My family and I are trying an experiment this month. During January, we’re not eating meat or sweets, and are cutting the added salt out of recipes and dishes. My husband and I have also stopped drinking alcohol. The idea is to see if we will notice a difference in the way foods “taste” when we go back to our regular, luscious style of eating on February 1. (And I, for one, am counting the days.)
I got this idea from Bon Appetit magazine restaurant critic Andrew Knowlton, who was asked in his popular “BA Foodist” column how he can truly appreciate food, and not gain a lot of weight at the same time, when he is required by his job to go from one spectacular meal to the next. He replied that in January – presumably after a month or more of holiday over-eating – he whittles out these extras in order to “recalibrate” his senses and his palate. I started thinking about that in context of the research that I discuss in my book, My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything. And I think it makes a lot of sense.
When I talk to parents about their kids’ eating habits, I often hear comments that young children are hooked on certain kiddie foods (like cereals, beverages and snack foods) and that they won’t eat the adult versions, because they “don’t taste right.” That usually means that the adult version is not sweet enough or fatty enough. This is the major problem with feeding your children any kid-oriented food in the first place.
But if “taste” and “flavor” are learned preferences – and I’m convinced that they are – then it follows that bad habits can be un-learned! Researchers have found that if people who like high salt levels in their food purposefully eat a lower-salt diet for six weeks, then they come to actually prefer less salt. This can work on your children, too. Start mixing their Cocoa Puffs and Fruit Loops with less-sweet adult cereals. If they’re hooked on children’s yogurt, substitute an adult-marketed one. There really is a difference in the level of sweetness.
I’ll let you know the results of the Piho Family’s attempt to sharpen our senses and taste buds. Although we’re not doing this for any particular health reason, we are definitely eating a lot more vegetables and beans than we normally do. My husband has already lost two pounds. But if nothing else, this month is reminding me how much I love good food. I personally cannot wait until January 31, when I’m hosting a press dinner for the American Lamb Board and the Washington State Wine Commission!