Serving global cuisines at the family table is more than just having fun with food. Beyond it being an opportunity to expand your children’s palate, serving global foods is an opportunity for them to build an understanding of the larger world around them. An openness to global cuisines creates a range of experiences from a willingness to try new flavor combination to a curiosity about other peoples and cultures.
How to Serve Up New Foods If your child has grown up in the United States and has never global foods, chances are that new, ethnic foods will seem strange at first. That’s okay! We can respect our children’s preferences (after all, we helped form them) and also challenge them to try new dishes and ingredients. Research shows that it can take upwards of 12 attempts to get a young child to try a new food. If we’re consistent and steadfast while also showing our kids how much we love trying new foods, they will come around—even the picky eaters!
Think about parenting your way through the introduction of new foods the same way you’d parent your way through any new change at home. You’d be patient, clear, excited and supportive, but also consistent and disciplined. Some kids respond quickly, others slowly, but when we’re serious and in charge, they all eventually come around.
Here are some of my favorite tips for starting to bring new, international foods into your home:
- Experiment with the time of day when you introduce a new food. Some young children are cranky and tired by dinner and may be more receptive at lunch. Older children may have a harder time trying new foods at school where their peers have more familiar foods.
- Start slowly. Add one or two foreign elements to your child’s favorite food as opposed to serving up a wholly unfamiliar dish out of the blue. If your child loves spaghetti, try making it with udon or soba noodles. Add freshly grated ginger or lemongrass to chicken soup for a Southeast Asian twist.
- Engage your child in cooking. This makes the new dish a complete sensory exploration and gives your child an opportunity to process the new sights, smells and flavors. Talk about what the ingredients look like, how they smell and how they taste when tried alone (versus in a finished dish). Pride in the finished product can also go a long way to getting a child to try a new dish.
- Consider a “try it once” rule. While this doesn’t work for everyone, many parents have success with this approach, but it requires a great deal of patience over a long time. What we love most about this rule isn’t so much that we think it will change your child’s mind, but rather that it sends a clear message that we don’t judge food before tasting it. Many kids will say that they don’t like the food even if the one bite is surprisingly good, and that’s okay. Either way, it will have made an important impression.
- Never assume that your child won’t like something. This attitude, which usually stems from a parent’s own dislikes, sets your child up for failure. You are the most powerful influence on your child. If you act like something is unlikable, your child will think it’s unlikable. Open yourself up to the surprises that come with feeding kids new foods.
- Start young! When kids are young, every meal is a new adventure and an opportunity to influence their palate. As children get older, their preferences settle in. That, combined with naturally occurring picky phases (every child goes through them to some degree or another), can make it hard to change a child’s eating habits.
- Don’t give up, especially if you didn’t start when your children were young. “Hard”does not mean “impossible.” Yes, it’s a challenge to transform a picky eater from someone who eats only macaroni and cheese to someone who will ask for Green Beans in Sesame Dressing. However, the research is clear: food preferences are not hardwired and can be changed! It just takes time, love, patience and consistency. Maybe it also takes a willingness to say, “This is what’s for dinner tonight. If you don’t like it, you can be excused from the table.” That helps, too.
I hope that this inspires your cooking, or at least inspires you to try something new. Feel free to start slowly: this Quick Indian Style Spinach with Chickpeas is a super simple and quick meal. For you meat eaters, it goes great with these Indian Spiced Meatballs, one of my favorite One Hungry Mama recipes of 2012. My Jamaican Curry (pictured) is another great option that allows you to experiment without too high a time investment.