One of the questions that readers ask me most frequently is, “How do I get my kids to eat fermented foods?” It arrives over email, over twitter, on facebook, and on comments several times a month. For many families who’ve raised their children on real food since birth, introducing fermented foods and even organ meats into daily or weekly meals can prove fuss-free; however, for other families, particularly those who are transitioning to a real food diet or whose children suffer from sensory disorders, these foods can seem particularly challenging.
Handling Picky Eaters
I find that, for many children, offering fermented versions of foods they already love can often lead them to not only try other fermented foods, but learn to enjoy them overall.
True Sour Pickles
Many children and newcomers to fermented foods find they love true sour pickles; that is, pickles made sour through the slow process of fermentation rather than through vinegar. While both true sour pickles and pickles made with vinegar share similar characteristics in flavor, true sour pickles typically enjoy a firmer crunch, a fresher flavor and a more pronounced combination of both saltiness and sourness.
Get the recipe for Real Sour Pickles here.
Some children object not to the flavor of fermented foods, but, rather, to the texture. Shredded vegetable ferments like homemade sauerkraut can be off-putting for children who struggle with unique textures in their foods. Many of these children do not object, however, to whole vegetable ferments; that is, pickled cucumber spears or carrot sticks. Whole vegetable ferments also allow children to grasp, gnaw on and dip their fermented vegetables into various sauces or mayonnaises, further adding to the appeal. The flavor of Dilly Carrots is at once delightful, and familiar, making it an ideal transition food for many kids.
Get the recipe for Dilly Carrots here.
Water kefir is a mild sweet-sour fermented drink with a lovely fizziness reminiscent of soda. It can be mixed with fruit juice, and is popular among both adults and children looking for a fun treat. You can make it very easily once you purchase water kefir grains (available here) which are a matrix of beneficial bacteria and yeasts that eat up sugar water, and transform it into a tart, fizzy, probiotic drink.
Milk kefir is a thin, tart cultured milk product similar to yogurt except that it, like water kefir, requires the use of milk kefir grains which you can find here. Milk kefir is very simple to make, requiring only a two steps. When first introducing milk kefir, the potently sour flavor can be off-putting to children accustomed to sweeter foods. Consider combining it with frozen fruit and a bit of honey or other natural sweetener for a simple smoothie. Later, as your children grow more accustomed to the flavor of fermented foods, reduce the sweetener and fruit until they happily consume straight milk kefir.
Old-fashioned Root Beer
One of our favorite ferments is old-fashioned homemade root beer. I make it from a wild concoction of herbs and spices, based on a centuries old recipe. It is noticeably more sour and medicinal than the overly sweet sodas you find in cans and bottles, but it is also a remarkable old-world recipe and it is very fun to make with children.
Ketchup is actually incredibly easy to make at home, and my homemade ketchup is one of the most popular recipes on the site. Children love it, and it makes an easy transition recipe – replacing something with which they’re familiar with a fermented version.
Get the recipe for Homemade Ketchup here.
Kombucha, like water kefir, is also strikingly popular among children and newcomers to real food. Its sweet-tart flavor and fizzy bubbles are deeply appealing for many children. When my little boy was a toddler, he loved kombucha and referred to it as “Tasty Vinegar.” We tend to use the continuous brew method which is very easy, and fairly hands-off. Many people worry about the caffeine load in kombucha, but the process of fermentation reduces caffeine in kombucha considerably, so small amounts shouldn’t pose any problems.
Homemade yogurt is always a favorite in our home, and in other homes as well. Preparing yogurt at home is very inexpensive, and takes very little time. For children accustomed to commercial yogurts, you may wish to stir jam, jelly, maple syrup or honey into your homemade yogurt, then slowly reduce the amount of sweetener you add until your children are accustomed to taking their yogurt plain. Yogurt can also make an excellent base for dips and sauces as well. Further, there are many different types of yogurt, some milder or tarter than others. Check them out here.
Cheese is also a fermented food, and many children love cheese – probably because it is both nutrient-dense and calorie-dense. We favor raw milk cheeses, and often cut cheese into thin slices or into cubes to serve as snacks for children.
Lastly, many children love consuming hot dogs, hamburgers and sausages (and you can find grass-fed, natural versions of all of them here), so adding a bit of fermented pickle relish seems like a thoughtful, nutrient-dense accompaniment.