I know it might sound obnoxious at first and that I sound a little like Martha Stewart with that headline, but I like the idea of raising gourmet kids. By “gourmet,” I don’t mean kids who demand white tablecloths and truffle oil. What I mean is simply someone with an appreciation of good food. Here’s how Webster’s defines it:
gour-met \n. \ a connoisseur of fine food and drink; \adj. \ of or characteristic of a gourmet, esp. in involving high-quality or exotic ingredients and skilled preparation.
Now, is that such a terrible thing? Think about it. What if we raised kids who cared about things like “high quality” ingredients? Besides it being delicious and really fun for your family, the long-term effects could be huge — for the kids’ health, for the planet, even for the hungry. It’s been fairly well established that our typical American diet is too high in fat, processed carbs, salt and sugar — and too low in vitamins, fresh produce and whole grains. Not only is our bad food contributing to poor health and weight problems, it is also bad for the environment and unsustainable and wasteful to produce.
Perhaps it’s a stretch to say that if we raise kids to be gourmets, the world would be a better place. But maybe that’s the truth. I don’t know, but just the idea of my kids knowing where their food came from and caring about its quality gives me hope for a greener, healthier and much leaner, world.
Pacifying picky eaters
So, right now you’re probably thinking something like, “Argh, my kids hate ‘exotic ingredients,’ which are expensive, by the way, and I don’t have time to boil water, let alone coach a kid on how to poach pastured eggs!”
I get it. My kids are no different from yours. While my son is fairly adventurous, my daughter prefers her foods white and processed (and my son did ask for Pringles for Christmas). Getting them to have a basic understanding of why real, whole foods (including green, red and purple ones) are better than processed, packaged foods without having too many mealtime battles — which serve no purpose but to diminish the pleasures of eating, by the way — has been a real challenge.
But we’ve made progress. I am hopeful that my kids are learning to appreciate why their rice is brown and where their blue speckled eggs came from. The other day my son was at the grocery store with me and he picked up a package of strawberries and said, “Mom, are strawberries in season?” I told him no, they aren’t, and he replied, “That’s what I thought because there aren’t any organic ones and these came all the way from Chile.” They looked pretty bleak, by the way, and we didn’t buy them.
Get your kids to go gourmet
So, what can you do if you have resolutely non-gourmet kids? Assuming you care about eating high-quality, unprocessed foods, how can you instill this love in your kids, especially if they’re picky eaters or junk-food junkies? Here are a few strategies that seem to be working for us:
1. Positively reinforce their strengths. All kids like something unusual. Instead of grouching about your kid’s refusal to eat asparagus risotto, praise him for liking artichokes and make sure he takes sufficient pride in his love of kumquats, sushi or smoked duck.
2. Don’t force-feed them. This one is hard for me because I have an 8-year-old son who weighs 51 pounds. But there is nothing worse than dinner-table battles. The rule in our house is: Just try it. Studies show kids need to try new foods up to 15 times to develop a taste for them; we’ve got to be getting close with shiitake mushrooms.
3. Don’t be a short-order cook. Here’s your new mantra: “This (curried squash soup, asparagus risotto, eggplant parmesan) is what’s for dinner. No, we’re not having (pizza, mac and cheese, PB&J) to go with it.” I usually cut up lots of fresh veggies, and if they don’t like the dinner, they can eat the veggies and maybe a roll or bread for dinner. Chances are they’ll get hungry and decide, hey, those seared scallops aren’t so bad after all.
4. Deconstruct. Sounds postmodern, but I think this really works. Lots of kids don’t like foods mixed together, so sometimes if I’m making, say, a salmon salad, I’ll make a platter with the salmon, vegetables, lettuce, etc., all in separate piles. Each kid can take what he/she wants, and then I toss the rest with dressing. This works for some pasta dishes, too.
5. Make food fun. This can be done in many ways, obviously, and depends on your kids’ ages and interests. But whether it’s a visit to a farm for fresh eggs, invent-your-own-crazy-salad night or tabletop grilling, keep their interest in food alive by making meals (not every meal, of course, we’re all busy) pleasurable.
6. Make soup. For some reason, my kids will eat a lot of foods they normally recoil from when they’re cooked in a soup. My favorite new soup recipe is a very hearty Italian vegetable and bean soup that is made with in-season organic vegetables‚ including Swiss chard, which miraculously went down without comment — and is just delicious!