You’ve got to taste this: the art of raising fearless gourmets

May 4, 2010 | By | Comments (9)


As a kid I remember feeling disdainful of the kids whose mothers cut
the crusts off their sandwiches.  My mom would never let me waste 20%
of my bread, and I didn’t really understand what was so bad about a
bread crust anyway. I mean, really – save your dislike for something
truly disgusting. Like liver.

My preferred approach with liver was to cut it into pill-sized bits
and swallow without chewing. I never have served liver to my kids.  But
I grew up truly enjoying most food.  And fairly early on in our
parenting career, my husband and I decided to encourage our children to
have a broad range of food ‘likes.’

Home cooking right from the start

One of the first choices we made towards that goal was to skip
commercial baby food. Except for rice cereal at the very start, our
kids just ate well-mashed bits of what we ate at every meal. I think
that got kids used to the flavors of family cooking right from the
start. That was back before I even knew that a lot of commercially
prepared baby food contains a fair bit of high fructose corn syrup –
not the healthiest ingredient in the world.

Just a couple bites

We encourage kids to taste everything offered at a meal.  The
standard rule at our house is that you need to eat at least as many
bites as you are old.  So a 3 year old would eat three bites of
carrot.  A 6 year old would need to eat 6 bites of spaghetti. The only
exception to this rule is true gagging aversion, which does happen
occasionally with some kids and some foods.

Limit junk

pop and potato chips come with us on vacations, and also occasionally
when company visits.  But in general we avoid high-sugar, high-salt,
highly processed food that serves to dull taste buds to the
deliciousness of real food.  For more on this idea, check out Recultivating Our Sense of Taste.

Mix it up!

Because I love to cook, we eat a huge variety of food at our house.
One day we may have Korean sushi (kimbap) for dinner.  Another night
we’ll serve Mexican tortilla skillet.
Because our kids routinely see new  things at the dinner table, they’re
used to jumping in and trying things.  I always try to serve a familiar
thing or two along with the less familiar.  For example, rice, bread,
green salad, and carrot sticks appear frequently, and serve to fill in
the cracks if a kid doesn’t love whatever the main dish happens to be that

Don’t give up

Studies have shown that kids need to taste a new food 10 times to
acclimate their taste buds to something new.  Many times a kid will
initially dislike something new, but after tasting it a few times will
change their minds.  We have a couple kids who have persistent, strong
dislikes to one or two foods. That’s OK, and again, I am lenient when a
kid really, truly hates something.  But the vast
majority of our kids quickly grew to like most food, even includes our
two older daughters who came to us from Ethiopia at age 9 and 11, and had to try a whole slew of new things.

Try ‘Salad-Bar’ style meals

tacos, fajitas, or baked potatoes with lots of possible toppings gives
kids control over what they eat.  My kids know that mom expects them to
choose some veggies, and occasionally I’ll need to remind a kid to take
some tomatoes along with all that cheese.  But when given choice, they
will usually happily serve up their favorite veggies, and sometimes
kids will surprise me by taking veggies I thought they didn’t like.
For example, the other day one of my older Ethiopian daughters served
herself mushrooms, which she despised when she first arrived in

The problem with raising brave eaters

And the down side of success at this venture?  Well, some day you
have just little pizza dough in the fridge.   You’ll spread it out on
an oiled cookie sheet, and you’ll pile it high with fresh spinach,
sweet peppers, mushrooms, sliced avocado, and mozzarella cheese.  By
the time you’re done, this pizza is a masterpiece.  You’re happily
picturing inhaling it almost single-handedly.  You set out nachos to
decoy the kids.  If you had normal kids, this would
work.  After all, just look at all the scary vegetables on this pizza! But
your kids, veggie-lovers since babyhood, barely look at the nachos.
They head straight for the pizza, and happily gobble down almost every
speck of it.
Leaving just one piece of veggie-pizza heaven to mom.

Ah well.  No plan is perfect.


  1. Amber Shah

    I agree with trying spiced foods earlier (this is not the same thing as spicy hot foods). When we took our 10 month old to India with us, we did bring plastic jar baby food and have “nursies” for nutrition, but he also tried something that we ate at every meal. While we keep away the spicy hot things, he eats things now even my grandma won’t eat in terms of spices and has never turned it away.
    In addition to varying our home cooking by cooking a ton of ethnic food, we also go out to eat at ethnic places a lot. While we may pack a small container of veggies and fruit, it’s not enough of the whole meal, and we need to find something he can eat there. Mediterranean and chinese are great for not-too-spicy but very flavorful food and now that he’s 2 years old, he loves them.

    May 6, 2010 at 10:28 am
  2. Amy

    Our family has almost this exact plan (aside from the # of bites) and I can testify that this does indeed work. My kids have very few foods that they ‘hate’ because so much was offered but nothing was forced.

    May 6, 2010 at 12:15 pm
  3. Rita

    We often lament the fact that we have no true “grown up” food. Our older kids (8,6) eat all that we do and enjoy it, too. Even strange things like sushi. The one thing they don’t like: spaghetti sauce on their noodles. Pretty sure it’s my hubby’s fault for not letting them have it when they were babies (too messy for the Laundry Man).

    May 6, 2010 at 1:24 pm
  4. Dawn W

    We have almost the same game plan when it comes to eating. I grew up eating a wide variety of ethnic foods – before it was a popular thing to do – because my father traveled a lot internationally and he brought home a hunger/taste for all types of foods. When I married my husband, he was a meat and potatoes kind of guy. I spent the first several years of marriage acclimating him to all that he had ben missing. So, it was a “no-brainer” when we had kids that we would start them off on that track, too.
    My son never had fast food until he was an older preschooler. We ordered chicken nuggests for him. He took several bites – closely examining the food in between. Finally, he looked up at us and asked, “What is it?” After explaining it was chicken, he gave it another taste and close exam only to exclaim, “No! It isn’t!” And he was probably more right than wrong!

    May 6, 2010 at 2:35 pm
  5. Ellen @ CheapCooking

    I didn’t do a number of required bites but I did make them tolerate things sitting on the plate, even if they didn’t think they’d eat it. One small spoonful just sitting there. After it was served up a few times, they’d usually taste it. Sometimes like it, sometimes not. I’ve also encouraged them to keep trying because your taste buds change as you grow!

    May 6, 2010 at 4:44 pm
  6. becca banana

    Lots of learning to do here. We have a 2 1/2 year old picky eater and 7 month baby. Thanks for the tips and life experience! The pizza looks yummy.

    May 6, 2010 at 5:34 pm
  7. jen

    Oh, yay! What a great post! We have done a lot of the same things, and we too have had great food “success.”
    I just wrote a ginourmous comment, then deleted it. I’m going to post about this very thing on my own blog Hope you’ll join me for a couple ideas that we have used; thanks for sharing your thoughts . . . and inspiration.

    May 6, 2010 at 8:13 pm
  8. Laura

    We’ve always had a one bite rule. I suppose I’ve been influenced by the fact that a wide variety of foods, simple things like broccoli or bell peppers can leave my stomach in a state of distinct physical distress. Sometimes I know that a particular food, such as nuts, will not set well. Other times I can eat it. Also, there is evidence that taste buds do not all have the same sensitivity. I have been labeled strict by some in what I require my kids to eat (without complaining), but I have learned to give some leeway for individuals while always encouraging them to try a variety of foods.

    May 7, 2010 at 11:48 am
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