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Unagi? Manchego? These kids are game

Our children have become miniature foodies by cultural osmosis. Their palates are vast, and their taste can be, well, expensive.

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Ilina Ewen
Ilina Ewen

My husband and I love food. We love growing it, cooking it, shopping for it, watching it on TV (well, watching the chefs). We travel based on what delicacies we can sample. We once drove to Quechee, Vt., just to dine at The Simon Pearce Mill. The calamari salad there has made its way into our family's culinary lore.

Our children have become miniature foodies by cultural osmosis. Their palates are vast, and their taste can be, well, expensive. I'm certain I never asked for Manchego cheese by name when I was four. And I bet my parents didn't take us out for sushi either. Most preschoolers don't eat unagi. Many adults don't for that matter.

Our six- and four-year-old sons accompany us to various farmer's markets, delis, gourmet grocers, and pick-your-own farms we happen upon. They join me in my multiple trips to the grocery store each week. They hear me chat about food and often gripe about the safety of our food sources. Most importantly, they see me read labels. I talk to them about why I read the labels and show them products with lots of words I can't pronounce versus products with few ingredients that don't require a PhD in chemistry (lucky for me since I failed chemistry in high school and in college). Bird and Deal know it takes me forever and a day to choose ketchup because I'm looking for a brand without high fructose corn syrup (by the way, no national brand fits the bill...shame on you Heinz and Hunt's!). The boys see me reading labels and naturally ask what I'm doing. I tell them that I'm looking for foods that aren't chock full of chemicals.
I talk to my sons about what our family eats and why we make the food choices we do. We choose our veggies based on color. In fact, St. Patrick's Day dinner was brought to us by the color green (green curry chicken, snap peas, kiwi slices, stir fried rice w/ peas). They already know that we eat mostly organic foods, though in this economy we've limited it to dairy, eggs, and some produce (particularly the Dirty Dozen). We don't eat much meat, but the chicken I buy is organic. The big ag and poultry guns don't get a spot at our table. Bird and Deal love visiting Farmer Tom to pick up our CSA veggies. Most importantly, they know I'm protecting them while nourishing them.

And so my sons, ages six and four, have words like high fructose corn syrup, nitrite, MSG, trans fat, and sodium in their vernacular. We talk about how our choices affect how our food tastes, how healthy our meals are, and most importantly, the planet. Sure, we eat our share of processed packaged junk on occasion, but the kids know it's a treat. We stick to fresh foods and eat three home cooked squares a day. It's a fine plan...until my kid comments in the school cafeteria that his classmate's Lunchable is "junk." Clearly I gotta work on tact. But secretly, I'm one proud mama.

Ilina writes about food here every Wednesday. You can always find her on her blog Dirt & Noise.

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