I came across a cookbook called Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets To Get Your Kids Eating Good Food by Jessica Seinfeld. Her creative recipes included fruit purees like banana or pineapple or sweet potato or pumpkin or carrot or squash mixed into French toast, cauliflower puree incorporated into simple scrambled eggs, spinach in pita pizzas, carrots and spinach pureed into homemade brownie mixes…and even beets in chocolate cake!
While I did have fun in putting together kid-friendly meals following book, I realized that teaching kids about eating fruits and vegetables, and later on, sampling and enjoying various cuisine is really about modeling.
How to teach your kids to enjoy vegetables and unfamiliar food
My eldest child was around 2 or 3 years old when she went through a “carbonara” phase and would only order it at restaurants. Remember this is natural among growing children to have specific food preferences. So when it comes to teachin kids how to eat unfamilair food, say “just give it a try” and only give small portions. Some children are creatures of habit, but with less pressure to consume massive amounts, they become more open to taking small bites.
Don’t make a big deal out of eating new food
I remember how my then-4-year-old son learned how to eat with gusto adobong pusit or squid ink adobo. My family and were aboard a boat in Manjuyod SandBar in Dumaguete, and the boatman cooked fresh seafood on the boat. Our lunch fare consisted of freshly-cooked rice and freshly-caught and freshly-cooked hilabos na hipon, inihaw na isda, and adobong pusit. He was so hungry from swimming that I knew he wouldn’t be picky with the food, but he would be cautious.
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And so I cleaned my hands and demonstrated to my kids how we would eat lunch using our hands. I scooped some hot rice neatly with my fingers and ate, peeling the shrimp, and also munching on the well-cooked fish meat, and the squid.
Seeing that I was happily eating without complaining and not even asking or forcing him to do anything, my son started imitating what I was doing. He was a little hesitant when he saw the black squid ink, but I explained that the squid was cooked just like how chicken adobo is prepared, using soy sauce and vinegar. It also helped that I smacked my lips and happily relished my meal.
My preschooler gingerly took a bite of the squid, chewed, and to my surprise and delight, he said, “It’s yummy!” My preschooler son not only finished the rice and adobong pusit on his plate, but he also enjoyed eating the inihaw na isda and the hilabos na hipon, even sucking on peeled shrimp heads and enjoying the briny taste. My son, full and pleased he tried something new, and I gave each other hi-fives with our sticky hands.
Take time to explain how a dish is prepared
My husband and I enjoy Persian food, so we decided to have dinner at one of our favorite Persian restaurants. Our children were the only kids there. After we ordered our chelo kebab koobideh, we scanned the menu and asked the children to order.
Our youngest surprised us by pointing to the picture on the wall, a meal called B.T.O., which turned out to be “Beef, Tomato, Onion.” He said, “I want to order that.” I asked why, and he said it looks like the beef giniling or sauteed ground beef we serve at home. I agreed and added, “At home, we serve that with potatoes and green peppers and onions. Here in this Persian restaurant, they serve that with tomatoes and onions.”
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I also pointed out, “They use a lot of yogurt in Persian cuisine. It can be used as a dip mixed with garlic, or even as a drink. Yogurt is a dairy product, it provides calcium and vitamins.”
My daughter tried a bit of the garlic yogurt sauce that came with her beef kebab and buttered rice and enjoyed it immensely. After learning a bit about yogurt, she now orders more garlic yogurt sauce whenever we dine out and try new restaurants.
Let the kids know you respect their reactions to the taste of new food
When my daughter said that she once found a particular pasta dish “too spicy,” I requested the waiter to please make sure that the restaurant staff would not put too much spice on the meal the next time we ordered. After my child saw that I wasn’t going against her and that I reassured that we could adjust the level of saltiness or spiciness in the dish, she was more receptive when I offered her to try the recipe again.
One of the most important realizations I had in getting my children to try new kinds of food is it is a matter of trust. When they see that they can trust me that I would not force-feed them and would get unnecessarily stressed over their food choices, they become more willing and agreeable to explore new kinds of food and dishes.
And it is such a joy to travel as a family even more because we can quickly introduce the children to the wonders and pleasures of food everywhere, knowing that they are not picky and will at least say, “Yes, I want to try that!”