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The Power of Ketchup – your next great tool to expand your little one’s palates
There’s no shortage of ketchup varieties available, but no matter what brand name or homemade option you’re reaching for, all bottles provide a perfect introduction to the five core tastes; sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami.

Not only does this sensory powerhouse of a condiment add these 5 tastes to a multitude of foods, it more importantly provides the opportunity to teach kids about the language of taste. Being able to vocalize why they like or dislike something will empower them and give you both the tools to explore new foods in a less intimidating way.

Ketchup – A food buddy to make new foods less intimidating

A child’s palate goes through several iterations in each stage of development. As a result, bitter and strong flavours can seem scary because they remind them of a previous experience which no longer aligns with their palate, because they’re seeing adults reluctant to plate these items, or because they’re intimidated to vocalize that a food is still not enjoyable and disappoint a parent. Having a “buddy food” that’s familiar and consistently provides a sweet flavour back-up to coat the new foods can be a helpful compromise. Framing new foods as an exciting thing to explore, and demonstrating how saying they don’t like something yet to keep the door open in future will help kids feel less boxed-in and expected to say they do enjoy it. When given the opportunity to say they only like the ketchup part, they’ll feel less pressured and are far more likely to engage openly in trying the new food.

If you’re worried about the sugar and sodium combo in ketchup, then making a homemade bottle with your child may be a fun addition to the food exploration! Take a can of tomato paste or crushed tomatoes, some vinegar, onion and garlic powder, salt and a dash of maple syrup and you’re on your way to a fun new recipe with your child. Customize with a dash of oregano, cayenne, mustard powder, all spice, or nutmeg, and designate your child as the head chef to make these decisions.

A little history on how ketchup came to be:

Originating from the salty fish-based Chinese condiment kê-tsiap which was believed to be brought over by Vietnamese traders, ketchup evolved into several catsup recipes before becoming the tomato and vinegar-based condiment popularized today.

Food exploration ideas & tips:

Take a food they’re already comfortable with and focus on expanding on the flavours and textures, rather than replacing. For example:

Whether they like roast potatoes, or a frozen bag of fries – chop up some carrots, rutabaga, or turnips and mix them into the same roasting pan. This will allow them see similarities in tastes they like, and give more specific feedback if there are tastes they don’t. Rather than communicating they don’t like a food, they’ll be able to focus in on the sensory experience they’re having with some foods that they don’t like, and hopefully some new foods they do! Is there a texture they don’t like? Do the turnips taste too nutty or do the carrots taste too sweet? Add some ketchup on the side and ask them to experiment with dipping each food in…Does it make it sweeter? Do they taste the salt more? Is one food more sour with ketchup than another? See below for a list of other prompts!

Questions to engage them in their food:

Engage the 5 Core Tastes:

  • Does it taste sweet?
  • Does it taste sour?
  • Does it taste bitter?
  • Does it taste salty?
  • Does it taste umami?
  • Where do you taste it on your tongue?
  • Do you taste more than one of these 5 core tastes?
  • Does the taste change from first bite? Does flavour move across your tongue and become something different?
Engage the Texture:

  • Is the food: hard, soft, crisp, moist, dry?
  • How does one texture feel when mixed with another?
  • Does the taste change when you follow it with a sip of your drink?

A reminder – it takes patience to teach practice!

These questions and ideas are new to you both, so don’t be dismayed if there isn’t a lightbulb above their head the first time that you’re asking these questions! The practice of breaking up tastes and comparing them may take time, but repetition of questions during meals will encourage them to think more critically about their palate, and realize they have an open and accepting space to develop it.

They may not give you expansive answers the first few times, but what’s important is that you’re introducing these concepts and bringing attention to how taste and its language works. These new descriptors will have been simmering in their mind, and before you know it, they’ll be explaining what veggies and flavours they’re excited to try!

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