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Raising A Chowhound

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My husband and I both enjoy new dining experiences, new products brought to market, taking in food festivals, food fairs and trade shows. In the last few years our love of ethnic food has expanded thanks in part to recommendations from serious Chowhounds!

The thing is, our teenager hasn't joined the culinary adventure. And altho its certainly a choice to be a plain eater we can't help but be sad for virgin palates.

So, what do you do to raise a chowhound? Thanks!

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  1. I'm guessing that this post more appropriately belongs on the General Board. So, the admins may end up moving it. That said...

    I think the kinds of foods kids are exposed to at home are a good start towards their becoming a chowhound. If you cook a variety of cuisines, they will at least be exposed to the tastes of different herbs and spices.

    This is by no means a foolproof method, of course. While there are teenage chowhounds, and even some who are younger, I think the majority of teens have tastes geared mostly toward pizza, burgers, fries, etc.

    But don't give up. I'm betting that, eventually, your chowhoundiness will seep through. And one day, your kids will surprise you and turn into younger versions of your chowhound selves.

    1. Do it the way my mother-in-law got her son (my future spouse) to learn to cook: no prepared snacks in the house. If he wanted a snack he had to figure out how to make it. She showed him where the cookbooks were and reminded him that he knew how to read.

      And she also got on his case if he left the kitchen a wreck, so he is fairly tidy when he cooks, too.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jillp

        Same here. We had to make our snacks...no processed junk food around ever.

        1. re: jillp

          I got my kids cooking first by teaching them to make their very favorite foods (spaghetti sauce in one case, stir-fries in the other) and secondly, by asking them for my birthday to each buy me a cookbook that was full of food they thought they wanted to eat. And then to pick out and cook one recipe with me. We cooked some pretty amazing things that I never would have chosen (including one very complex pasta dish that must have dirtied every single dish in the kitchen), but we had a great time, and it started off some very good cooking. (For the next birthday, they presented me with a menu with a couple of options, and did all the cooking for the day. No one told them cheescake was too complicated for teenage boys, so that's one of the things they made(which is what kicked off my search for ways to use up left-over creme fraiche, see earlier thread.))

        2. Were you chowhounds during the child's early years? I think that is when food preferences are most subject to environmental influence.

          My wife and I are now expecting our first child, and we are deliberately trying to solidify our list of favorite restaurants that are moderately priced, family-friendly, and gastronomically adventurous. We have identified some local Indian, Ethiopian, Turkish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, and Middle Eastern restaurants as those which we want to be among the first experienced by our child. I remember being exposed to a variety of international foods by my parents and it has created a sense of adventure that has served me well for 40 years.

          Misguided relatives may buy the kid an occasional happy meal, but we hope to set another course. Perhaps we are naive, but I am hoping this strategy, combined with a lot of good home cooking, will establish good habits for life.

          6 Replies
          1. re: silverbear

            Have you heard about children's palates being influenced by what their mom's ate during her pregnancy? We are starting to think about having kids and read about this somewhere.

            1. re: Suebee

              I have heard this. Fortunately, my wife has experienced no nausea as a result of pregnancy. She's eating and drinking almost all of her normal favorites (except for a few things that might be dangerous to the baby), and I hope that exposure will be helpful.

              1. re: Suebee

                I posted about this on the "Have Your Tastebuds Changed?" topic. I ate a ton of tomatoes when pregnant w/ my daughter and she LOVES tomatoes (one of those foods many young kids don't like). I was less obsessed w/ tomatoes when pregnant w/ my son (and I was also pregnant during a more "wintery" time of year w/ him) and he's not as fond of tomatoes. I also ate a lot of ice cream and both kids like ice cream, but I've never met a kid who *doesn't* like ice cream!

                1. re: MollyGee

                  Funny you should mention tomatoes... I am in my 7th month and also eat a ton of tomatoes... Always liked tomatoes but never ate them on sandwiches, burgers, etc. (Too mushy).
                  Now I eat them on and with everything... same with avocados and watermelon... always was a fan but since pregnant, always have to have them around and with most meals...

                  As I am having some trouble with heartburn, I had to find alternatives to certain vitamin rich fruits and veggies. Good thing the pregnancy was/is during the spring and summer months, lots of options.

                  Additionally, my hubby is a meat and potatoes type of guy so we have been bbq-ing constantly... The only thing I worry about with that is that since I have to eat my meat cooked more than I like (safety reasons), my son will want his meat cooked past medium rare, the horror! LOL

                  As for raising chowhounds or bearing them, I have tried to vary my meals but as is common during pregnancy, you must eat what you can eat and as things go, I was pretty lucky! We do plan on introducing lots of different foods as soon as it is appropriate... We were both raised in the school of "if they are hungry, they will eat what you serve" though both sets of parents cooked well and diversely... yet in keeping with the proper food group parameters: meat, potato, veggie/salad, etc. with every meal.

                  1. re: Michele4466

                    Watermelon was the same way for me, too. It's great to be pregnant in the summer!

                    And I had the pregnancy heartburn. It didn't matter what I ate -water would do it, too - I just couldn't eat after four in the afternoon or I couldn't sleep.

                    1. re: Michele4466

                      It seems like I get it at anytime depending on what I eat (the heartburn). Weren't you hungry after 4pm? I could not do it, just learned to leave the tums by the bed...

                      I have to eat something before bed or I wake up STARVING! With all the waking up all night as it is, do not need hunger making me lose sleep too! :-)

              2. I got my start at home with Italian grandparents. As far as I am aware, I was the only kid in my group who ate artichokes, mussels, octopus, rabbit, etc. Gramma made stuff at home for special occasions and I enjoyed it with the rest of my family. Unfortunately, I did not learn to cook it! This caused problems when I was grown, and my kids wouldn't try a darn thing in restaurants since they didn't get it at home.
                They are just now, as adults, getting adventurous-- a little.
                Yep, the thing is-- I think -- expose them young

                1. I'm not a children type person, but I would think that "influencing" a child's sense of taste and appreciation of different foods would start at the infant or childhood stage.

                  Too often I see families dragging their children into the nearest fast-food place. Poor kids. I feel sad for them. All they will ever know is pizza, burgers, fried everything, and soda. (see recent obesity threads on one of the boards here).

                  I would think that exposing your child to the foods of different cultures, and especially to HEALTHY foods, at an early age, would be critical. I'm not saying force your child to eat only broccoli and take bean sprouts in their school lunchbox, but at least offer them options.

                  Likewise, school lunch programs (while making some advances and depending on your location) quite often feature the worst crap and un-healthy choices.

                  I remember in elementary school, a friend of mine's mom was a macro-biotic freak, and barely let him eat ANYTHING except yogurt and bean sprouts and stuff. No wonder, he would PIG OUT at school, begging for other peoples snacks, desserts, and "normal" food, and I once went to his house to play and he had a STASH of junk food in the attic.

                  I think if you expose a growing child to the options, they at least will have a foundation. Sure, everyone likes pizza once in a while, or some fried chicken fingers, but if your kids know there is a world of different and INTERESTING foods out there, they will be much better off.

                  You could also make food FUN.... teach your kids to share with their peers, make them aware that, "hey, look, today I brought this cool (insert ethnic cuisine) food, oh look, you're eating a hamburger again.....".

                  1. you have a good point about overdoing it, trying to get a child to eat healthy. I tried that with my older one-- nothing but healthy stuff. Then, by the time he was four, I found out he would kill for chocolate! I moderated my approach-- and it didn't work out too badly. After a brief fling with guzzling sugar as a teen, he seems to be on a pretty reasonable track as an adult.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Sloppy eater

                      My parents never brought soda or sugar cereals into the house... We drank apple cider, water, juice, etc. We also always had "100 % Natural" and the like (Farina, Wheatena), no Frosted Flakes.

                      We had other "good" (or bad) things, ice cream and cookies on occasion, they (my parents) weren't ridiculous... Friday nights, 007 movie nights we would order a pizza and have ice cream for dessert and eat on my parents bed while we watched. Nice memories!

                      Anyway, when I went to college I became a diet coke freak...and remained that way for years with periods of cold turkey but always went back. Until my pregnancy, I was still drinking it in large amounts weekly... Now I drink 99% water wiith some seltzer thrown in and a diet coke once a month, if that. I feel great and will probably stick with this after the baby is born. Only took me thirty some-odd years to figure this out. LOL

                      As for sugar cereal, also became a junkie with that for while but still LOVE "100% Natural" (hard to find in the supermarket, we buy multiple boxes when we see it) and Farina, Wheatena, Oatmeal...though during my pregancy I have been eating Apple Cinnamon Cheerios alot!

                      My point being, moderation... My parents taught us to enjoy the healthier options while still allowing the alternatives every so often and both my brother and I eat healthy, for the most part. My mom cooked a delicious meal 5 out of 7 nights and so do we... we are also adventurous with cuisines and spices...my 7 yr old niece is an expert in Indian, Thai, and Chinese food...

                      I hope my son turns out to be as lucky...

                    2. I appreciate the comments and insight. Truth is at two, five and even ten our son was exploring food right along with us. He's always been a part of our culinary adventures but somewhere around twelve he stopped TRYING new things and his meals became issue. Whether out to eat, at home or as a guest he started saying NO. We always imagined the reverse to be true; fussy as a child, more adventureous with age. All we can do is keep offering the opportunity to expand horizons :)

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: HillJ

                        Is it possible that at age 12 your son decided to assert his independence by controlling what he ate? Food is such an emotionally fraught area. Eating issues are sometimes simply about the food, but frequently there's more going on.

                        1. re: pikawicca

                          Pika..I agree, there is probably more to it...which is why I'm not nagging him...so as not to create more issues...as opportunities arise (eating out, parties to attend) he's always welcome but the rest will be up to him. I will add that extended family and friends have noticed too and my MIL has been insulted by his disinterest in her holiday meals. Onward!

                      2. Anything that takes us out of our comfort zone takes knowledge, patience, curiosity, and sometimes faith to appreciate. Just like the old joke about Wagner's music, "it's better than it sounds," sometimes food is 'better than it tastes.'

                        As far as your son is concerned, don't force the issue. (I'll bet there are plenty of Chowhounds out there who don't want to be forced to listen to opera every day.) Just set a good example. If he is ever to change, he will have to muster enough trust that there must be something to all this.

                        If you are looking for ways to hasten the process, then I imagine anything that will make him curious or knowledgeable about other cultures in general is a good way to start. Travel, getting to know teens from other countries (peer pressure), any projects or educational opportunities that involve geography or cooking, etc.

                        Both of my children, 11 and 7, are adventurous eaters. Not that they like everything... still hard to get them enthusiastic about their fruits and vegetables. They'll devour squid or spicy tofu before they go anywhere near a raisin. But I have always been successful at getting their friends to eat foods that their parents can't get them to try.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Steve

                          Lol... "They'll devour squid or spicy tofu before they go anywhere near a raisin." This sounds so like me as a kid, and even now! I think it is also partly based on the mood of the person. Like some days if chicken or duck feet is ordered @ dim sum, I won't touch it -- although on other days i'd be the one inhaling the most.

                          The way my parents did it -- there was usually something interesting served at least once every few days, whether it was home-cooked or ordered in a restaurant. Sometimes there was no need for them to persuade us to at least try... although on the occasions when Mom made stuff like eel soup or frog legs she would just serve without mentioning what it was.

                          I have friends who were raised on routine staples growing up, and anything unfamiliar is scary and off limits; whereas in my family unfamiliar foods are windows to adventure.

                        2. I think kids eat what is familiar to them. If it's McNuggets and fries, then that's what they want. If it's homemade enchiladas, rice, and asadero cheese like what was around me growing up, then that's what becomes familiar to them.

                          We're trying to expose our toddler to some yummy things, not just the PB&J and Mac & Cheese she gets at preschool. At this point she really likes some mild Indian curries and samosas, Grandma's Mexican food, and American style Chinese food.

                          She still doesn't have a taste for fish, which she calls "chicken" for some reason.
                          I think their friends have influence too. I'll take my brother: his best friend through grade school was a boy whose parents were from China. He would stay for dinner and come home telling my mom that he would eat all sorts of fish and rice and bok choy.."Can you make that? It's really good!"
                          Same goes for the other little boy. He would come over and my mom would make all sorts of Mexican goodies.

                          At a young age, these two boys were exposed to other foods that they would never find at home. It served to expand their tastes, which I know in my brother's case, shaped a guy who will try anything today.

                          1. My parents got me involved in cooking the food we ate for dinner, and that made all the difference in the world.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: gjetost

                              Yep. That can make a difference. If I want my older child (she's five) to try something new, I have her help me prepare it. Works every single time. She will always at least try the new thing. She's discovered that cilantro is good and that green onions are not "spicy" just in the last month.

                              My son, though, is very picky and eats almost nothing. He loves to help cook and to prepare food, but that's no guarantee that he'll even try it.

                            2. I was lucky enough to have parents that served all of us (there are 7) kids everything they ate. We all ate and liked fish, escargot, chicken livers, stuffed cabbage, sweetbreads, herring, etc. We are now all lovers of great food. I do have one brother that doesn't like tomatos...but we let it slide.

                              We also never had junk food in the house (chips, store bought cookies, etc).

                              I say expose your children to all foods, early. Sure they won't like everything right away but I bet they will when they are adults.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: janedoe67

                                When ChowPup was a ChowPuplet she was a very picky eater but always tried (but did not eat) everything. When she was six or seven she ate carrot sticks, hamburger and esgarots, not necessarily in that order (the latter when we ate out, really flooring the waitperson). Now she is grown up she is a marvellous cook who eats all the things that JaneDoe eats plus she takes her lunch to work everyday. She still does not drink sodas because she said, we never had that in the house Mom. She did eat chips but only in the supermarket while I was marketing, I bought a 5 cent bag for her telling her that we were not allowed to buy chips to take them out of the store, she could only eat them in the store. Hey, it worked.

                              2. I think if the food education is there, once the rebellious years are over and maturity kicks in.. it will all fall in to place, and you will have raised a chowhound. It applies to many things but teens need to differentiate themselves from their parents to exist.

                                1. Just a quick shout out to posters on this OP. My teen read these replies last night and tried shrimp for the first time at dinner. Nothing like a "fresh voice" to help a parent along. Thanks CHows!

                                  1. I have raised my now 12-yr old son with real foods from the time he was starting out. He doesn't eat junk, processed foods or artificial snacks. He knows that fast food is garbage, and when his grandma always wanted to take him to a fast food place, he finally said to her "Grandma, why do you want me to eat that awful food?" He will eat at those places if he is with a group that goes, but he never, ever eats there as a choice.

                                    We make everything from scratch and he eats like a pro, although he has, in the last year, started to express his desires differently. He used to love salmon, and now he tells me he doesn't. He would eat any vegetable I put in front of him and now only takes a small amount. During our meals, he has always been required to taste, to take a small amount and eat it but it is never a requirement that he has to like it, he just has to try it. Many times he comes across a food he thinks he will hate and it turns out that he loves it. I never push him into eating anything, if he doesn't like what I make he has many options in the cupboards to put together himself. I am not a short order cook. The thing I think that is most important is that he is willing to try anything and adolescence has not closed off his mind to that, so I am not worried. He needs to be able to assert his owns tastes and dislikes and learn his own way. I know I started him off on the right foot.

                                    1. We've also raised our now 12-yr old son with real food, but occasionally he eats some junk and/or artificial snacks. He'll eat fritos and pocky, but can make crepes himself and loves Korean tofu soup, for example. He knows that lunchables are more about the plastic than the "food," but has learned not to scoff at kids who bring that for lunch. Some kids think he brings wierd stuff for lunch - fried rice, soba noodles, stir-fried veg (we're not Asian, by the way)- but he doesn't care. I love that. I think that if you don't let them eat any junk, it might backfire on you. It's all about moderation, I think. Too much dogma is never a good thing. I agree with Kate's decision not to be a short order cook. Same here.

                                      1. I saw Lidia Bastianich on her wonderful cooking show, break up some fresh herbs under the nose of a very new baby. She thinks it is very important for babies to be exposed to wonderful food aromas right from the beginning to get their food sensuality juices flowing.

                                        1. I said for years that my biggest parenting mistake was not introducing my younger son to refried beans at an early age...

                                          But here's how we eventually got him to start eating some Mexican food, and I think eventually he'll eat more. If there is one thing on a menu that a kid will eat, go for it, and let him be happy, while you eat other things on the menu. So-- we lured him into Mexican places with the promise that he could eat nothing but chips and salsa if he wanted (who doesn't like chips and salsa?). Then we got him to eat quesadillas, just plain cheese ones, with salsa. And then tacos, no tomatoes, of course. So at an Indian restaurant (our kids loved Indian from the get-go) I would try the tandoori chicken and nan, maybe the samosas. Chicken satay at a Thai place. Find anything they like/will tolerate/agree to try that's vaguely chowish, and use it to fan the flames, very gently.

                                          1. It's perfectly normal to want your child to grow up to be a chowhound, too, but it's also very normal for your child to not be one right now.

                                            I'm assuming that your child's friends are eating the same food he is - fast food, junk food, etc. To him, it's satisfying and fulfilling, and as long as it is not bordering on unhealthiness, it's fine. His focus in life right now is to learn and develop his interests, and it will unlikely be exactly the same as yours. As a matter of fact, if he grows up refusing to eat the same kind of food his peers eat, he might turn into a picky eater, which may not be easy for others his age to understand or accept.

                                            No Chowhound is simply born as one. We absorb and learn from the people and environment around us. Hence, it serves well that both of you are very much into trying different foods -- as long as you continue to expose and invite him to foodie events and stock the pantry and fridge with the food, he will know that he has access and potential to grow in this experience.

                                            1. Also, I just wanted to make the point that many of us were not exposed to any unusual or gourmet foods as children and have grown to love them. My mother was more adventurous, and I'm probably the most chowhoundish of my friends. But my ex-husband and my best friend both got through their entire childhoods eating nothing but applesauce and rice or some such horrors, and yet you can take them anywhere now. They only have a few things they don't like, and are willing to try nearly anything (although they don't spend as much time searching for unusual and spicy things as I do!) So although the current generation of children is being raised on curry and spicy tofu, that certainly wasn't the case for most Americans raised in the 50s, 60s and 70s -- and yet look at us now!

                                              1. I grew up, with parents who while for mostly financial reasons did not eat out very often. but who always insisted on fresh, seasonal food. mostly that we grew in our yard. we didn't eat tomatoes or peaches year round.. only when they were at their best. our freezer really only ever had ice in it, and occassionally ice cream. but no frozen dinners. not a whole lot of cans in our cupboard either. I think this set the groundwork for future chowhounding for me. In college, of course I ate pizza, burgers and other crap food. but honestly, dorm life (particularly the cafeteria) exposed me to how much truly horrendous food was out there. That is when I first started seeking out cheap, but tasty alternatives. like great burritos, curried meats over rice... and things like falafel and hummus. which for me at the time was all exotic and new. and of course gradutating and getting a "real" job with a "real" paycheck certainly helped. now on a given saturday afternoon I can drive an hour to go try some lobster roll or smoked sausage that I read about on chowhound.

                                                give your son time... he will come around.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: withalonge

                                                  Thanks Withalonge, I appreciate your point of view.