My two older kids Jonathan (10) and Elena (6) have already eaten more foods from more countries than most adults will ever try in their entire lifetime. If you didn’t know them before they first met my Foodie Queen wife Angela four years ago, you wouldn’t believe that the only things Jonathan and Elena liked to eat then were the typical kid fares of spaghetti, pizza, hamburgers and Cuban food.
Today, by our count, Jonathan has tried foods from 35 countries. Elena is at 25 nations and counting. Both of my older kids consider sushi one of their favorite treats and both have already tasted foods from Iran, India, Thailand, Peru, Lebanon, Argentina, Morocco and Greece, among other countries.
The reason for my kids’ diverse palette? It has everything to do with my wife’s culinary influence over them as well as an accompanying parenting trick that I developed out of desperationg to get my children to try the foods that my wife and I enjoy. I call this powerful trick the Collecting Countries Trick and it is another one of my Hall of Fame Parenting Tricks because it really works, especially if you have two or more children in a similar age range like mine.
The way this trick works is that I created a special eating competition between Jonathan and Elena. There is no prize to win per se but the object of the contest was that when my wife and I took them to a restaurant my kids’ mission was to try to collect the “country” they were culinarily visiting by eating something from that restaurant. At first, my kids balked at this competition and would force us to order the standard, kid-friendly “mac n cheese” dishes that most ethnic restaurants carry for children.
Then it all began to change. Jonathan broke the ice by trying some sushi. He continued to gain competitive advantage over Elena by trying a bite of this food here and a dish there and before you knew it Elena struck back. She began to engage in the same eating game. Today both are extremely mindful of the countries they have and haven’t collected and it has actually gotten to the point where they are starting to order ethnic foods on their own.
Even though we live in a city that has a terrific range of culinary diversity, some of that is drying up for the kids. Jonathan and Elena are now at the stage of their culinary maturity where they are going from merely “collecting countries” to “collecting different foods” from within those countries they’ve mastered. Angela is now experimenting with them on how to eat microbiotic foods, among others. As a foodie myself, I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to have kids with such a strong range of taste because it means that my wife and I never worry anymore about where we’re going to eat. We know our kids will follow us.
Teaching our kids about different foods is also a terrific tool for showing them about other countries and their cultures. We find that our kids are better aware about the world around them because they’ve discovered Japan and many other countries through the foods that they now beg us to feed them with. (For example, my wife rightly observes that the children’s passion for sushi is such that one day it may force them to find good, high paying jobs to maintain their culinary lifestyles).
The Collecting Countries Trick is a classic I think every parent ought to try with their kids. Do you have a special trick you have about getting your kids to eat different foods? Let us know.