A Plea To End The Dumbing-Down Of Kid Food: Introducing World Kitchen

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I mentioned that we were in Pittsburgh recently; I want to tell you all a story about something that happened there that has been boggling my mind. I made reservations for dinner for the 4 of us, my mom, me, and my 2 kids at Seviche, a restaurant that I found on a local Pittsburgh medium for the top 25 restaurants in the city. It specializes in Latin seviche and tapas plates, and was absolutely outstanding. I love seviche (also sometimes spelled ceviche), so I was in heaven.  The dishes were fresh, creative, and we did not order a single dish I did not love.

Anyway, rewind though to when we were leaving the hotel and asking at the front desk about transportation possibilities. The clerk came back and, unasked, advised me that her manager had said my kids would not like Seviche. Huh. So then we got into the shuttle, where the driver also expresses surprise that I would take my kids there. By now I am getting nervous-is it a dangerous dive? Is it full of drunken carousing? Is it a well known spot for drug deals?

When we get to the restaurant, it’s interior is lively, with what sounds to me like Cuban music playing and lots of people chatting while they eat (and the restaurant is full–clearly the adults of Pittsburgh know good food when they see it). The decor is colorful in a funky, upscale kind of way. I immediately ask the maitre’d if it is inappropriate for my kids to be there. He confesses that they very rarely see children but assures me that they will be safe. When he seats us he tells us, kind of hesitantly, that although there is nothing specific, he is pretty sure the chef can fry some fish sticks up for us. I stare at him blankly until I realize he is talking about my kids.

Wow. I mean I know I feed my kids a bit more exotically than your average cooking parent, but still.  I assured him no, my kids would be fine, and he took our order (all of this politely, I am not faulting the waiter at all).  This place served a vegetarian black bean tostada and a shredded chicken one as well and while I confess we ordered neither, what kid would not eat those? When we ordered the tropical fruit seviche with scallops, I took one bite, got distracted by the traditional tuna seviche, and when I looked back at the scallops they were gone. And my mom does not eat scallops, so it was all Sammy and Alex. Sammy slurped the raw oyster right off the shell and liked it quite a bit.

But it is not about what my kids will eat, what it is about is how sadly low our expectations for all children have fallen.  To the extent that 2 random strangers felt compelled to warn me my kids would not eat “that food” (even though, in at least 1 of the cases, the person loved the restaurant)!   Trust me, if you expose your kids to these foods, they will scarf them right up.  After all, what do you think the children from those other countries eat?

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Which is where this fabulous new project by myself and Amanda of MarocMama comes in. We were discussing what a shame it was more people were not comfortable trying to cook international dishes-the same international dishes they regularly order and eat in a restaurant-and it gave us the idea. What if we chose a dish on a monthly basis and then all cooked it on the same day, tweeting live about the experience as we cooked? It gives less secure people a chance to ask questions about anything that gives them problems (and ultimately we hope to have experts or at least experienced cooks tweeting as well for any given dish), it gives us a chance to compare and contrast our results live as they happen, and most importantly it becomes, through the frankly amazing power of the Internet, a collaborative cooking experience. So head on over to World Kitchen and check out what we’re cooking. The first dish will be paella and we’ll be cooking on Sunday April 17, starting at 1pm EST (don’t fret if you’re on the west coast-we’ll be tweeting all evening), tweeting with the hashtag #worldkitchen. I am especially happy with the recipe we found as I think it provides lots of flexibility for people with different dietary restrictions.  And hey if you want grab the badge on the right and spread the word!

Comments

  1. says

    Good for you! My parents never ordered for us from a kiddie menu or took as to ‘kid-friendly’ (read: fast food/chain) restaurants when we went out as a family. We had to eat what THEY wanted to eat! 8-D Books and food are my personal favorite ways to introduce children to the big world out there – this is a great project!

  2. David Euddeum Kwon says

    So funny yet so true that our society tends to dumb-down and not expect much out of our kid’s diet. I think it’s very, very important to try as many new things as possible in the food realm (tho for me, there are many exceptions to this, since I’m vegan and all).

    By the way, what is seviche? XD

    • Laura says

      Mexican or Latin American dish where the seafood is “cooked” in citrus juice, usually lime. Seafood is sometimes partially cooked first.

  3. says

    I don’t have kids but I LOVE this idea Laura! Unfortunately I’ll be traveling on the 17th (running a marathon the next day) but I’ll definitely spread the word!

  4. Kelly Conlan Baron says

    Good for you! I have always fed both the girls a wide variety of foods…I’m always amazed at how shocked people are when they will eat something other than chicken nuggets and fries and that they prefer the “grown-up” dishes. Bridget to this day will not eat french fries because she doesn’t like them. That one always gets me some bizarre looks when I ask them to hold the fries/potatoes and bring steamed broccoli/rice pilaf, etc. instead. Now that she orders for herself they just stare at me in disbelief. I don’t think it is just that people have low expectations for their kids. I believe it is far more sad than that — they have low expectations for themselves. The art of cooking is being lost and grown ups have forgotten that they deserve good food too! Who wouldn’t prefer to eat *anything* on your blog to the usual processed fare folks pop in the microwave on a regular basis? They lack the skills and knowledge. So good for you, good for the grown-ups and hopefully good for their kids too!

  5. Tamilee says

    Great post, Laura! I have a small handful of mom-friends who feed their kids “non-kid” food, but most of the kids I know only eat a very small repertoire of food. That would drive me nuts, but mostly I think it’s sad. While my 2.5-year old has the occasional grilled cheese, she is much more likely to have Indian or Thai food during the week (at home – not at restaurants). I can’t imagine setting a kid up to have such a limited palate when they get older. Good luck on your project – I’ll join in as often as I can, although I’ll be adapting the recipes to fit our vegetarian diet!

    • Laura says

      Oh we love grilled cheese in this house too! But if we’re making it, it is always real cheddar… Although a guilty pleasure of mine is American cheese on white bread in diners, I confess. :)

  6. Maman A Droit says

    Fun idea! I have to admit though that at age 7 I ordered chicken nuggets from a fancy restaurant in Luxembourg. The poor chef actually sent someone across the street to get my brother and I nuggets, then they plated them on their fancy dishes!! I’m trying to give my kids broader culinary horizons than that though. My one year old loves chicken tacos from Chipotle, barbecue pork, and spinach quiche I make! I’ve never tried paella though so neither has my son.

  7. says

    Love this idea! My niece and nephew are picky eaters and most likely wouldn’t do ceviche or the empanadas out at a restaurant, but what I found is when you cook with them (let them get involved a bit) they are more willing to try new things. The 9yo tastes are changing so this is the perfect opportunity to introduce her to new flavors and foods. This is such a wonderful concept, I will definitely be following this and posting the badge to spread the word! Thanks for sharing.

  8. says

    Great post, Laura!

    Our girls ate the same varied, international diet that we did, and we took them to so-called “adult” restaurants which they enjoyed.

    Since we ate dinner at the table every single night at home, and gently taught them daily how to enjoy a meal while using acceptable table manners, they were always well-behaved at restaurants, much to the surprise of staff and other guests. They’re now in their 20s and enjoy a wide variety of foods.

  9. says

    So true! Glad to hear your kids are open-minded about eating. With my 2 boys we have a foot in each camp. My 11 yr. old is great. Recently went out and he ordered broiled salmon with asparagus and roasted potatoes. My picky 8 yr. old opted for mini corn dogs. Sigh. Classic case of dumbed-down food.

  10. says

    Loved this post. It’s sad but true that the dumbing down of children’s diets continues on a fast pace. Worse, the expecations that abound from the general public that all kids are only interested in processed foods.
    We took three kids 8 and under to Colombia for a month 2 summers ago and never once did any of them complain about anything they were served or that they ate. Granted, my wife and I were a little surprised but happy.
    We are not exotic eaters often but we still are amazed by how many others just never seem to get off the beaten path. I think that’s changing in America in general though as ‘highbrow’ foods become as accessible as the nearest food truck.
    Great blog. Go Tribe!

  11. says

    Cheers to those kids! I am not a parent and I wont pretend to know how hard it is to raise children, but I hate seeing people that only feed their kids 3 things over and over again with out even trying to offer them other things. I don’t remember ever having a seeing a kids menu when I was a child. My father let me eat whatever I wanted and always (and still does) made me try new things.

  12. says

    THANK YOU for this post. My son is 15 months old. We love to go out to eat as a family, but I hate the kids menu. How many times can I see the same five items listed for my son? It’s always the same, no matter what cuisine we are eating–chicken fingers, grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, a cheeseburger, or pasta. That’s it. Well, with fries, of course. It drives me crazy. Yes, my son is a toddler. Yes, that means he’s picky. But “picky” can mean different things. He’ll scarf down broccoli and blueberries, but hates chicken fingers. Can we PLEASE start to see kid-sized portions of the adult menu on the kids’ menu? Let’s start expecting more from our kids–they might just surprise us and meet those expectations.

  13. says

    I hate the idea of dumbed down kid food as well, however I seem to be the parent of one of the pickiest kids out there! Granted she’s still really young, but this kids wants next to nothing that I consider “good food”.

  14. Chelsea says

    I work at Young Chefs Academy,a kids cooking school, and I LOVE this post ! We are making new food and taste combinations WEEKLY that the kids love ! I would expect nothing less, thanks for all your wonderful post I look forward to reading your blog :)

  15. says

    Thanks for giving me the chance to join you and @marocmama. It was fun! Totally agree with you on this. I raised 2 boys the same way my parents did with me & my sis, by exposing them to an international palette every day 24/7. They’re full grown adults now, healthy, strong and enjoying food and life.

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