’s always exceptions like nuts, whole grapes, etc.)

What we consider “adventurous” foods for kids are often what kids around the world eat on a daily basis. The idea that kids only eat plain, bland food may be an American cultural notion that gets passed down:

As children grow, their palates continue to be shaped by the food environment they were born into (as well as by the savvy marketers of sugar cereals who advertise directly to the 10-and-under set and their tired parents). This early enculturation means a child in the Philippines might happily consume garlic fried rice topped with dried and salted fish called tuyo at 6 in the morning, while many American kids would balk at such a meal (even at dinnertime). We learn to be disgusted, just as we learn to want a second helping. — “Rise And Shine, What Kids Around The World Eat For Breakfast”

Start new/different foods early on. Even before a child is born, what a mom eats makes a difference in what the child will end up liking:

Children begin to acquire a taste for pickled egg or fermented lentils early — in the womb, even. Compounds from the foods a pregnant woman eats travel through the amniotic fluid to her baby. After birth, babies prefer the foods they were exposed to in utero, a phenomenon scientists call “prenatal flavor learning.” — “Rise And Shine…”

As long as it isn’t TOO spicy, experiment with spices and seasonings and see what your child likes.  You may be surprised that your child likes onions or garlic. Your baby might love cauliflower puree with a little curry powder added in. Even if you don’t like a certain food, your child may enjoy it.

The possibilities are endless, but here’s a few combos you could start with:

  • Mix some cinnamon + nutmeg into mashed bananas
  • Make mashed cauliflower or potatoes with garlic + paprika, or garlic and curry powder
  • Add some rosemary, or cinnamon + nutmeg to sweet potatoes
  • Mix curry powder into cooked butternut squash and top with goat cheese
  • Add a bit of hummus to small crackers or serve with thinly sliced cucumbers cut into small pieces
  • Mash/puree beans and add seasonings to make your own refried beans
  • Making a salad for yourself? Your toddler may like munching on small pieces of onion or tomatoes while you prep dinner.

What about the truly picky eater? A kid might not eat avocados this week or month, but in another month or two, they may decide they like them. You just never know! In the meantime, you can sneak fruits and vegetables like spinach, avocado, kale, and even shredded carrots into smoothies. Sneak some cauliflower mash into your child’s mashed potatoes. Applesauce can take the place of butter or oil in baking recipes. Your child might not like zucchini, but maybe muffins made with grated zucchini, carrots, and raisins will be a hit. Rice may be the only starch your child likes, but try mixing in a little quinoa and see what they think.

What about at restaurants? The restaurant portions for adults are usually huge. Give your young child some of your meal with a side from the sides menu, or have two older kids split an adult’s meal. They will get a wider variety of flavors and nutrients by branching away from the kids’ menu.

Your child may like new foods quickly, or it might take them a long time to eat something green. Don’t give up! Even if they take just a few bites of something new, it’s a win.


More info:

“Photos Of School Lunches From Around The World…”  [lunch images from this link]

Check out the NYT’s whole photo essay of breakfasts around the world here.

Hundreds of baby and toddler meals can be found here:


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Raising Adventurous Eaters In The Land of Chicken Nuggets

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