Raising Adventurous Global Eaters
Talking About Kids’ Palates from Around the World with Parenting Without Borders Author Christine Gross-Loh
Christine Gross-Loh’s four children Benjamin, 12, Daniel, 10, Mia, 6, and Anna, 3, count among their favorite foods natto (Japanese fermented soybeans), broiled fish, Vietnamese pho, curry, and kimchi pancakes. Her youngest even loves brussel sprouts, a vegetable many American children—and adults—shun.
How did Gross-Loh raise her kids to be adventurous eaters? It’s a topic she explores in one chapter of her new book, Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us (Avery, 2013).
I asked Gross-Loh to share a few insights with Wandering Educator readers.
You mention in your book that Americans sometimes “socialize our kids to fight with us over eating”. Can you explain what that means?
Lots of parents are torn between wanting to help our children to eat really well and wanting to respect their individual choices (we are warned not to be overbearing about food because it might lead to sneak eating, binge eating, obesity, etc. but we are also warned we need to help our children make good choices). As a result, our kids get mixed messages: we tell them they can eat what they want, but when kids don't have enough guidance to navigate all the unhealthy and addictive foods out there, we find ourselves trying to persuade them to make another choice instead. This is an example of the kind of mixed message that opens the door to negotiation, pressure, and conflict over food.
Clear expectations can help: for instance, make the same foods for the whole family and ask everyone to be willing to try one bite of everything (but have kids serve themselves and be in control of their portions).
When talking about eating habits in Japan, you pointed out this epiphany when comparing the casualness of mealtime in the U.S. to the more ritualistic approach in Japan: “I realized that making each meal an event provides a different kind of nourishment.” Any advice on how parents can try to make meal time more of an “event” and the benefits?
One way is to make a habit of having everyone wait to eat together- and take a moment to recognize the start of a meal through some sort of ritual. We take turns around the table saying one thing that we were grateful for that day. The act of sitting together - coming together over a meal - is what turns a meal into an event. But even if you're alone, you can treat yourself with a good meal: sitting down to enjoy it instead of eating on the go or while multitasking. Making a meal an event is really about eating mindfully and with appreciation.
Why is it so important to encourage a child to try a food more than once—even more than twice, three times, etc.?
Research shows it can take many times and multiple exposures to learn to like a new food. In America, the guiding principle when introducing new foods to our babies is allergy avoidance: what we offer is very limited and spaced apart, and this definitely has an impact on how much of a variety of foods our babies learn to appreciate. We also give up sooner - if a baby or child rejects a food, we might tend to think of this as something permanent and indicative of the child's tastes - rather than something that will change with more exposure.
French parents, in a fascinating contrast, introduce new foods to their babies with the goal of awakening their tastebuds - so they introduce new foods in rapid succession and rotate a wider variety of foods.
From your research, it sounds like snacking and convenience food is more of an American phenomenon, any thought as to why parents and children in the U.S. are more prone to eat-on-the go?
I think that our lifestyles are really busy, so that's part of it. We also literally have more snack foods - the snack food industry just proliferated in the last few decades and it's not surprising we gravitate towards what's readily available and convenient.
I think it's also linked to the "event" idea - in Japan, for instance, people don't stand while eating even if they're eating alone. They always sit and take time to eat, without grazing. In many cultures, food is not about convenience; it's about nourishing body and soul.
Why is it so important to have kids that are willing to try new foods?
It's a gift to them, I believe - a wider world opens up to kids when they are adventurous eaters. A varied diet is also often more nutritious.
What are your top three methods for encouraging your kids to try new foods?
One: Make sure we actually have it on the table. I know it's a pain to make a food that you're sure your kids may not want to eat, but if it's not there in the first place you're guaranteeing they won't try it. I know some parents who try to introduce one new food at least once a week - you can frame it as fun thing, a "taste test."
Two: have kids help in the preparation of the food. Research shows kids are more likely to try/eat foods they've prepared themselves.
Three: invite over a friend who thinks eating a particular new food is cool. Kids are so influential on one another. If that doesn't work, find other adults who love food and are good role models. One of my daughters loves trumpet mushrooms because she tried them once in an Asian grocery store (they were offering samples). There was a crowd around the chef - it looked so good - she just had to try!
What’s a typical meal like at your house?
Dinner is our biggest meal (breakfast is usually a bit chaotic, and lunch is packed lunch at school). We have a lot of favorites we rotate - Japanese and Korean dishes are staples on our menu, and every few months I try to make a list of a bunch of seasonal menu ideas and post them on the fridge - but when I feel like I'm getting in a rut I like to get ideas from my family or friends. We all like foods that have strong flavors, so we usually gravitate towards ethnic dishes.
Kristen J. Gough is the Global Cuisines & Kids Editor for Wandering
Educators. She shares her family's adventurous food experiences--and recipes--at MyKidsEatSquid.com.
Photos courtesy and copyright Christine Gross-Loh, via her blog: Life Simply Crafted