When my son, Sam, was born, I had grand plans to make him a healthy eater. He would obviously love green things and rarely even ask for candy. Through consistent exposure, I'd train his palate to crave only those foods that are best for him. As a health and food writer and editor, this was my instinct and, in retrospect, it was dead wrong (at least for my child).
Fast forward three-and-a-half years and Sam's favorite foods are—in a very particular order—"powdered donuts on the boat with daddy, green Skittles, and salty broccoli trees." Oh well, at least two of the things are green. While he isn't exactly mini Michael Pollan, he is passionate about food and cooking, which I now realize is equally important for his development when it comes to taste and far beyond.
When Sam was two I started involving him in the cooking process in small ways (stirring batter, counting scoops, beating eggs, sprinkling cheese, pressing the button on the toaster oven, etc.). When he had a tantrum, making mini muffins with whatever fruit was in the fridge ended the freak out. He loved counting in the kitchen environement. He loved getting messy and exposing the textures and smells. As Sam has gotten older and his attention pan has gone from 3 seconds to, you know, 300 seconds,
participates in most of the prep and other times he I pull him in for certain tasks (tearing basil for this incredible tomato sauce), rolling dough for chicken pot hand pies, or cracking eggs like a boss (the skill he's currently most proud of). No matter how much or how little he's involved, when the food is set on the table he "made" it. He's proud and willing to try new things, even if that means barely touching his tongue to it and declaring "it's not my favorite." If, in the course of cooking pasta, we look at the globe and find Italy, he'll want to know more about it. If we use honey, he wants to know where it came from. He's curious and engaged, which is rare for a kid with in the digital era.
Since then, I've been extremely fortunate to have met three women who are equally passionate about involving kids in the kitchen.