Photo courtesy of Tonya Abari

When Did 4-Year-Olds Become Legit Food Critics?

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We were sitting in a restaurant when my 4-year-old, the aspiring food critic, gave her appraisal to the waiter: "Next time please go easy on the cumin."

What the? I’m sure her unsolicited comments left the waiter thinking, “How exactly does this small child know about cumin?” But it isn’t just her. It’s an entire generation of toddlers who know how to balance the various taste profiles on their teeny palates.

When my daughter turned 1, I attempted to feed her solids — an avocado puree blended to perfection in the Baby Bullet. However, she wasn’t having any parts of the green gooey goodness. Having been exclusively breastfeed, she showed absolutely zero interest in eating solids. No reaching. No drooling tongue. No signing for food. Unsuccessful attempts in previous months let me know that she just wasn’t ready for solid foods. And that’s OK. Before the age of 1, solid foods are simply experimental anyway. All the nutrients that she needed came from mama’s milk. Did we have a picky eater on our hands?

Turns out we didn’t. Around 14 months old, my daughter went straight from the boob to the [veggie] burger. She skipped right over the pureed food because she wanted to eat what was on our plates!

Now, it’s almost like we can’t stop her from eating. My daughter is a foodie through and through — and she has the palate of a 5-star Michelin chef. She’s not picky, but she sure is critical.

Almost immediately, she said sternly, 'Mommy, this needs more salt!'

First time making a complicated recipe? Sure, she’ll try it. But that taste testing is going to come with some feedback. Very discerning feedback, too. It doesn’t help that I’m a huge fan of the Netflix docuseries Salt Fat Acid Heat. We watch this show, based on the New York Times-bestselling cookbook, together as a family. For the past few years, I’ve been vegetablizing everything and we were thrilled to make Samin’s roasted vegetable and white bean salad recipe. I’d like to take some credit for my child’s love of vegetables, but how many 4-year-olds absolutely love vegetables? After making the white bean dish a second time, my daughter asked me add in roasted beets — because she loves roasted beets. Huh?

Photo courtesy of Tonya Abari

Of course, I haven’t mastered all the elements yet, but I think my 4-year-old is probably closer to mastering them than I am. Once, I purposely minimized salt from a vegetable fried rice. It had fresh garlic and ginger, so I figured it didn’t need any additional salt. Besides, Nosrat said that it’s the one element that she could live (and cook) without. “Taste this, baby” I said spooning a small scoop of rice into her mouth. Almost immediately, she said sternly, "Mommy, this needs more salt!"

And when she's not feeling it, she is quick to point it out. We frequent a vegetarian Indian food buffet (per her request) and the spices are next level. I blame this on me eating a ton of spices when I was pregnant with her. Although it was highly recommended to stay away from super spicy foods, I ate them anyway. When a pregnant gal’s got cravings, “recommendations” don’t matter. Back to the food.

What if they aren’t picky? What if they’re actually small culinary geniuses?

She also eats unwanted foods that other kids pick over.

[If you're not eating it] "Can I have it?"

My 4-year-old loves anything from pesto pasta to seaweed. She can down a slice of pizza, but gets excited for robust salads as well. We are not sure whether this means that I’ve birthed the world’s next great chef, or whether her love for food is just temporary. Regardless, I’ve purchased a cooking set and will allow for all the food-show watching, recipe tasting we can stomach.

It’s important for us (parents) to foster her love of all things food. I have lots of friends right now complaining about how their young children are such picky eaters, giving rise to the question: what if they aren’t picky? What if they’re actually small culinary geniuses?

Whatever the answer, we should all feel lucky we have a set of tiny hands to help peel the garlic, and dish out a bit of salt.

For more pieces like this, visit Shiny Happies, our collection of the best parts of raising those little people you love.