“Save me a bite!” six-year-old Dorothy proclaimed.
We were on Round #4 of “Pass the Dessert” around the restaurant table, and she wanted to ensure she got her fair share.
This wasn’t just any dessert, though. It was a small ramekin of Pastel de Tres Leches at a hole-in-the-wall Nicaraguan restaurant in Miami, Florida.
The traditional Central American fare we enjoyed that afternoon, which included this dessert, was the first of many internationally-influenced cuisines our kids sampled while in the Magic City. We also ate Cuban-French fusion, enjoyed cups of Italian gelato, revisited favorite German dishes, and dined on Columbian food. In the few days we visited Miami, our girls learned that the city was much more than simply sun and sand.
When it comes to eating, we’re often told that our kids have great palates. While they certainly love their share of “kid foods” such as macaroni, chicken fingers, and pizza, they also eagerly eat dishes such as sushi, green curry, sauerbraten, and smoked salmon, cream cheese, and caper crepes.
How have we helped teach our kids, ranging in ages six to twelve, to regularly try new and unusual foods?
Over the years, we’ve discovered that family style eating at restaurants helps. Here are two ways.
1. It encourages our kids to try new foods
Our entire family regularly eats at Thai, Indian, and Chinese restaurants, to name a few examples. We haven’t shied away from these cuisines, thinking, “Our girls won’t eat the food.”
What we have avoided, though, is encouraging our girls to order kid-friendly American fare from the children’s menu at these restaurants. We quickly learned that if this was our default, they were unlikely to try new dishes.
Instead, at many restaurants, we embrace family style eating. We order appetizers, entrees, or dishes like sushi rolls to share. We model trying different types of food for our kids, and encourage them to join us. And, if they’re hungry enough, they always do.
2. It helps broaden our kids’ palates
It’s true that at Mexican and Italian restaurants, as well as our favorite burger joints, we all order our own entrees. At these places, we already know and love the cuisine. We tend to do family-style eating at places where the food doesn’t fit within our girls’ natural taste-bud comfort zones. Sharing food helps introduce them to more variety and broaden their palates.
While our kids don’t like every new dish they try at a restaurant, many times they discover that they do like at least one or two. For example, our oldest isn’t crazy about lamb saag at our favorite Indian restaurant, but she’s discovered that she loves bamboo fish, naan, and chicken tikka masala.
As a result of liking one or two entrees, many times our kids determine, “I like Japanese restaurants” or “I love German food.” This makes it easier the next time we return to the same or a similar restaurant. Because our kids know that they do like some menu items, they are often even more adventurous in what they’re willing to try on a second visit.
Miami isn’t the only city where six-year-old Dorothy has adamantly proclaimed, “Save me a bite!” She’s also eagerly eaten Turkish and Chinese in New York City and BBQ in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s my hope that she’ll continue to be an adventurous eater with every passing year.
What about you? What tips do you have for helping broaden kids’ palates?