One of the best ways you can encourage your kids to regularly try new foods is to demonstrate trying new foods yourself. The fact is that modeling healthy eating (including the willingness to practice tasting foods that YOU are still learning to like) remains one of the most powerful tools to encourage positive relationships with food.
Lately, I've been taking this advice very personally. You see, I don't really like mushrooms. I never have. I find their earthy flavor and sometimes slimy texture less than appealing. But I also know that fungi are incredible, that mushrooms have some pretty incredible nutrient profiles, and that they are unique in that they contain nutrients found in both plants and animals. (Mushrooms have non-nutritive plant substances—polysaccharides, indoles, polyphenols, and carotenoids - which studies have shown have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects and they contain glutamate, which is an amino acid found in meats, fish, and cheeses.)
FUN FACT: Did you know that mushrooms contain a form of cholesterol that gets turned into Vitamin D when exposed to UV-light? So, exposing your grocery-store mushrooms to 15 minutes of sunlight before cooking them can supercharge their nutritional profile!
But because mushrooms and I aren't friends yet, my kids (who are now between the ages of 9 and 12) also don't really trust mushrooms. Recently, while visiting a dear friend, I watched in awe as her 8-year-old happily consume spoonfuls of sautéed button mushrooms. Had I started "practicing" with mushrooms myself years ago, my kids would have been exposed earlier and might have joined in the mushroom eating party themselves instead of watching in awe (or, was it horror) with me.
Introducing Mushrooms to Babies
Mushrooms are safe to introduce to babies as soon as they are ready for solid foods (usually around 6 months of age). Its' best to cook mushrooms before serving them because some are a choking hazard (given their shape) and because they can contain a naturally occurring toxin, which cooking, refrigerating, and freezing have all been shown to reduce.
HELPFUL HINT: Unless you're going with a trained mycologist, always purchase mushrooms from a trusted source. There's no need to send anyone to the hospital because they ate a poisonous fungi they found in the woods because they were trying to set a good example for their kids.
Mushrooms caps - especially from button, portobello, and shiitake mushrooms - can be chewy and challenging for new eaters to break down in their mouths, so it's a good idea to slice or chop the mushrooms (including through the stem) to reduce any potential for choking. And, as always, make sure to create a safe eating environment for any kiddo.
For 6 -12 month olds: For the youngest eaters, folding cooked and chopped mushrooms into soft or pureed foods (like mashed vegetables) or into finger foods (like omelet spears) is best. Solid Starts suggests that you can also try "offering a large whole cooked mushroom to a baby; just select a mushroom that is large in size, take care to remove the stem, and test the mushroom with your fingers, and make sure it is soft before offering."
For 12- 24 months olds: Even with slightly older babies, offering cooked mushrooms that are either chopped or sliced and served on their own or folded into grains, pastas, vegetables, or other dishes is recommended.
Other Serving IdeasDon't stop with a simple sauté. There are so many ways mushrooms can be enjoyed (or hidden) for continued exposure and practice!
- Fold sautéed button mushrooms into omelets, scrambled eggs, stir-fries, pasta sauces, chilis, or soups.
- Sauté mushrooms in olive oil and add to cooked pasta or whole grains.
- Grill large portobello mushroom caps. Remove the stems and gills if desired. Marinate the mushrooms for 10 minutes in a favorite sauce. Grill for about 3 minutes each side until they caramelize. Slice into strips (the size of your thumb) for serving to younger babies. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or hemp seeds for a nutritional boost.
- Mushrooms are great at soaking up seasonings, so try cooking with savory spices such as allspice, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, onion, or turmeric as a great way to introduce these flavors to your baby!