A couple of weeks ago we talked about the “undercover veggie” strategy—how disguising vegetables within dishes your picky eater loves can help open up their nutritional profile and, gradually, palates. Letting down that old taboo and letting your kids into the kitchen is another great way to indirectly warm them up to new foods and flavors and get them trying new things.
A lot of times the kitchen is thought of as a dangerous or off-limits place for children—hot surfaces, sharp objects, fragile equipment, and an assortment of burning hot and freezing cold foodstuffs make it ripe with injury opportunities, especially considering wee ones’ tendency for abundant energy and not-so-measured movement.
So, they tend to get shooed away from the cooking and cooks, told instead to “go play” or otherwise disengage from what’s brewing in the kitchen. What we may not realize is, however good-intentioned, this separation of kid-and-kitchen may be affecting their attitude toward food, and consequently their relationship with it.
If you’re a foodie (self-proclaimed or unknowingly), you’ll know what I mean when I say that eating and experiencing food is much more dynamic than simply tasting, chewing, and swallowing. We look at, smell, and many times feel and interact with what’s on our plates before we ever engage our taste buds.
Encouraging your little one to get to know food in these ways—recognizing it, smelling it, holding it, picking it out at the store, washing it, stirring it, helping to turn it into something else—is a great way to pump up their interest in it far before you try getting them to eat it.
And, whether they do or not at that point is inconsequential. While your child might still reject a new food even after taking part in its preparation, they’ll retain something of the experience, be a little more open to it next time and increasingly more willing to meet, work with and eventually eat new foods.
Of course, you’ve got to exercise some common precaution and keep a close eye on your kiddo if you’re letting them help out. Make sure they know where all the hot and sharp spots are and what will happen if they touch them. Gently clear them from the path of moving pots and pans. But don’t flat out ban them from these areas or objects—while it’s important to protect them from getting hurt, you’ll find that kids who’ve spent some time in the kitchen are savvier and less likely to get in the way or put themselves in danger than those who haven’t.
Even if they’re too little to do much, letting your little one perch atop a stool or stir something (that does or does not actually need stirring) helps acclimate them to the kitchen and make them feel a part of it. Next time you’re whisking up something delicious, consider getting your kiddo involved in the kitchen—before you know it, you’ll have a “whisked foodie” junior in the making.