Yummy Jellyfish: Tales in Adventurous Eating
~By Justine Tan, Writer, HereWhereIHaveLanded.com
The other day my daughters ate jellyfish. And they loved it!
Some parents tweet their son’s flawless piano recital. Some brag about their kids’ grades. Me? I am over the moon when my daughters, at ages 3.5 years and 15 months, eat jellyfish.
You see, I’m a food freak with an adventurous palate. I remember eating whatever was placed in front of me at a restaurant with my dad, who’s Chinese. From him, I’ve learned to love raw oysters, pig brains, and intestines as well as fish head and bone marrow.
But adventurous eating is not just about walking on the wild side. My daughters also enjoy many different cuisines — Ethiopian, Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese — and they eat their vegetables with no complaints. Asparagus, parsnips, kale. If you name it, they’ve probably had (and even liked) it.
This part of them I owe to my mom, who made sure there were veggies at our table for every meal. Because she brought me to the market with her on Sundays, I learned to appreciate the joy and beauty of fresh produce. My mom, who’s Indian, is also the reason I have more than 20 spices in my house.
I was raised in Malaysia, where the culture is centered on food, so it’s only natural that I burst with pride when I see my girls indulge in foods that I enjoy. It’s no different than a musician who takes her son to violin lessons or an athlete who runs a 5K with his daughter.
We all just want to share the things we love with our kids.
I’ve been asked how our girls became adventurous eaters, and honestly, I’m just doing what my parents did with me. The following is by no means the guide to banishing finicky eating. It’s just what has worked well for our family:
• We eat the same meal as a family. Our girls don’t get separate kids’ meals.
• When we serve something unfamiliar or particularly spicy, I don’t warn my daughters beforehand. I find that drawing attention to an item before they even try it invites resistance, so I don’t.
• They’re not allowed to turn their nose up at anything they have not tried. We often use the wisdom of Green Eggs and Ham as a reminder, saying, “If you don’t try it, how do you know you won’t like it?”
• At restaurants, we rarely order from the kids’ menu, as we try to introduce new items to them as often as we can so that their young, still-forming palates get used to different flavors and textures. Don’t get me wrong: There’s a time and place for chicken fingers, mac and cheese, and burgers, and my girls like those too. Just not every time we go out to eat.
As parents, we want so much for our kids. Good health. Good education. Good life. But as someone who grew up in Malaysia, I also want them to have something we all had growing up there: good — no, great — food. When variety is a norm, I think kids are more likely to accept what’s in front of them. Just like I did when my parents set my plate before me.
With three major races, Malay, Chinese, and Indian, in Malaysia, each with their unique cuisine combining to form some of the most delectable meals I’ve ever had, it’s no wonder that my fondest childhood memories revolve around food. Now that we live in Chicago, where we have access to so many different cultures and their cuisines (even Malaysian), I can’t imagine not continuing that legacy for my girls.
A few weeks ago, we were on vacation for two weeks, exploring a region of the country that had really good food but lacked the diversity we were used to in Chicago. I came home craving bold and spicy flavors. When we asked our three-year-old what she wanted for dinner our first evening back, she said, “Ethiopian food!”
I think I cried a little.
Justine is a freelance writer and marketing strategist, working part-time while juggling two girls, two cats, a guy, and a mountain of laundry. Born in Malaysia, she blogs about raising her girls in America at HereWhereIHaveLanded.com.