Introducing diversity into your family’s meal routine can be daunting, as kids are more likely to eat and enjoy food that is comfortable and recognizable, and often shy away from the unfamiliar. But adding diverse cuisines to your menu at home is important, especially for children, because when kids habitually eat the same dishes they may not get all the necessary nutrients needed for optimal growth and development. Introducing unfamiliar foods and flavors to your little ones will also help them create a pattern of being open to trying new things—leading to a more balanced diet later on in life.
As the Executive Chef of Revolution Foods, the nation’s leading healthy school and community meal provider, I am responsible for introducing kids to cuisines that feature new, delicious flavors and ingredients every day to create a well-rounded plate and broaden their palates. My culinary team has developed many insights based on thousands of student surveys we collect every month to create meals that kids love, and I want to share a few tips with you to make this process easier at home:
1. Tell them what to expect.
When it comes to introducing new foods to your children, their skepticism and lack of familiarity may cause them to turn their heads and refuse to try it. The key here is to demystify the unknown and tell them what they should expect in advance. One way to do this is to compare the food’s taste to other similar foods that they’re comfortable with. For example, if you’re wanting them to try a dish with tomatoes, tell them it will taste similarly to ketchup. You’ll have a much better chance of getting them to try it if they can reference a food they know they enjoy.
2. Create relevance.
Take events happening in your family’s life and translate them into the food. You can use anything—from what they’re learning at school to what’s currently going on in the world. When you tailor the food to something that’s important to them, you’re highlighting the food in a way that will make them more likely to branch out and try something new. For example, if your child values learning or playing sports, explain to them the nutritious benefits this new dish will have on their energy and performance on the field.
3. Start with small changes.
Start by introducing a cuisine your family may be more inclined to try. For example, Chinese food is a great starting point because all of the ingredients are laid out on the plate, giving them a chance to see exactly what they’re eating (unlike a burrito where the food is hidden beneath the tortilla). Plus, Chinese food is colorful, making the plate more vibrant and appealing. Stir fry is an excellent example because you can load it with veggies and protein!
4. Involve them into the process.
Have them help you in the kitchen! Getting your kids involved in the cooking process will help familiarize them with the ingredients in a way that’s both fun and educational. By incorporating them in the meal prep process early on, you’re giving them a front-row seat to see exactly what’s going into their food and how it’s made. You can also use this opportunity to discuss all the nutritious ingredients you’re using, which can open up the discussion on other topics such as farming, food cultures and more. When kids have a hand in making the food and adding the ingredients, they’ll be more eager to taste their own creations.
5. Use the holidays for inspiration.
The holidays are great for introducing diverse cuisines because you can cook in honor of the culture that’s being celebrated. For example, celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by incorporating Irish-inspired foods. By choosing dishes that are associated with a specific holiday, you’re also educating your kids about history and different cultures. With Thanksgiving around the corner, you can use this opportunity to incorporate a new dish.
When you’re introducing diverse cuisines into your family’s meal routine, it’s important to include your kids and educate them on all the benefits diversity brings. Diversity is something to be celebrated, and it’s a great opportunity for the whole family to learn and experience new flavors. So, try out a few of these tips to get the ball rolling!