Lessons in Juvenile Gastronomy

Written by Darin Cook



As a parent, I have learned that a child’s tastes are fickle, ever-changing, bizarre, and downright frustrating. Biologically speaking, children must have the same taste buds as the rest of us that detect sweet, sour, bitter, and salty, but I cannot figure out how some food combinations ever pass the taste test. I’ve caught my youngest son, Jonah, enjoying a Mini Wheat dipped in ketchup. Give his older brother, Ethan, a bottle of soy sauce and he’ll free pour far too much onto his plate, not seeming to mind the overwhelming umami flavour he has created in his mashed potatoes or fish sticks. Gastronomy usually dictates what is acceptable or not for the refined palette of a discerning adult, but juvenile gastronomy seems to have its own rules.

When Ethan’s latest birthday rolled around, we threw caution to the wind and allowed him to choose the restaurant where we would celebrate as a family. I wasn’t holding out hope for any fine dining, but something without golden arches would be appreciated. Most likely their partiality to soy sauce has steered both boys in the direction of developing a taste for sushi that is out-of-the-ordinary for most children, so we weren’t caught off guard when Ethan declared, “I think we should go to the sushi restaurant for my birthday.”

With Ethan turning five and Jonah being three, we already had an established track record of meal-time pandemonium at all types of restaurants. We knew it wouldn’t be a relaxing meal, but we really wanted sushi, so we headed out before he could change his mind. After settling in, we placed our order of California rolls, salmon sushi, chicken teriyaki, wonton soup, shrimp tempura, crab legs, and fried rice — all things the boys are willing to eat (on a good day).

“And please don’t forget my sushi lettuce,” Ethan said very officially to the waitress.

She turned to me with a puzzled look.

“He would also like a garden salad,” I translated.

Even though sushi is pretty adventurous by children’s standards, our boys continue to confound us with some of their preferences. Ethan’s favourite item from the all-you-can-eat menu is iceberg lettuce dipped in soy sauce. Surprisingly, steamed edamame is Jonah’s favourite, but he obstinately refuses broccoli, green peppers, or most any other green vegetable.

Our prediction about it not being a relaxing meal was accurate, and we continue to prove that eating with kids in public is a non-stop adventure. Ethan knocked over a pyramid display of Sapporo beer cans in an aluminium clatter. Wooden chopsticks were enlisted as drumsticks on the tabletop more than as eating implements. Ethan managed to overflow his soy sauce bowl onto the table, twice. Jonah left the usual carnage around his chair, resembling the aftermath of an epic food fight.

When dessert rolled around, the waitress brought deep-fried vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce as a special treat to celebrate the birthday.

Ethan loved it, but Jonah announced, “I want the green one.”

The green one was green tea flavoured ice cream that we had tried on an earlier visit that he apparently liked and was willing to repeat. Given his dislike for most things green, there is no reason why he should like it better than vanilla. Maybe there is hope for these juvenile taste buds after all. That’s what I thought anyway, until he proceeded to ask for chocolate sauce on it.

About the author

Darin Cook

Darin Cook is a freelance writer based out of Chatham. He keeps himself well-read and well-fed by visiting the bookstores and restaurants of London.