Around the world in 10 kids meals
Yes, young palates can be adventurous too – take a little inspiration from what other cultures feed their kids.
Sit down to dinner with a family in any other country and you might see kids eat anything from pickled vegetables to curries and spicy stews. So why is it that these children don’t bat an eyelid but your kids would probably run a mile?
Of course, it all comes down to what they’re used to eating. “Familiarity breeds the will to try something, because if a child is familiar with the way a food looks, and knows the smell, taste and texture, they will be more inclined to eat it,” says accredited practising dietitian Kate Di Prima, co-author of More Peas Please: Solutions For Feeding Fussy Eaters. To prove that kids don’t need to eat bland food, here’s a look at 10 typical dinners around the world. And if you’ve got a fussy eater on your hands, read on for tips about how to nudge them towards more adventurous eating.
A typical Japanese dinner may be a nabe or hotpot, where meat or fish, tofu, vegetables and noodles are cooked in a large pot at the dinner table on a portable gas burner, with everyone helping themselves using a ladle. As a communal experience, it’s a great way to involve kids in healthy cooking.
Variety is the spice of the Korean child’s diet. A typical dinner can include a bowl of rice, a soup or stew, and up to five different side dishes (banchan), such as stir-fried dried anchovy, fish cakes or kimchi (pickled and fermented vegetables).
Dinner in a Russian household is typically a hearty combination of meat or a beetroot and sour cream soup (borscht), with a side of mashed potatoes and rye bread. There will often be a hearty salad on offer, made with potatoes and perhaps meat, onions, beetroot and pickles.
Dinner in Mexico tends to be lighter than lunch, and might be quesadillas (corn tortillas stuffed with vegetables, cheese and beans) or molletes, made with bread-roll halves topped with refried beans, cheese and chopped vegetables, and served with salsa.
A dinner staple enjoyed by children in Brazil is the national dish, feijoada. This is a rich, smoky black bean stew brewed with a variety of pork and beef cuts. It’s usually served with rice, sautéed greens and orange slices.
Sri Lankan family dinners generally revolve around steamed rice and curries, often incorporating coconut milk and spices. Alongside a meat or fish curry, there are often several vegetable or lentil curries, and up to 12 side dishes, including pickles and chutneys.
Kids here generally eat plentiful fish – of the raw variety, too! Ika mata, or raw fish salad, is a traditional dish made with white fish marinated in lemon or lime juice, then mixed with coconut milk, spring onion and coriander. Cooked root vegetables like taro and kumara may be served on the side.
Spices are a mainstay of Moroccan cooking, so kids tend to get used to bold flavours from a young age. A classic dinner is the tagine, a slow-cooked stew flavoured with spices and ingredients such as prunes, olives, almonds and preserved lemons, served with couscous.
Lamb, cabbage and peppercorn stew (farikal) is a national dish of Norway, usually served with potatoes, lingonberry sauce and crispy flatbread. Fish also makes an appearance on the dinner table, in the form of boiled cod, salmon, crayfish or brine-cured herring with raw onions.
Egyptian children might develop their love of spice and lentils from the country’s national dish, koshari: this filling, family-friendly meal has a base of macaroni, rice and lentils, topped with a sometimes hot tomato sauce blending beans, Middle Eastern spices and fried onion.
Raising more adventurous foodies
Don’t rush kids
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Think about introducing a new food in the same way you’d approach taking your child to a water park. “You wouldn’t throw them in the deep end of the pool and hope for the best; you’d take them in, encourage them and dip a toe in first,” says Di Prima. Similarly, a gradual, patient approach is more likely to win your child over than insisting they try a new food.
For young children, Di Prima recommends a six-step process for introducing a new food, based on involving their senses. “The first step is they must leave the food on the plate rather than tipping or scraping it off,” she says. The next step is picking it up with their hands, then bringing it around the nasal area and kissing it, followed by holding it in their front teeth, then their back teeth. “It’s a slow, steady encouraging process,” she says.
Make it motivating
Make a new food more enticing for an older child by thinking about what makes them tick, then linking it to that. For instance, if they want to be a fast runner or have long, shiny hair, you can draw the connection between healthy eating and that end-result.