A few months ago my husband and I were visiting Sedona, a couple of hours North of Phoenix, and having breakfast at a local restaurant. I was feeling pretty full from the veggie omelet I’d ordered, but the buttered toast was calling for a bite. I picked up a slice and took a bite. As I chewed I could hear the echoing sounds from the cafeteria. My mind’s eye looked up to see the dusty green painted metal support beams of the roof. Light filtered through the windows on one side of the building. I was a first grader. The cafeteria was big and echoed the sounds of children’s voices and sneakers squeaking against the wood floors. It was warm and the air felt heavy with the smell of sausage. I distinctly remember sitting on the bench of a long table and looking at the tan-colored tray in front of me. Scrambled eggs, grits, sausage, milk, apple and buttered toast. I always saved the toast for last. I can’t describe the taste. It was like heaven in my mouth, rich, slightly sweet and salty. My whole body enjoyed that toast. Every breakfast we were served toast. It didn’t matter whether breakfast was cereal, or cream of wheat, or eggs and sausage, we were always served buttered toast. The toast was always perfection. The butter had soaked through and sat in the middle of the slice leaving both sides still crispy.
There have been a few times in my life when a memory of that taste has returned to me, never as perfect, but I relish those few bites.
As I think about the tastes of childhood I am reminded of so many times as an adult that I have re-tried food items I enjoyed as a child only to be disappointed at the change in taste. Whatchamacallit was probably my ‘go to’ treat for the majority of the 80’s, but it just doesn’t taste the same anymore. I wonder if it is because the recipe has changed, my taste buds have changed and matured, or just a combination of both. The times I am least disappointed are those when the food I’m tasting is homemade…hopefully by the person whose always made it. When I find something that tastes the same as it did when I was a kid- instant heaven. Is it the same for you?
Back in September 2013, I published a post Gardens and Girlfriends. In the post I provide a link to taste bud development in infants and young children. Check it out. Here, I’d like to explore that a little more. First, our tastebuds have a predisposition to sweeter foods (big surprise, I know!). Take a look at baby food. Carrots, sweet potatoes, peas, green beans, peaches, bananas…all relatively sweet. Don’t believe me? Do your own taste test using baby food or even the raw versions of each food. Close your eyes and identify the dominant tastes (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, savory). Sweet is the common denominator. In fact, most foods have a sweet component to the flavor, even if it isn’t dominant. Because we humans, when starting out in life, tend to prefer sweeter foods parents and caregivers tend to keep providing the sweeter foods (“He will only eat carrots and bananas…I can’t get anything green in him.”).
There are a few points or suggestions I’d like to make with these types of statements. First, introduce new food in small portions, don’t expect it to be a success right off the bat. Second, recognize that your own food issues or insecurities will come into play. For example, you may not like green vegetables, but is that any reason not to introduce and feed them to your children? Third, and maybe most important- it takes up to 17 tries of a new flavor to determine if it will be acceptable. This means that your child may spit out green beans 16 times, then magically like them. Well, maybe not, but it could happen. As children age their taste buds will age as well. This means that a food they may have always preferred is now unappealing, or vice versa. Finally, try not to pair too many tastes together when introducing a newer food. For example, imagine a plate with grilled chicken, steamed cauliflower and grapes. The grapes are the food with the dominant flavor – sweet. If your child is still new to cauliflower, the vast difference in taste of the grapes may likely turn their tastebuds off to the vegetable. Instead, try serving the grapes at the end of the meal, and not as a reward.
Feel free to share your experiences with food and children!