Yada (Eww in Japanese), not spaghetti!
What kind of kid doesn’t like spaghetti and meat sauce? My body is literally half pasta and half potato. This was one thing I didn’t expect as a parent.
Usually, children develop food preferences similar to their parents who have been giving them their food since they were born. However, it is not that simple. Children also acculturate to the community they grow up in. Children both want to fit in but also sometimes want to differentiate themselves from their family.
The world is becoming more globalized every day. With this reality comes more intercultural marriages and children. Many families have a mix of two cultures, some have three, four, or more cultures swirling around. Sometimes the minority culture’s food will be minimalized for the dominant culture’s food.
My daughter grew up with my wonderful mother-in-law’s home-cooked food for most of her early formative years. When our living situation changed a few years later and I started to cook more regularly for her, her tastes had already been formed as a Japanese person.
The foods I had loved as a kid like spaghetti were off the menu; fish eggs, dried seaweed, and other food no Canadian kid would come near were on the menu.
At first, I tried to cook 3 or 4 Canadian-style dishes to make sure she liked one or two. Then I tried Japanese food but soon realized my I cooked Japanese food in a Canadian way. I had to relearn Japanese cooking the home-cooked Japanese way that would be familiar to her.
What to do if your child doesn’t like your food?
Some friends advised the old-school “eat it or else” approach. Children eat what you give them or they don’t get food. I think I would give the opposite advice, don’t panic, get angry, criticize, mock, or force.
Don’t panic, get angry, criticize, mock, or force.
Rather, adjust yourself and your cooking to satisfy everyone on a daily basis and slowly introduce different foods. Some strategies:
- Start by choosing dishes from your culture as close to the child’s food culture as you can.
- Make an extra favorite dish from your culture at mealtimes just for you but when she is curious, let her taste it.
- Let grandma or another trusted cook from the child’s food culture make one of your dishes.
- When abroad, eat the local food as part of the experience and then try it when you get back home.
- Eat at foreign food restaurants when eating out and then introduce at home.
- Make a super-duper version of a dish the child might like from your culture so it seems more appealing than regular food.
- Try to portray your culture’s food as a treat rather than as a chore.
Above all else, do not force and keep the idea of your culture’s food or other culture’s foods as positive as possible.
Then be patient.
If you haven’t pushed certain kinds of food on your child, you will see curiosity and acceptance grow as they get older. They will start requesting dishes from your food culture.
Conversely, if you have pushed too hard, you will find resistance.
Enjoy your food and don’t make it a point of conflict. Your child will naturally gravitate towards the food of her various family members as she gets older.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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