Guest Post – Sharing Cultural Foods with Family by La Fuji Mama

by Jennifer on February 2, 2010

While I am away at Blissdom, I asked some of my favorite food lovers and bloggers to contribute some of their awesomeness to my blog and first up is Rachel of La Fuji Mama. Rachel and I started to communicate frequently when we were both nominated for the Foodbuzz Award for Best Family Food Blog and even since then, we are inseparable, well, virtually that is.

Hello Savor the Thyme readers! I’m excited to be here today with you. Jennifer asked me to share with you some tips and tricks for sharing cultural foods with kids. Let’s just get something out of the way first—I am NOT an expert in this arena, but I do think I have some unique insight on the topic that I can share!

My two girls are still very young (the oldest is 3 and the youngest is 1) and are still forming their palates, so I know that I’ll have a lot to learn in the years ahead. We’ve had some unique food situations in our family. My oldest daughter (who is known as Squirrel on my blog) was born in Tokyo, Japan. The solid foods during the first part of her life consisted mostly of things like mushrooms, root vegetables, rice, fish, and miso soup—the items that were readily available in the culture that we were living in.
When we moved back to the US, Squirrel went on a bit of a hunger strike. She would not eat much of anything until I was able to get to a Japanese market and buy the ingredients needed to make some of the foods she was used to. For her, the food in the US was foreign food to some extent.
In contrast, my younger daughter (who is known as Bug on my blog) was born in the US and has had a somewhat different experience with food during her first year. Because of the experience parenting in a different country and because of my own upbringing, I’ve learned a few things about expanding a child’s palate.
Ok, let’s start out with a few general observations:
- First off, some kids, no matter what you do, are just going to be picky. You can help them by giving them choices and introducing them to new things, but it may never make a difference.
- What our children like and don’t like is hugely influenced by the “food culture” in our individual homes. What is the food culture like in your home?
- Start young! When kids are young they don’t know whether or not something should be “foreign.” Almost every meal is a new adventure for them. It is much harder to change their food habits later on when they have gotten use to certain flavors and textures.
- Sometimes it takes a long time for a child to learn to like something. Don’t stop trying! Squirrel has never been a big lover of bread. Until recently she wouldn’t touch a sandwich with a ten foot pole. The other day she consumed half of a tuna fish sandwich. This was no small triumph for me—it took all three years of her young life to reach this point!

Now for a few specific methods I’ve used to introduce new/cultural foods into my kids’ diet:

- Experiment with the time of day when you introduce a new food. I have found that my kids are more receptive, and much more likely to like a new food when I serve it at lunch. By dinnertime, my kids tend to be crankier and just want things that are already familiar.
- Add foreign elements to your child’s favorite food. Does he/she love spaghetti and meatballs? Next time, try making it with udon noodles or soba noodles! Does he/she love chicken noodle soup? Next time, try adding some freshly grated ginger or lemongrass to the broth for a Southeast Asian twist.
- Get your child to help with the preparation of a new dish. That way the new dish can be a complete sensory exploration. You can talk about what the ingredients look like, what they smell like, etc. Your child can also be proud of their finished product, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll want to eat it too!
- Get creative! Bug is too young to wield a spoon or chopsticks to eat miso soup by herself, so I put broth into a sippy cup and she drinks her soup.
- Implement a rule that your child has to at least taste everything before they pass judgment. Growing up I had a very strong aversion to yams, but my parents insisted that I have a small bite every year when they were served for Thanksgiving dinner. I continued to implement the same rule into my adult years, and it wasn’t until we moved to Japan the 1st time and I discovered roasted sweet potatoes that I got over my issues with yams. I now love yams, and figured out that I just really don’t care for them prepared with brown sugar and marshmallows. I would still be hating yams if it weren’t for my parents’ rule.
- Never assume that your child won’t like something, you are just setting them up for failure. It constantly surprises me what my children will eat. Sometimes I serve something, and in my mind I think, “There’s no way they’re going to like this,” but I serve it as if it’s the most normal dish on the planet. It’s usually the dishes I most expect them to reject that end up being the ones they like the most.
Here are a few Japanese dishes that you might consider trying with your kids at home:
- Soy Sauce Eggs (shoyu tamago)
- Rice balls (onigiri)
- Miso soup (you can put familiar ingredients like chicken and potatoes in the broth!)
- Chicken and rice porridge (tori zosui)
- Potstickers (gyoza)
* If you’d like to read a wonderful book about a father and his efforts to raise his daughter as an adventurous eater, you should read Hungry Monkey, by Matthew Amster-Burton . It is hilarious, inspiring, informative, and full of wonderful recipes to try with your kids at home.
You can read my review of the book and see an example of one of the recipes here.

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