Food is my albatross and my delight, an oxymoronic life-guiding pillar that has defined my relationships with myself and others. For years and years I believed my relationship with food to be irreparably broken, but today I have a good foundation of nutritional and kitchen skills that bring me daily comfort with how I deal with my own gastronomic habits.
My big picture concern with TD is developing her palate. It is bordering on obsession to the degree I’m afraid I may overcorrect and ruin something else fundamental in my daughter’s life1. Still, that’s not going to stop me from attempting to foster a healthy and respectful relationship with food in our household. There are going to be a lot of rules around food in our house2, but those are down the road when TD is a walking, talking person, rather than a rolling, cooing puddle of adorable cuteness. In the meantime, she is coming up on four months of age which means that her Flavor Window is open.
According to the scientific research that Bee Wilson consolidates in her fascinating book First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, infants will accept just about any new flavor you present to them during a very narrow window: from four to seven months. While professional child experts and the medical establishment recommend not starting solids until six months of age, this abandons two critical months in a very short window which allows you to introduce flavors to a child. As such, we are bucking the conventional wisdom and embarking on a Flavor Window experiment with TD.
I’m trying to try to steer our child away from the brown-and-beige diet that has become de rigueur in the US. There are a few things that I believe that have brought me here:
Picky Eaters are Created, not Born
There are, right now, millions of children around the world who will eat what their parents put in front of them, and they do so willingly. They do not eat dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets three times a week. They do not eat exclusively eat noodles with butter. They eat what the rest of the family eats.
In the meantime, I’ve seen a family serve children of various ages macaroni and cheese for four consecutive meals. At what point do you step in and help children learn how to eat properly?
Look, I get it, toddlers are willful and demanding. So the question is this: are you laying a foundation for a picky eater by acquiescing to the food demands of a 2-year old? Or is it a “phase” that they will eventually grow out of.
I tend to believe it’s the former.
Eating is a Learning Process
You wouldn’t give up on teaching your child to read because she couldn’t sound out the word “fundamental.” So why do you give up serving your child well-prepared foods because she rejects them? Everything is an acquired taste. To acquire the taste, you need constant and repeated exposure.
I believe you’re better off teaching your child that roasted broccoli is delicious rather than hiding it under a layer of cheese3.
Even if it takes 20 or 30 times before TD happily accepts a delicious vegetable preparation, we’re going to keep doing it.
“Kids’ Food” is Destructive
I’ve already gone on record trashing the concept of “Kids’ food.” I think most parents probably think it harmless, and even natural, for kids to order the fish sticks with fries, or the plain hamburger, or the chicken nuggets. But the development of the adult palate begins as a child. If you think adult tastes develop and change naturally, I need only point you to just about every member of my immediate family growing up and the mind-boggling list of foods they refuse to touch as adults4. These habit were cultivated as children.
I Have No Idea How This Will Actually Turn Out
So I say all this with the benefit of not having put my daughter through the culinary paces, yet. This is a multi-year project and this week is really only the beginning. Truth is, I have no idea if the Flavor Window works. I do believe that picky eating is largely cultural, but the family dining room table is but one piece to this cultural puzzle. The school cafeteria, friends’ houses, media, and more is going to work against my desire to create a tiny epicurean.
As such, in the face of my ostensible confidence about this process, I offer this hedge: This documented adventure into the childhood culinary arts is meant to be informative, not instructive. I have no special insight that thousands of other parents don’t have. What I do possess is a stubborn obsession with this topic that I’m not sure anyone else can quite relate to. I’m hoping that carries the day… without completely destroying my daughter’s psyche.
We shall see.
- Lucky for me, Kathleen and I are on the same page about this, though she is much, much less obsessed with it than I am, which may lend a much-needed air of moderation to the atmosphere.
- A few that come to mind: You don’t have to eat what’s for dinner, but you do have to try it; we’re not making anything special for you to eat; You can have any junk food you can make by yourself from scratch; no ordering from a kids’ menu.
- Though broccoli and cheese sauce is also delicious, but it’s something I’m against as a tactic to “sneak in” vegetables.
- Just to name a few: avocados, cold sandwiches, salsa, and inexplicably… tomatoes.