When we were grocery shopping this week, my 6-year-old asked to get oatmeal. I don’t usually make oatmeal, so I thought this was curious. I like having oats in the house for baking, but I’ve never been a huge fan of oatmeal. I’ve recently realized it’s due to the mushy texture – with everything I eat, I need texture: something crunchy, something to chew on. Plus, I questioned the real nutritious value of microwavable oatmeal packets, and I had never made homemade oatmeal.
Now, I am pretty happy with A’s palate so far. She is able to pretty accurately describe what she’s eating using good descriptive words. She always asks about what’s on her plate or in her bowl. I tell her, because instead of hiding from her that she’s eating vegetables, I want her to appreciate and enjoy all parts of her food; when she inevitably likes it, I have now opened a door to using that ingredient in other ways and reminding her that she likes it. The worst case scenario is that she’s able to vocalize when there’s something she doesn’t like.
So the first time I made her oatmeal, before school this week, I made it according to package instructions, and tasted it plain. (Yep. Still don’t like plain oatmeal. Does anyone, I wondered?) I knew I could add butter and brown sugar, but I was trying to think a little healthier, so instead I added honey and a few dashes of cinnamon/sugar. Then I got thinking about my texture issue and added a very little bit of chopped pecans I had purchased to put in chicken salad. Then she said she wanted cut up strawberries on top, so we did that as well.
Well, here’s proof of her sensitivity. I had mixed the pecans in and didn’t tell her. She quickly noticed there was some kind of nut in there, and let me know she didn’t like it. But she did seem to like the oatmeal otherwise, and even asked for seconds.
She asked for oatmeal again today, and asked to help make it. I gladly agreed, thinking, here’s an opportunity to develop her palate a bit more. (You can probably try this with your kids using a different food, but oatmeal is pretty kid friendly, and pretty easy to make small adjustments and notice differences in the taste.)
When I first started cooking, I remember feeling overwhelmed at the idea of not following a recipe EXACTLY. Watching cooking shows, seeing people taste a dish and say, “It needs more ____.” How should I know what else it needs?! I was still learning what the most basic spices and ingredients tasted like, and how best to combine them, and didn’t yet trust my palate to determine what was missing from a dish. I want to prevent my kids from having the same issue. Oatmeal is one of those things that you can modify to your liking really easily, so I figured it was a good place to start.
I measured the water, put it on the stove in a small saucepan, and explained this:
“Any time you are boiling water, adding salt helps it boil faster, and brings out the natural flavors of whatever you’re cooking.”
Once we reached a boil, we added the oatmeal and put the timer on, stirring almost constantly. We removed it from the heat, covered it, and let it sit for 3 minutes. Then I removed the lid, stirred, and let her taste it plain.
“I want you to taste it how it is and tell me what you think we should add.”
She tasted it, made a face, and said, “I want to add cinnamon.”
So we added some cinnamon. She tasted again. “I think we need more cinnamon.” (I think she was right.)
More cinnamon, another taste, and even while making a face, she said “I think that’s good,” and held out her bowl. Because of the face she made, I asked, “Do you want to add some honey to sweeten it?” and she agreed: “Last time I had it there was honey in it and it was really good!”
So we added honey and she was happy with it. She did say, “I don’t want any pecans. I don’t like the nuts and how they stick to my teeth.”
Well maybe she didn’t, but I did. I made myself a bowl and topped it with the pecans and then – chocolate chips. Not just to add some texture, but to add that smooth mouth-feel that happens when chocolate melts. And, because, let’s face it, I’m still a chocoholic at heart! ❤
Click here to read more about how to develop your kids palate, and rid yourself of picky eaters!