Happy weekend, everyone! I'd like to share a few ideas about helping your kids try more unusual foods (and try a wide variety of food in general). If you happen to be feeling adventurous, give a few of these foods a go with your family this week. Your kids' responses may surprise you.
Above is my 3-year-old, Polly, trying a parsley stem. She's demonstrating one of the main principles I use to encourage my kids to try lots of different foods: offer them. Before dinner, and during dinner also, I lay out beautiful, simple platters of fresh vegetables for them to snack on if they are hungry. More often than not, they both end up sampling from the platter. I firmly believe that making foods look appealing is important: we eat with our eyes, first. Tonight I made a simple pesto in the food processor and asked if they wanted a taste. Polly said it was "A little bit spicy, but I love it. Let's have it on pasta." I gave both kids a little cup of pesto, and they took it to the table to dip their veggies in. Having their own personal cup also makes a difference!
I steamed a bunch of edamame tonight and showed the kids how to pop them out of the skins and into their mouths. It was all a fun game to them, but the beans are mild and delicious - and also full of protein. Cash (5) said "They're so sweet and good!" Another idea is to present food in a fun way (though still making healthy snacks a normal and typical part of your day/week). I don't mean turning pancakes into faces, so much as taking the food itself and having a bit of fun with how to eat it. With snacks that aren't part of dinner (where you don't want as much mess), you could create a game. We threw the skins in the garden, and later Cash collected them and had fun tossing them all in the air (see photo)! Polly proclaimed: "They're green smarties!"
Now, we can have a healthy debate about whether parsley and edamame are unusual foods or not, but I don't think there's much denying that sea urchin is uncommon in this part of the world. Particularly for children. The taste is sweet and funky. We made this dish about a year ago - sea urchin with cream - and both kids tried it. We bought the sea urchin at Hooked Halifax, a shop I've mentioned on here before for their great seafood. This brings me to another point to help encourage kids: Try it. That's it. Really. Even for everyday family dinners, when the foods aren't always sea urchin, that's still what we say to our kids: Try it. We don't plead, we don't require clean plates: we ask that you try. Our kids have started being proud that they try all the dishes at dinner. The other night Cash told me: "Mummy, last time I tried this, I didn't like it, but I tried it tonight and I liked it!" If there's anything more fulfilling than hearing your 5-year-old say that, I can't tell you what it is.
The final thing I'll mention is the significance of the parent/caregiver's behaviour. Kids learn what they know. If kids see you eating fresh veggies and all kinds of different foods, and those same foods are offered for them to try, they will more than likely go for it. And then go for it again, another day. And then the third or fourth or fifth time, they might say they love it. Our two kids have very different palates, but the option to try is always there - even for spicy and very strongly flavoured foods. (Baby-Led Weaning, which I covered in this post, introduces distinct flavours to babies without pureeing foods together, and is a great start on a path towards adventurous eating.)
There are so many fascinating ingredients out there. I hope you and the children in your life have fun trying a few!