When introducing new foods, it’s helpful to give kids what I call a “food bridge”—an easy path to help them travel from familiar foods to new foods. Take, for example, risotto with sautéed kale and bacon. Your kids probably like the flavor of pasta. Invite them to take a taster—one very, very, small bite—of one small piece of rice. Build on that by inviting a taste of bacon. They probably like that flavor too. Then work towards combining flavors. Try bacon and risotto, two approved tastes, with a teeny, tiny speck of kale. Then stop right there. In trying to get kids to give something new a try, set expectations! A teeny, tiny taster is all you need to start building a deeper love of wholesome foods. You don’t need them to eat a full plate, or even a whole serving. You just need them to be willing to try again (and again). It can take upwards of 15 exposures to a new food before your child might warm up to it. Big servings will only overwhelm reluctant eaters. Use espresso cups or small teaspoons to serve up your tasters. Remember: Small steps will get you there, not one great leap forward only to stumble backwards.
When you’re ready to take your new food adventures to the next level, it’s time to start cooking together. As a busy parent, I know that can feel onerous. But what if I told you that all it takes is 30 minutes each week? That in the time you’d spend watching an episode of Modern Family, you’ll help your child build skills that are just as important as math and reading? Kids who cook their own food are more likely to eat wholesome foods, for a lifetime. Even more, the diets of young children have been directly linked to their health as adults. The key is to cook with your kids, not for your kids. And to get past the mental barrier of cooking with kids, you need to reframe it.
Instead of thinking of cooking as a chore (“I just need to get dinner on the table!”) or a big, fat mess (“Cooking with my kids is chaotic!”), think of cooking like a craft activity. Set up your cooking project on a low kids table, with all of your supplies within easy reach. Forget about working at the kitchen counter—it’s too high for kids even when they’re perched on a stool. Focus on exploring together, rather than creating the perfect dish. Let your kids do as much of the measuring, stirring, chopping, and sautéing as you can handle. Muster the patience you need to let go and let them do it, for 30 minutes (tip: have them work over a baking sheet to help contain the mess). The more freedom you afford them, the greater the payoff.
Brussels Sprouts Chips Recipe
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Using your fingers, peel away the leaves from the sprouts.
3. Place the leaves on a rimmed baking sheet. Add the oil and salt and toss to combine.
4. Bake for 10 minutes, then toss the leaves in the pan. Reduce the heat to 250°F and bake the sprouts for 10 minutes more, or until the leaves are crispy and almost burnt. Let your kids watch closely to figure out the best timing for your oven.
Tip: To peel the leaves, cut off the ends, turn the sprouts over, and gently pry the leaves away sta
rting at the stem. Trim off the ends as you go to make it easier to peel away the layers. This takes patience (and time), but it’s a fun activity for your kids. As you get closer to the center, the leaves will become too tight to peel, so simply save the small pieces for sautéing or roasting.
Kids can pry sprouts from the stalks and peel away the leaves. This step takes some patience, but the delicious reward is well worth their effort!
Eat Your Colors
These little cabbages may be small in size, but they’re big on Vitamin C!
Ask kids, “I wonder if Brussels sprouts taste different depending on their color?” Then experiment together to find out!
Brussels Sprouts can be bitter for burgeoning palettes. The secret to mellowing their flavor is roasting. Kids love the crispy, almost burnt leaves.
Reprinted from The 52 New Foods Challenge: A Family Cooking Adventure for Each Week of the Year, with 150 Recipes.
A mom of two, Jennifer Tyler Lee is the author of The 52 New Foods Challenge: A Family Cooking Adventure for Each Week of the Year and the creator of the award-winning series of healthy eating games, Crunch a Color®.