Our eyes shape our perceptions about food. To get kids to try new foods, deconstructing meals may be the answer! Find out more.
I know what you're thinking. "That stuffed acorn squash looks delicious, but I'll never get my kids to eat it". You may be right. But what if I told you that understanding how kids' brains work differently from our own can make all the difference and it starts with what we see first. While an adult is drawn in by the beautifully presented arrangement of blended colors, kids want to see it all sorted out so that "nothing is touching".
So how do you get the best of both worlds without becoming a short-order cook for every member of the family?
That's where deconstructing meals come into play. Think about it this way.
We eat first with our eyes. Our eyes influence our perceptions about food before it ever touches our tongues. Research by Dr. Terry E. Acree, Ph.D., a professor at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, shows that our perceptions of flavors depends on more senses than just taste and smell. The senses of sight and touch also come into play, as well as emotions and past experiences with different foods. However, children don’t have deep experience with different foods. They learn to eat foods one at a time, gradually over time. That makes the senses of sight and touch all the more important when introducing children to a wider variety of foods.
Research suggests that children are most attracted to food plates with more elements, colors, and patterns. As adults, we are not so different. Think about chefs at a restaurant (though probably not your favorite, local diner) who artfully arrange food on the plates they serve, balancing colors, negative space and contrasting textures like crunchy and smooth? The plate itself is their canvas and you are their art critic.
How can we get our children with food allergies to be more open to exploring new and different foods?
Nature is on our side…
Our brains are subconsciously programmed to optimize for nutrition, and a varied diet is critical to achieve this. A varied diet includes colorful choices, whether it’s the intense colors of most fruits and vegetables, the golds and tans of grains, or the pale whites and yellows of dairy products. How many times has your hand paused over the fruit bowl as you visually zero-in on the most mouthwatering peach, colored like a sunrise, that you can see?
Additionally, our kid’s tastebuds are well developed for ‘sweet’ when they are smaller, creating a natural preference for sweeter foods like most fruits, carrots, corn, butternut squash and sweet potatoes. (Green beans? Probably not so much!)
Involving your kids in the kitchen is key...
My company, the Chef Free Club, recently developed a kid’s culinary project box that I am really excited about. With the kit as your guide, you and your kids get to practice cooking with fall recipes for stuffed acorn squash, a creamy dip that makes sampling fresh veggies irresistible, and a warm peach cobbler that rewards them for getting past the ‘ewwwww’ factor and trying some new and different foods.
Beyond introducing budding chefs to new foods and new ways to cook, the kit’s activities teach kids how the senses work together to shape our perceptions of flavor, the basics of art composition (color, space, line, shape, form, texture, etc), and the science of deconstructing meals.
There is nothing like experimenting in the kitchen to get all the senses going and the creativity flowing. Learning comes in many forms and your kids probably won’t even realize they’ve had lessons in visual art, chemistry, biology and math by the time you’re done with these projects. The learning is in the fun, and the fun is in the learning.
“I begin with an idea and it becomes something else.”
About the Author: Tiffany Rogers is a food allergy wife and mother with 20+ years experience managing a special diet household, and 15+ years professional business experience. Public speaker and author, Tiffany founded Allergy Cookie to simplify living with food allergies, later publishing her cookbook: 52 Allergy-Friendly Cookies for Kids. Her newest project, the Chef Free Club, teaches children through the kitchen and is inclusive of kids with special diets. Tiffany has served as a local Chair for the FARE Walk for Food Allergy, Community Events Director and General Board Member for the Utah Food Allergy Network, and Support Group Leader for NNMG Food Allergic Families of Utah.
Photo Credit: Thank you to Tiffany Rogers for providing the post image