With chicken nuggets and plain pasta just a button on the microwave away, expanding your child's palette can be a challenge. Being a parent is a thrilling roller coaster ride filled with uphill battles and fast slides down, and theoretically, family mealtimes should be a time to slow down. The dinner table is full of teachable moments, and they all begin in the kitchen.
Introducing your kids to different cultures through food is a great way to expose them to the world from the comfort of your own kitchen. Moms, chefs, nutrition experts and cookbook authors lend their expertise so you can stamp your child's passport with international cuisine.
"It is important to incorporate your children into the process of cooking by picking the recipes, shopping for the ingredients and making the food together," says marriage and family therapist Hollye Grayson, M.A. "Engaging in any form of extracurricular activity with your children is healthy, and cooking allows you to work side by side, giving your child a sense of equality and the opportunity to work as a team, which assists in building his or her sense of security and pride."
Whatever your religious or ethnic background is, family recipes are a way to open up the world of ancestry and tell the stories of your family history. Making a customary holiday dish, such as Rosh Hashanah's Noodle Kugel, can spark a new tradition in your family and can be a rewarding experience for both you and your child.
Chef, media personality and author of "Fast, Fresh + Simple", Hope Cohen, says the easiest way to begin introducing international foods to your children is with dips. "Dipping your food is fun and also a great way to get kids to eat vegetables," says Cohen. "Making dips with fresh ingredients will also help decrease the amount of preservatives or chemicals your family consumes."
Hummus is an easy dip recipe and can be made to your family's preference. "My daughter, Ella, loves hummus and makes our family's most perfect version using lemon and garlic, but really this can be customized to your specific taste," continues Cohen. Try dipping finger-sized, raw vegetables such as jicama, snap peas, asparagus spears, zucchini spears or homemade pita crisps (brush pita triangles with olive oil and bake at 325° F until crisp).
Hummus tip: When refrigerated, the consistency of hummus becomes thicker; the flavors and texture are best when served at room temperature.
Crunchy Chicken Schnitzel
This traditional, Austrian dish is a healthier alternative to the same old kid favorite: chicken nuggets. A staple in Laurie David's book "The Family Dinner", the breaded chicken cutlet is made with organic, free-range, boneless chicken, panko crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Most importantly, this meal isn't fried, but rather sautéed and then kept warm in the oven. Pair the schnitzel with a side of spaetzle (German dumplings) and a fun-to-eat green vegetable such as peas.
Thai Style Ground Beef
As a mom of a first grader, childhood feeding specialist and author of "Love Me, Feed Me", Katja Rowell, M.D., knows getting meals on the table is hard. So when you discover a meal your child enjoys, she encourages parents to make double and freeze it. "Thai Style Ground Beef is a mild introduction to Asian flavors like fish sauce, coconut milk and garlic," says Rowell. She believes involving your children in meals is important. "Ask him or her to wash the lettuce, measure and stir ingredients, or, if appropriate, cut the vegetables.
A bonus is that this meal can be eaten with a spoon or in lettuce wraps, which is messy, but much more fun than a fork." This beef dish is great for all ages, even toddlers. Ground meat is often easier for small children to handle; the sauce is mild, but flavorful; and you can make it with turkey or a meat substitute if you are a vegetarian. It's also a good source of protein, and -- more importantly -- iron, which kids are often low on. Parents worry more about protein, but iron is harder for kids to get.
Mexican Fish Tacos
Cooking and nutrition expert, Pamela Salzman, offers a variety of healthy recipes on her website. Jennifer Schiff, a mother of three in Santa Monica, California, says her kids "devour" Salzman's grilled fish tacos and that the recipe is easy for weeknights or weekend get-togethers.
The idea of a taco bar has a positive effect on kids, because it allows them to "make" their own meals. "I love changing the toppings each time to keep it different," says Salzman. "Sometimes, I'll even use a Savoy cabbage leaf instead of a corn tortilla."
Children learn about other cultures early on in school and introducing savory, international foods will not only help them develop their interests in the many different and exciting customs from around the world, but also will give them the opportunity to fearlessly try new foods.
Jennifer Geisman is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, Calif. Her work can be found here.