It has become known as the Oyster Incident. At a party last year, our 11-year-old daughter Elise was introduced to raw oysters by Cooking Light Test Kitchen Professional Robin Bashinsky. We both thought she'd be grossed out after trying one. Then she quickly downed three more oysters dressed with bacon mignonette, and an adventurous eater was born.
I sent her from the room, muttering, "We brought the pizza for the kids."
But I was proud. This is what I want for my daughter, an appreciation of food beyond tacos, chicken fingers, and pizza. I want her to share my love for food adventure, which really didn't begin until I was in my 20s.
There are lots of good reasons to encourage adventurous eating. Kids exposed to broader, more diverse diets are generally healthier and make healthier food decisions, studies show. A diverse diet during the first year may make children less prone to food allergies.
A study released in July linked adventurous eating with lower body weights (previous studies had associated varied eating with higher weights). That study, published in the journal Obesity, found that food "neophiles," who enjoy trying new foods and are considered "adventurous" in their eating styles, had lower body mass indexes (BMIs) and were more likely to cook food to connect with their heritage, host friends for dinner, be physically active, and be concerned about the healthfulness of food—compared to non-adventurous eaters.
These are all trends we want to encourage for our daughter's long-term health, especially since she comes from a family awash in heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Since the Oyster Incident, we've tried to cultivate this budding foodie. She takes cooking classes, helps out in the kitchen, and even picks out food for family dinners.
Recently, I decided to up the ante: I took her on a daddy-daughter date to Hot and Hot Fish Club, a Birmingham, Alabama restaurant known as one of the first farm-to-table restaurants east of the Mississippi. We sat at the chef's counter, where she could see the food being prepared and interact with the sous chef and kitchen staff.
We ordered apps like tuna tartare with an avocado sauce and hearts of palm pasta with shrimp from Bayou La Batre, Alabama. Both were adorned with watercress, which I was able to explain grows in the creek on our farm. Then we dined on Gulf-caught queen snapper and bar jack, a fish which I had never eaten. Our dining neighbors shared their fried okra and aioli sauce.
While she didn't like everything she tried, Elise tried everything on her plates and mine, including items she had never heard of, nor seen.
We can't afford too many daddy-daughter dates like this—our bill topped $100—but we spent more than an hour discussing food and health. If that helps her keep a healthy weight and share the values of food "neophiles" from the survey, the extra expense is worth it.