I'm fortunate to live in an area where good food is accessible and appreciated. There's nothing I enjoy more than a great dining experience and it's always been my goal to make sure Munch knows the good from the bad.
Step one was exposing her to a variety of cuisines and flavor profiles. When she was barely a year old, I was delighted to discover Munch's favorite food from my aunt and uncle's house was sinigang- Filipino "sour soup." When I went back to work, I was glad to know Munch was eating hearty soups and stews made from scratch by her home daycare provider, whose family was from South America.
Step two was to not feed Munch "kid food". I started her on homemade pureed food from the beginning (and it killed me to see the later proliferation of steaming/storage baby food "kits" that popped up in cooking catalogues- that's MY method!) We've always sat down for family dinner time and I never made a separate meal for Munch, nor did I "dumb down" our own food. We've gotten "dinner conversation" pretty much down, but we're still working on the length of the meal (she IS, after all, a distractible 4-year old!) We also had pretty much stopped eating "chain" fast food a couple of years before Munch's birth, except for the occasional quick bite when traveling. As a result, when she was served plain buttered noodles, a staple of children across the country, Munch would wonder where the red sauce was. I also had to explain the nugget to her, as it looked like no chicken that had ever been on her plate before- she skipped it and ate the apple wedges instead.
Step three- exposing Munch to the adventures of dining out. When she was a toddler, I frequently let her join me when dining out with friends (as long as it was okay with them!)- in the process, Munch learned appropriate public behavior and began to understand that it would result in her being invited out again. We also started out in fairly informal places, like the local family-run Mexican restaurant or kid-friendly places like The Cheesecake Factory. I'd take Munch along on summer vacation "dumpling outings", when we'd pick up dim sum from the Asian market and check out the smelly, I mean, "sensory-rich" seafood section while we were there so she could see the unbutchered products piled high, unwrapped, and hopefully, she'd begin to understand that "food" was once a living animal, fish, or bird.
Now, we're in "food appreciation"- Munch is helping me prepare more meals than not. I always invite her to help, but don't force her. Just this morning, Munch declined to help make breakfast as she was still reading in bed, but sure enough, she was by my side within minutes (couldn't stay away- someone needed to taste all those ingredients!) On our summer trip to Wisconsin, we visited dairy farms and read about cows providing us with milk and meat. Munch knows that a farmer AND an animal are behind that meal on her plate. And tonight, a special treat that I've been leading up to for a long time- a "fancy" dinner out, meaning the beginning of restaurants with ambiance, tasting courses, a really good wine list, a cheese course- hooray! I'll post more "restaurant specifics" soon, but here's a sneak peek:
Munch with Tyler Florence- If we're doing "fine dining", we may as well throw a celeb chef in there!