I was so psyched when my oldest daughter wolfed down the "sushi" that my Korean sisters-in-law made by wrapping white steamed rice with nori seaweed wrappers. It was a simple but nutritious snack that they told me kids love in Seoul.
Like most 4-year-old children, Sofia doesn't always want to eat at mealtimes, but I'm proud of her adventurous approach to food. She'll try almost anything. When she tastes a shrimp stir fry or a stuffed green olive then deems it "Good!", I want to hug her. She loves "China food," digs hummus and asks for seconds of salmon sushi. Even when she gagged after eating chilled King crab "au natural" in Ushuiaia, Argentina, I was proud of her. At least she'd tried it.
I've realized, after talking to lots of parents around the world about what their children eat, the idea of "kids food" is a ball and chain that we -- and the food industry -- have tied to ourselves. Our children will have their own preferences, but if we believe they will only eat macaroni and cheese and hotdogs, that's what they are going to eat.
Before we assume kids just won't eat liver, spinach, beets -- or whatever else might qualify as "yucky" -- just consider some of the foods that children eat and even covet in other places.
I'm a native of Taiwan who was adopted by an American family and raised in the States. (A story I tell in my memoir Lucky Girl.) When I met my birth family as an adult, I watched one of my nieces, then about 4-years-old, use her chopsticks to remove an eyeball out of a whole steamed fish and pop it into her mouth. She grinned with glee and I gasped in horror. It was, my sister explained, considered the prize of the meal for little kids.
Every culture has its own version of the fish eyeball. In Argentina little ones often eat morcilla, or blood sausage, and in countries such as India and Thailand, spicy curries are introduced slowly into toddler diets. In some arctic indigenous cultures, children eat raw meat. Many French boys and girls eat mussels and strong smelly cheeses. In each case, the foods the children loved best were the same ones their parents and society ate and valued. No kids food. Just our food.
Taking cues from these parents, I've tried to offer my daughter whatever is on my plate. If she doesn't like something, that's okay. As long as she gives it a shot. I'm willing to bet that my daughters aren't going to be into eyeballs, but I hope that by sharing with them my love for a wide range of foods that they will follow my lead, if not now, then later. I realize we are raising our children in a Happy Meal society, but I'm okay with McDonalds if she tries the crab, too.
What will your kid eat?