A Matter of Taste: How Your Food Choices Influence Your Kid's Palate

How much do parents influence their kids' taste?How much do parents influence their kids' taste?Over on the excellent food blog Stay at Stove Dad, John Donohue wonders about the ramifications of exposing his daughter to things like Gruyere cheese, or teaching her the difference between cuts of meats. He mentions a friend who's a music snob who's worried about his influence on his kid's listening habits.

Being that I'm a bit of both a food and a music snob, I can relate. It used to crack people up when Felix would say that the Spanish goat cheese Manchego was his favorite, and that he'd prefer hip-hop to kid music. Say "lodi dodi" to him, and he'll bust back with "who likes to party?" He's a regular lil' Slick Rick.

Related: Why having a "second personality" makes me a better parent

Living in an affluent section of Brooklyn, having strong opinions on food and music does not put him off the norm. It's not until we visit my parents, who live in the 'burbs, that I notice how different my son is from other kids. He doesn't watch commercial television. He doesn't often eat pre-packaged snacks, or candy. For a long time he thought M & M's were expensive because they were such a rare treat. I'm not sure he knows what soda is - until recently, when my wife and I had a little fling with the Cuba Libre during cocktail hour, we've never had it in the house.

I can only imagine at some point he'll ask to have junk food around and we'll have to discuss it. Or he'll go off to school and encounter the stuff on his own.

I experienced intense culture shock when I first left home. Attending Oberlin College, (in)famous for its counter-cultural ways, and living in student cooperative housing, I ate hummus and black beans for the first time, along with granola that didn't come in bar-form, and bread that was baked fresh rather than wrapped in plastic bags. I mostly went without meat and not only did I not miss it, I found that vegetarian dishes aren't inherently worse than carnivorous ones - in fact, I'd take rice and beans over pot roast any day. I participated in discussions about our coop's food purchases that ranged from the eye-opening to the ridiculous - Was it ok to buy bananas? What about coffee that wasn't fair trade? What about honey, weren't we oppressing the bees?

Because of my background, I never fully went down the radical foodie path. Questioning how much meat I had in my diet, ok, but going full vegan didn't appeal. And that's the weird calculus of kids and parents. We don't want to be like our parents exactly - the process of maturing is about pulling away and being defiant, rebellious - and yet there's a bedrock of attitudes and tastes, things that we'll never quite be able to quite rid ourselves of.

A recent piece by James Wood in the January 21 issue of The New Yorker, "Becoming Them," explored the many ways in which the author, growing into middle age, finds himself mirroring his father. Growing up, my parents listened to pop like Michael Jackson, Hall and Oates, and Earth, Wind, and Fire, artists who instilled a love of beats, rhythm, and funk that's with me to this day. (Hence my passion for hip-hop.) And I'll always have a sentimental spot for stale cigarette smoke - for years my dad smoked, and when I fell asleep in the back seat of the car, the upholstery reeked of his second hand smoke. Whether good or bad, these preferences will probably be with me till the day I die.

It seems to me only a good thing to expose our kids to quality things from the start of their lives, however we define quality. In fact, knowing that I'm modeling for Felix makes me a more discerning consumer, of music, food, everything really. Sometimes that brings me to lower my standards, actually.

I'll always have a soft spot for Pillsbury cinnamon rolls, which my mom made on wintertime Saturday mornings when I was growing up, and this predilection can co-exist with my passion for homemade buttermilk biscuits with organic butter from Vermont. It's okay to honor all your tastes. As Quentin Tarantino once said, forget having guilty pleasures - just have pleasures. Who needs the guilt?

- By Brian Gresko
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