Welcome to a two-part series about eating with children. This first piece will look at creating adventurous eaters by eating the world; the second will introduce creating enthusiastic cooks by cooking the world. Though these are strategies I employed to expand my kids’ palates, you can do the same with adults who maybe aren’t as adventurous as you would want.
“I can’t believe your kids will eat that!” You cannot imagine the number of times I’ve heard that as other parents watch, with incredulity, as my kids dig into a massaged kale salad or greedily devour whole baby octopus, tentacles and all.
When I was pregnant with my first, I decided that one of my parenting goals was creating conscientious eaters with fearless palates. Barring any genuine food allergy or sensitivity, I don’t tolerate pickiness. And I fully believe that we train our kids to eat eagerly or turn their noses up at something.
So, as soon as my boys were weaned, they ate what we ate. Don’t get me wrong, that hasn’t been without its struggles. When they were about 2½ years old, I remember both boys flexing their independence, refusing to eat what was on their plates. They went to bed hungry. I knew they weren’t going to starve; I certainly wasn’t going to set the precedent that if they opted not to eat what I made that I would make something else for them. They only did that one time each.
It’s also not to say that they love everything we serve. My older son doesn’t care for arugula or blue cheese, but he’ll eat it. My younger son doesn’t love bacon. Funny thing, though, he loves prosciutto and pancetta.
Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but when food has a story, it’s instantly more exciting. For years, on Presidents’ Day, we would make our version of hoecakes and read George Washington’s Breakfast by Jean Fritz. The boys love when I tell them stories about food that has significance to me. I remember being transported to my own childhood when I pulled a Vanilla Bean Pannekoeken from the oven for the first time; it was a culinary déjà vu.
So, when I stumbled across the idea of “cooking the world” I realized that I had nearly 200 built-in food stories. We launched our Cooking Around the World project several years ago and though we haven’t completed all the countries, it’s been a fantastic launching point to try foods from around the world. I promised my boys we would wrap up the project before R finishes high school! Do check out that link for a little background on the challenge and for an alphabetical list of countries to get you started on your own traveling by tabletop journey.
Some dishes we’ve enjoyed once such as Goedangan, a Surinamese salad or Tava so Oriz, a Macedonian chicken stew. Other recipes have been absorbed into our culinary repertoire such as Honduran Nacatamales and Eliopitakia, olive pies from Cyprus.
When we traveled by tabletop to Myanmar, we discovered not so much a traditional recipe as a traditional way of cooking fish wrapped in a banana leaf.
D, my Enthusiastic Kitchen Elf, loved the wrapping part of the process and kept sniffing the leaves. “Mom, this one smells like dates.” “Mom, this one smells like tea.” But he never thought they smelled like bananas.
- banana leaves
- 100% cotton twine
- 1 cup or 240ml coconut cream
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 4 filets of white fish
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced (this is not traditional)
- Fresh cilantro
- Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the coconut cream, minced garlic, and minced ginger.
- Dip the pieces of fish into the coconut mixture and placed them in the center of a large banana leaf. Top the fish with thinly sliced fennel and onion and a sprig of cilantro.
- Place all of the banana leaf packets in a rimmed baking dish. Cook for 45 minutes.
- To serve, place packets on a plate with a mound of rice. Sprinkle rice with black sesame seeds. Snip off the twine and let diners open up their own packets.
Expanding a child’s palate is an exercise in patience. You might have to offer a food several times before it disappears off the plate and into the mouth. But you still put it there and you still have them try it. Eating the world doesn’t mean you’ll like everything you try. But it helps to make food fun.
I hope this piece has bolstered your resolve to expand your kids’ palates by eating the world. Stay tuned for a second piece that will introduce how I’ve created enthusiastic cooks by cooking foods from around the world.