We hear a lot about fussy eaters in our culture – which makes me curious about how other cultures handle food.
Is there a mother in India worried that something she’s serving has too much spice for her child? Or does a Mom in China only put corn in her stir fry because it’s the one “vegetable” that her child will eat? Even when you dine in restaurants of these cultures, you can see with your very own eyes that some kids can adapt to what is expected of them. And they can do so with relish.
There is good reason to encourage this expanding of the palate. We now know that herbs and spices contain powerful nutrients and antioxidants that are doing way more for our bodies than we had previously imagined. For instance, traditional Indian Ayrvedic medicine uses a treasure trove of spices to treat many common ailments that science is now bearing out. Cinnamon not only makes food taste good, it has also been shown to lower blood pressure and blood sugar. In one study, it only took a half a teaspoon per day to do its thing. Why, I bet you could get that much on one piece of whole grain toast for a snack. It goes in oatmeal, cocoa and cookies just as well. The added bonus is that it expands the perception of flavours and wakes up a child’s willingness to explore beyond the bland so it is a great place to start.
Cumin is a principal flavour in curry powder; it is the element in turmeric that turns curries yellow. It is also a potent anti-cancer spice. In fact, it is under investigation to be a cancer treatment as it seems to encourage bad cells to die as they are supposed to rather than letting them proliferate. Wow! Right in your delicious bowl of soup!
The old adage is true, the more colours on your plate the better. The real story goes beyond that, though. The more flavours you can incorporate the better. Not just to develop a broader palate and a more explorative sense of the world on the table but also for lifelong health.
So how does one begin?
- Start with fresh herbs like basil and mint. Let toddlers grow them on the windowsill and pick and eat them at will.
- Use cinnamon in everything sweet that you bake. Try nutmeg and allspice next.
- Allow kids to smell dried herbs in the cupboard and ask them which one you should add to the sauce. Basil, thyme and rosemary smell great and go with everything so you won’t regret handing over the decision.
- Leave a jar of Italian Seasoning (which is a mixture of dried herbs) on the table and let kids use it like the salt and pepper shakers.
- Find mild curry powder so there is no heat to interfere with the flavour and experiment with soups and stews in the Indian end of the spectrum.
- Try this recipe below to encourage a sense of the spice of life.
Sweet Potato Fries
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon mild curry powder
Pinch sea salt
¼ cup mango chutney
¼ cup apple juice
Preheat oven to 400F. Slice sweet potatoes into french fry-sized sticks. Toss in a bowl with oil and curry powder and lay onto a cookie sheet, but avoid crowding the pan or they won’t become crispy. Bake for 30 minutes, turning once. Turn oven off and open the door but leave the door open with the pan inside for another 15 minutes to evaporate steam and crisp up. Sprinkle with sea salt when you remove.
Mix together mango chutney and apple juice to thin into a dip.
Serve immediately with mango chutney dip or good ol’ ketchup.
Theresa Albert is a nutritionist and food communications consultant. Her Food Network show,Just One Bite! aired for 5 years on both Food Network and BBC Kids. She is currently a trusted on-camera correspondent for CTV Newschannel as well as CBC and regular health expert on the daily lifestyle show, Steven and Chris which airs internationally.
Named one of Canada’s Top 25 Tweeters by Today’s Parent Magazine and one of Savvymom.ca’s 35 Favorite Bloggers, she is called for comment from every major magazine, newspaper and television outlet in Canada. She has a weekly column in the Metro Newspaper and regularly writes features for Today’s Parent, Canadian Family Magazine and blogs at Huffington Post.