I'm always hesitant to write "kid" stories because they can come off as indulgent or too cutesy. I often dislike parenting writing for this reason. But a friend of mine recently asked for some advice about raising an adventurous eater. At first I doubted whether I had any real insight on the topic. But then I realized: I’ll eat almost anything once, and come to think of it, so will Chloe. That’s not to say she’ll like everything. But at least she’ll put it in her mouth and give it a go.
If you don’t have kids/hate kids/would rather stick your tongue against an ice-cold flagpole than talk about kids, then by all means, SKIP THIS POST.
For the rest of you: Here’s some advice that we’ll call “Adventures in eating: Baby edition:”
1. Skip the jars: Instead of buying jars of pre-made baby food, try to make it at home as often as you can. My theory is that kids who have always eaten real foods are used to the way those foods really taste. Because let’s be honest: Jarred baby food doesn't really taste like the food itself. Jarred baby bananas don’t really taste like a just-peeled, mashed-up banana. Jarred carrots don't taste like carrots. And jarred chicken? Let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised that if eating jarred, baby food chicken was among the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used at Gitmo. With that in mind, it's really no wonder that kids reject foods when they get a little older and transition to "table foods;" they're not used to the different tastes and textures. To make baby food, just bake or steam any food and puree it with a little water (or maybe breast milk or formula) in the food processor to get the right texture. Either puree what the grown-ups are eating for dinner and serve it right away, or make large batches and freeze the excess. To freeze baby foods in single-serve portions, pour the purees into silicon ice cube trays and freeze. When they’re frozen, pop the little squares of food out of the trays, transfer them to a freezer bag, and defrost them individually in the microwave or stovetop as needed.
2. Spice it up: I don't like bland foods, do you? Maybe your baby doesn’t, either. So don’t be afraid to add herbs, spices, and other flavors to your baby's food. For example, Chloe didn't like mashed black beans until I added a little salt and cumin, and then presto, she loved them. In fact, "more cumin" was among the first food-related phrases she uttered. Seriously. I’m extremely proud that my spawn has a favorite spice. Other good combos? Tarragon is great with chicken and pears; cinnamon tastes nice in applesauce; nutmeg and a little molasses perk up oatmeal. Basically if you like a flavor combo, see if your baby does, too! One thing to remember, though: Introduce spices and herbs one at a time, just like with new foods, in case of allergies.
3. Remember that she might not like everything: I hate black liquorish, shredded coconut, and black olives. And if I were a baby and someone was shoving them into my mouth, I would spit them right back out at the offending adult. It might take a while before babies accept a new food—Chloe rejected avocadoes a few times before they became her all-time favorite—but babies also have their own likes and dislikes. Now that Chloe’s older she has to try everything that’s served to her at least once, and has to actually chew it up and swallow it. And even though she used to eat everything in sight and is still pretty open to new things, Chloe has gotten less adventurous as she's gotten older. I'm sure part of that is because toddlers make a pact with the devil. But another part is that people's tastes vary. No one likes everything! (Except maybe my dad).