Making Omnivores: 5 Ways to Encourage Adventurous Eating

eatingA few Fridays ago, I was at a friend’s house on a play date. Her two kids were busy running around with my two, and as it was close to “bye bye time,” we chatted about weekend plans and tonight’s dinner plans.

“So there’s this Indian place in Oldsmar (Desi Tadka) we love; I’m meeting [Husband] over there.”

“You’re taking your kids to an Indian restaurant?”

Well, yes.

Shrimp Marinated with garlic ginger paste and roasted from Desi Tadka

It hadn’t actually occurred to me not to. My girls eat what Husband and I eat, both at home or out.

I’ve heard a variation on this theme many times: “You’re eating there? I couldn’t even get my kids in the door!” or “Your kids eat ______? All I can feed mine are chicken nuggets!”

One of the things that drew me to my husband was he is an adventurous eater. So, from the moment we got pregnant, we had many discussions about the role food would play in our family. We agreed that not only is it healthy to eat a wide variety of foods, being comfortable around food from different cultures is a way in which people can move with ease through different social settings and find commonalty with many kinds of people. Bottom line: raising a picky eater would have been my version of hell. So we are doing our darndest to raise adventurous eaters, and here are some of our best tips.

1. Model your foodie side

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With perhaps the exception of escargot (which I actually would try) I don’t call foods “yucky” in front of my children. Neither does Husband. We just don’t. All vegetables are amazing (they really are) and all global food traditions are on the table when we are looking for a place to eat out. When I find a new recipe to try for dinner, I share that enthusiasm with my kids. Whether they show it or not, kids note and often reflect the enthusiasm you demonstrate as parents.

2. Cook adventurously
The number one favorite dinner in my house is Mom’s Curry Bowl (adapted from a Rachel Ray recipe). Loving mom’s curry sure makes going out to eat Indian, Thai or Vietnamese food a LOT easier for my kids! I’ve also got shawarma and picadillo recipes up my sleeve to remind my girls that yes, they LOVED this when mom made it, and this version is EVEN BETTER!

3. Eat like a local

the refinery Tampa
The growing food scene is one of the reasons Husband and I can’t imagine leaving Tampa. Aside from big names like Datz and the Refinery, we love to cruise up and down Waters Ave. to check out the smaller joints like Yummy House and Bombay Masala. (Is that my third mention of Indian food? I think I must be having a craving!) We scope out the new small restaurants and try them out with the kids in tow. This has led to the discovery of some real gems, like Fresh Bites in Westchase. (BRB; running out for some baba ganoush . . . )

4. Enlist the support system
I grew up in suburban Orlando, and in the 80s that wasn’t exactly a hot spot for innovative food. However, my parents tried. They would drive us downtown to eat in Orlando’s legendary Vietnamese neighborhood or all the way to International Drive for Indian food. I introduced them to sushi when I was an adult, and now they love it.
We eat meals with grandma and grandpa a lot, both at home and in restaurants, and they adhere to our “this is what we are eating tonight” policy with the girls rather than giving in to pizza or nuggets. (Not that I don’t LOVE PDQ or Westchase Pizza! I really do! I love all food!)

5. The “Kids Menu” is off the table
Perhaps you’ve heard the cliché: “You don’t order spaghetti in a deli.” Yup, that’s how we live. If we’re in Tarpon Springs for a beach day and get hungry, we are eating Greek food. Our girls can pick from gyros or spanakopita or moussaka with salads; I don’t need to know what the hamburgers taste like at Hellas. (Though I am sure they are wonderful, because…..Hellas!)

Unless the children’s menu is a smaller portion version of the adult food, I recommend you pretend it doesn’t exist. For little kids, order an adult entrée and split it up. Or 1 entrée and give the other child part of your order, because you probably would have taken home as leftovers anyway. Big kids can just pick! Family style ordering makes this even easier, but sharing around the table is always an option. I used to worry that I would annoy servers by asking for small plates to set up my girls’ meals, but the reactions I get are generally the opposite; servers will often praise my girls for trying the “adult” food! We’ve even had the owners of restaurants come over to chat with us because, well, having adorable kids who love their food tends to make those hardworking restaurateurs happy.

So where are your favorite places to eat with your families? What’s the craziest (food!) thing your child ever ate? Mine once happily munched grilled baby octopus, which amazed my mother-in-law.

Looking for some more ideas for places to eat with kids? Check out this article, too!