Creative Combos: Food Experimentation with Pre-Schoolers

My 4-year-old son is a terrific eater. I’d like to think that I had something to do with it. We breastfed until he was 14 months, I made all of his food (cept for the occasional jarred organic counterpart when we were away from home), introduced spices at an early age and offered only whole foods.

As he gets older, he gets wiser — and sometimes less adventurous — about his food choices. For instance, lately he prefers cooked carrots over raw, raw mushrooms over cooked, hard taco shells over soft — and the list is growing.

Some days it’s tough to keep track of all of these specific preferences, so I’ve gotten into the habit of asking before I prepare, plate or serve. I try to be creative with pairings and presentations when I can. He loves sushi, so we’ve made “sushi” rolls before out of tortillas, hummus and avocado. In order to get in more fruit servings, we make smoothies often, though he always tells me what to put in them.

To help guide his choices down the healthy path, I usually offer him options. “Would you like an almond butter sandwich today or a grilled cheese? And do you want grapes or cherry tomatoes with that?” I believe when kids have a stake in what they’re eating, they’re more likely to actually clean their plate.

I also inspire creativity with healthy meals. We’ve made “Jackson Pollocks”, or quesadillas loaded with cheese and a couple veggies; and last night we ate “Christmas snow”, Israeli cous cous with dried apricots.

Needless to say, his choices sometimes surprise me. Last week I let him pick out what veggies he wanted on his homemade pizza. What did he pick? Cooked carrots. Yesterday, he asked for a cheese and mustard sandwich. Reasonable. But he wanted it on raisin bread. While as adults with established tastes we might furl our brow at this, we should hold our judgment for our own plates. I had three kinds of “bread” in the cupboard and all were whole grain (read: healthy). So, what was wrong with him eating this today?

He ate two slices of that pizza and every bit of that cheese, mustard and raisin bread sandwich. I wonder what creative combo he’ll come up with next.

—Sarah Jo Sautter, Parenting Program Blog Editor and Publisher

4 Responses to “Creative Combos: Food Experimentation with Pre-Schoolers”


  1. 1 Nichole Enerson March 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    I agree! It is so empowering for little one to help with the decision making. I also think it helps them with making decisions as they get older:)

    We plant a garden each year and let our kids (ages 4 & 8) pick vegetables to grow. It really encourages them to try new things when they have helped through out the whole process; planting on through cooking!

  2. 2 Sarah Jo Sautter March 20, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Great idea, Nicole. We do a small garden too and my guy loves eating what we grow. I’ve caught him sneaking cherry tomatoes off the vine more than once.

  3. 3 Kim March 20, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    We let our kids do this too! It is so fun seeing what they like!

  4. 4 Anonymous March 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Such great ideas! I think parents today are doing a better job of being creative when it comes to offering kids healthy food options. My kids are in their 20’s and are exploring sushi and hummus etc, but when they were kids, my meal options were pretty boring. Kudos to all who are making meal-time more about health, adventure and fun.


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