Sometimes we’re all picky. Sometimes new foods might give us pause. Here are ten ways to increase your family’s food diversity without your kids (or you) turning up a nose :
1. Try different varieties within the same species:
One of the easiest way to spread the nutrient love around in your family’s diet is to increase diversity within species of foods already in your diet. According to Jo Robinson in her book, Eating on the Wild Side: the missing link to optimal health, apples like the Golden Delicious variety are higher in sugar and do not have the same phytonutrients as other varieties. Also, more colorful, open leaf varieties of lettuce contain a greater amount of nutrients than the tighter wrapped less colorful ones. By varying foods within species, you have a better chance of giving your body a wide range of nutrients. Plus, because your family is already familiar with these foods, there is less of a chance that they’ll reject them.
2. Add new foods to standard dishes: When trying out novel foods, we sometimes like to put them in dishes our family is already familiar with. In the mornings, we often have smoothies where we can add food our picky eaters otherwise wouldn’t eat. In this way, we get our kids to drink their broccoli, kale, and even lesser known greens like hens and chicks. We also eat a lot of stir fry and soups. These are great for exploring food diversity, especially if we chop up the novel food fine enough. Sometimes hiding the food is the best option.
3. Highlight new foods, explain the culture, make it an adventure: One of the things we are trying this year, now that we’ve given ourselves this challenge of increasing the diversity in our diet, is to make food an adventure. By giving our kids a little of the history of the particular food and its culture and preparing and even eating according to ways that people that typically eat these foods might, we hope to increase interest in the food, expand the range of all of our palettes, and make it so that trying new foods is fun and desirable.
4. Have children pick out new foods: In our experience, when we let our kids pick out the food, they are more likely to try it. This gives them some ownership in the food we’re eating, and when you have ownership in something, the responsibility of stuffing it into your mouth becomes easy and exciting.
5. Encourage kids to cook or help cook: Similar to point #4, When kids make it their own, they are more likely to eat it. Capture the interest, and capture the stomach.
6. Try kid-friendly flavors before moving on to varieties with bitter or savory flavors: Let’s face it, most kids and adults like sweet. Bitter, not so much. New fruits are probably going to get more mileage with your family, than say, asian greens. But if you start with the novelty in one area, sometimes that can carry you through. I’ve noticed that with one of our picky eaters in particular, that when we have a lot of new foods that we are trying that are sweet, she’s more willing to try one of the not so sweet foods too.
7. Try different ways to prepare food: When I was kid, I thought spinach was slimy and came in a can. I remember my first experience of the stuff was at a school that served it hot and mushy. For years, I thought I hated spinach. But my mind changed, when I finally tried the fresh stuff. Brussels Sprouts, too, still repulse me. I can’t put my finger on the experience that made them repulsive to me. But I have to admit, when they’re cooked in certain ways, I find their flavor delicious. Many times our experience of a food, doesn’t have to do with the food itself, but the way it is prepared or presented. If your kid doesn’t like cooked kale, try kale chips. Anything that looks and tastes like chip or a french fry really works well to persuade the skeptical child. Smothering it in ketchup, is an added bonus.
8. Mix it with something sweet: We already mentioned smoothies, but there’s also chutneys –which are mash-up of sweet and sour flavors– and also ice cream. Ice cream wins every time.
9. Go wild: Wild foods, many that we highlight here, are sometimes more appealing to kids because it becomes like a treasure hunt trying to find them. Intentionally eating wild, incorporates exercise, knowledge of the outside world, adventure and food. That mixture of making the hunt and gather of fresh food an event, makes the eating of the food the exciting culmination of the whole experience.
10. Embrace the fog of unknowing: When it comes down to it, one of the main reasons why we don’t try new food is we don’t know how the heck to cook and eat the stuff. I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve collected some wild food and watched it go bad in the refrigerator, because it was much easier to cook the food I was familiar with. We get lost in this relentless fog, because we think somehow, to experiment with food, we have to be professional chefs. Don’t be afraid to wreck a meal with food that you know very little about. You don’t have to be an ethnic food whiz, to put a little something different in that lasagna or chicken noodle soup or whatever you plan on cooking for the night. Who knows? You might make something delicious.