I’ve already mentioned how important to me it is for Jai to grow up loving food as much as I did. But teaching Jai to love food isn’t the only important thing. It’s also teaching him how to love the process of making food and learning to be open to the variety that food has to offer.
Food is one of those universal languages, like math, where it is an important form of communication that transcends language and cultural barriers. I found that my introduction to new cultures wasn’t from media, but taking an evening to try a different ethnic food. One of my fondest memories from undergraduate was spending late nights ordering Indian and watching Bollywood movies with my Pakistani roommates.
Food is tangible, hitting all of the senses, and doesn’t allow for an abstract appreciation of another culture, but an immersive appreciation. I can teach Jai all I want about his Indian/Portuguese/Puerto Rican/Irish/Italian heritage, but it will become more real when I make him dishes from each culture. It grants him a connection to his heritage that he can appreciate until we get an opportunity to visit these countries ourselves.
So including food as part of Jai’s education is important to me, so much so that I want to raise him to be a foodie. How millennial of me.
When I talk about raising a foodie, I understand all the negative connotations: it sounds so pretentious when a parent says “Quinoa is such a foodie. We raised them to love kale, microgreens, and only the finest truffle infused rapeseed oil.”
I am not looking to raise a kid who only eats gourmet ingredients. I want a kid that will look at a new dish and try to deconstruct it to see how it was made, if only as a mental exercise during mealtime.
More than anything, I want him to appreciate all the food placed before him and appreciate the work that goes into getting it there, whether at home or out at a restaurant.
Instilling Freedom & Confidence
Part of raising a foodie means that Jai needs to have the freedom to pick what he wants to eat without fear of judgment. There are plenty of times where I place food and an open cup, yes – I live dangerously, in front of him. Inevitably, the food makes its way into the cup and he drinks from it.
He’s particularly fond of green beans and a honeybush herbal tea mixture. I gag at the idea of this combination, but I try to hide my judgment or tell him differently. Ash insisted that he was ahead of the potato chips dipped in a chocolate coating trend so Jai may be onto some sort of experimental food trend that I just don’t appreciate until we’re in the thick of it.
By feeling free to try food how he sees fit, in a safe environment to experiment, food is viewed as something to experiment with, a concept that some of the greatest chefs in the world do on a daily basis. I don’t plan to push Jai into the direction of becoming a chef, but I don’t want food and how it’s made to be intimidating to him when he gets older.
There’s an unfortunate stereotype about young, American men and that is that they don’t know how to cook or take care of themselves once they move out of the house. I feel like this is an unfair stereotype, but I do want to make sure that Jai doesn’t fall into it when he’s older. To combat that I am beginning to teach him how to cook, a process that I will be discussing on Wednesday.
Making food a safe place to experiment to figure out what flavors he likes will help boost his confidence in other areas of his life. I can already tell he’s a risk-taker, so while I curb it in areas that impact his personal safety, food is one of those places where if he wants to take the risk – I am okay with it.
And if he wants to eat green beans soaked in herbal tea while at college, I am not going to stop him.
Variety is the Spice of Life
With the exception of safety recommendations, we do not limit Jai’s food consumption based on unfamiliarity or spice level.
I try to take Jai to a place for lunch outside of our comfort zone as much as possible. My current restaurant of choice is a local Poke place where they have cooked options that are safe for little children. They absolutely love him and we’re always getting free miso soup that he slurps up throughout the meal. He’s particularly fond of wakame salad, something that makes me proud because I don’t know if I would have been as adventurous as a child as he is now.
For places I have no interest in trying the food, I have an aversion towards Ethiopian because of my mild typophobia and the injera bread, I will be sending Ash along to introduce it to Jai. I look at these opportunities as a chance for them to bond over food and try new experiences together, but don’t want my own hang-ups about particularly dishes affect his ability to enjoy them.
At home, I try to make dishes from all over the world as the mood strikes my fancy. Some dishes I’ve never made or tasted before so I have no clue how they are supposed to turn out, and other’s I’ve eaten at restaurants multiple times. We don’t insist that he try the dish, but he watches us eat it and mimics us when it’s mealtime.
I’ve had several different relatives and strangers express concern over a bite of food I offer Jai. I understand where the concern is coming from so I don’t resent it, but giving him the option to try something is important to me.
I make sure the food being isn’t overly hot both in temperature and spice and I allow him to try it. He will let me know if he can’t handle the spiciness, so I trust his ability to tell me when he’s done or he’s not interested.
Side note: I do make sure that I can handle the spice before giving it to Jai. If it’s too spicy for me, and I tolerate spice, then it’s too spicy for him. I also make sure to follow appropriate safety precaution after consumption as well which includes washing hands and making sure some sort of palate cleanser is available.
Make Food an Adventure
As I discussed in my post about dealing with picky eaters, not pushing food is important in preventing an unhealthy relationship with it. Food is meant to sustain us, yes, but it can be an enjoyable experience too. Here are some tips I’ve come up with to help keep Jai interested when it comes time to eat.
Raising a Foodie
- I try to make whatever is put on Jai’s plate interesting, not just for his experimenting as stated above, but interesting to look at and to taste. Jai is extremely tactile, so he wants to feel and squish the food in the process of consuming it.
- Keep meals the same. Jai eats what I eat, I don’t make something different for him (unless he asks). When we go out to eat, because of the portion sizes for adults, Jai and I split a meal rather than ordering off the kid’s menu.
- Encourage a discussion around food: do you like this dish? What do you like about it? What didn’t you like (and that’s okay)? He may not be able to answer these questions now, but he will be used to them when he’s ready.
- Include him in the preparation process. Right now Jai is limited by what he is able to do but that doesn’t stop me from having him help out in the kitchen. His favorite thing to do right now is pushing the button to make coffee for mommy and daddy.
- Don’t let picky behavior be masked by the excuse of “well, Jai is just a foodie.” I am introducing him to a range of gourmet ingredients when I have the means, but I also make sure his exposure is balanced. If Jai is not able to eat whatever is placed in front of him, particularly if its closer to a pre-made frozen meal in quality, then I have not done my job to help him appreciate food in all its forms.
Do you have a little foodie in your house? What do you do to ensure your little eater enjoys the process of making and eating food? Leave your experiences and thoughts in the comments.
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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton