It’s time to get the garden prepped for Fall planting. I look forward to watching plants grow and begin producing all kinds of edible gifts. Growing up, gardens were a staple, no matter where we lived. Some of our gardens were small and some weren’t. As a kid, I liked the small gardens because there was less work for me to do (I despise weeding), but the large gardens were fun to hide in. There are two early memories of our gardens in Louisiana that stand out in my mind. The first was when my whole family gathered buckets and shovels to harvest potatoes. Mom and dad would drive the shovels deep into the soil and overturn a big mound of dirt. It was like a game, did you have a dirt clod, or was it a POTATO (eyes wide, fingers tingling)? We played this game for what seemed like forever, I think I was maybe four or five. Then just before we started back to the house, dad took out his pocket knife and sliced one of the smaller potatoes. He bit into one and gave a slice to me. I bit into it. It was hard and crunchy, and I remember not particularly enjoying that bite. To this day, however, I occasionally will nibble on a piece of raw potato during preparations for dinner, and remember that time in the garden.
Taste development in children starts early. Infants are wired to understand their world by putting objects in their mouths. This also begins providing them lots of opportunities to experience different tastes. However, just because your infant reaches for the soda can you are drinking doesn’t mean that you have to give it to them or that they even want what’s inside. The child learns from watching you and wants to mimic your actions. If you really want to meet their need in that moment, you might consider offering them an unopened can.
You can encourage and support an infant or young child’s taste development by offering new foods in small quantities. For example, when an infant is ready to begin eating baby food (according to the pediatrician), a parent or caregiver can place a teaspoon or two of baby food onto a high chair tray. The infant will explore the new substance with their hands, eyes, mouth…hair, ears, eyes…It’s going to be messy, but a wonderful food experience for your child. Tip: to help with clean up, take the child’s clothing off prior to the food experience; after the experience place a wet washcloth on the tray and let the infant explore that. As they manipulate the washcloth, the water will be loosening any dried baby food.
The second memory that I think back on often is one with my younger brother. In one of our gardens we grew a few rows of corn. When the corn silk began to develop, my brother would gently stroke the various colors of the corn silk and smile at them. He was just a toddler at the time, but mom called them his girlfriends, and the term stuck. My older brother and I would giggle at how silly we thought this all was. Young children have a strong aptitude for imagination, and whether or not my younger brother actually pretended the ears of corn were his girlfriends, the experience fueled my own imagination.
Recently, I visited my younger brother and his young family. He showed me the updates to his various projects, one of which is a Desert Corn Project in its second year. I was impressed with his patience and skill, and complemented him. Then I noticed the shining corn silk on the young ears of corn. We had a good laugh reminiscing about his old ‘girlfriends’.
Do you have a favorite flavor from childhood, a suggestion about how to introduce new foods to young children, or a memory of how imagination impacted you?