When I was a kid, I wasn’t really into food.
My family tells stories about me eating only butter packets while out to dinner. My mom would have to beg me to take just a few bites of food. I remember eating scrambled eggs, cereal (Frosted Flakes and Cinnamon Toast Crunch), and carrots. I’m pretty sure I survived on chicken patties and pizza during my teen years. In fact, I didn’t become a foodie until my 30s.
I could attribute this title to living and working on a vegetable and dairy farm in my 20s, but I prefer to thank my family. They had been laying the foundation all along. It just took me 30 years to appreciate it.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Here’s another article about how to cure my picky eater. You’ve tried all the tips and tricks, and they haven’t worked. But wait, don’t click away just yet — because I’m taking a different approach. These tips won’t provide a quick fix. They’re more about parenting for the long game. As in years from now — maybe 30 years from now.
Tip #1: Learn to open the refrigerator and make something — anything – without a recipe in 30 minutes.
To do this you need a stocked pantry and enough items in your freezer to last the winter. Frozen cooked meat is essential. You also need creativity and a time limit, because while the possibilities might be endless, the time frame is not. In 30 minutes, your foodie judges, I mean children, will be sitting at the table with their scorecards, I mean forks, ready to take one bite, and only one bite, of your carefully concocted creation.
It’s like “Chopped,” only the judges are even more fickle and prone to throwing things.
I’m serious, though. Thank you for this one, Mom.
Tip #2: Discover the importance of a great sauce.
When out to eat, my dad likes to ask the servers, “What’s in this sauce that makes it so delicious?” The servers chuckle and then ramble off a quick list of ingredients.
From the man whose culinary repertoire is limited to scrambled eggs and grilled cheese, I was curious to know what he would be doing with his newfound sauce knowledge. Apparently, he wanted to share it with me so I could make the delicious sauces at home. “Because,” he says, “the sauce pulls the whole dish together.” He’s not wrong. Sauces provide moisture, depth of flavor, and cohesion to a dish. I just wonder which ones pair nicely with scrambled eggs (hollandaise?) or grilled cheese (pesto?), because if I’m at the sauce station, I need someone to cook the main dish.
Tip #3: Offer meals as a buffet.
From my maternal grandmother, I learned the importance of options. Why make an apple pie when you can also make pumpkin? Why serve just turkey when you can have ham and sausage, too? Broccoli, corn, and carrots? Why not?
Quite frankly, this is genius, and it’s how I cook for my kids. Every dinner is a smorgasbord — some items are their favorites, and others they’ve never seen. They don’t have to put everything on their plate, but they should have at least three food groups represented, and one has to be a fruit or a vegetable. This tactic encourages independence and decision making. It also uses leftovers, because I don’t make the full buffet every night.
Tip #4: Learn the value of taking your time in the kitchen.
This is the opposite of Tip #1. But there is something to be said for slowing down and taking all day to prepare a meal. For me, it’s a form of foodie meditation. A way for me to tune out the world and focus on my senses and tasks for a moment of zen.
These types of meals are my husband’s specialty. I call them his Epic Meals. From the meal’s inception to the mise en place to the execution of the dish, this can take hours, sometimes days. I love this quality in him, and it definitely makes him the better cook. He is careful and thoughtful in a way that I am not. He never loses his concentration, not even with a 3-year-old screaming at his feet.
My only request: Please don’t make an Epic Meal on a Monday night. Oh, and do your own dishes!
Tip #5: Cook and bake alongside your kids.
A few weeks ago, my 6-year-old daughter and I took on the task of making a hazelnut-almond dacquoise. (Don’t worry, I had to Google the word dacquoise, too.) The preparation took days. We made the almond dacquoise layers completely from scratch — we blanched, peeled, toasted, and ground the hazelnuts and almonds to grainy flours; we whipped the egg whites to perfect peaks; we folded the ingredients to maintain aeration; we piped the batter into three equal rectangles; we baked it for three hours then left it to cool in the oven overnight. And that was just ONE of the three main ingredients! We still had the buttercream and ganache to make. But we took our time, and persistence paid off with an absolutely beautiful replica of a three-layer 10-inch-long cake that served 10-12 people.
My daughter took one bite and declared it, “Not that great.”
I’ll admit I was frustrated. She had been begging for months to make this dessert, and now she didn’t even like it. But it would have been pretty unfair of me to expect her to immediately like its sophisticated flavors, unfamiliar textures, and a name she couldn’t pronounce. What I do hope is that she continues to try new foods and be a lifelong adventurous eater. Because, for me, that’s what it means to be a foodie.