Want your kids to try some new foods? Consider creating a tasting menu: presenting kids with an assortment of a particular food and get them to take a taste of each thing and rate it against a set of categories.
By creating a contest of sorts, you are making a game out of food tasting, which is more intriguing than you hounding them to eat their fruit or veggies. This is a fun activity to do with multiple kids. The results might surprise you and them!
Here are some ideas for tasting menus
Make a fruit platter: Make a platter of different types of fruits cut into bite-size pieces and invite your kids to rate the fruits by different characteristics, such as most sour and most sweet. Consider adding some wildcard fruits, like star fruit, passion fruit, or cherimoya and then reading about them on Wikipedia.
Create a cheese platter. Choose cheeses from different milk sources (i.e., cow, goat, sheep) or compare the taste of different cheddars or feta, both local and imported. Get the atlas out and discuss the names of the cheeses and how they relate to the cheese’s origin (e.g., Gouda comes from the Netherlands). Get the kids to define the differences in flavors, saltiness, and textures. For older children, read up on the science behind cheese making.
Pair unusual flavors. Think about what you might see on an appetizer menu in a fine restaurant: figs and cheese, bruschetta with sautéed wild mushrooms, melon and prosciutto, broiled dates and bacon, etc. Get out the fancy dishes out and lay out a spread. (If they don’t like it, you can eat it during cocktail hour.)
Demonstrate food’s versatility. Show the kids the different ways one vegetable or fruit can change shape, composition, taste, or use through cooking, grating, dehydrating, or juicing. Carrots, grapes, beets, and apples work well for this experiment.
Present a selection of salad greens. Taste them raw and then taste them with different dressings/dips. Spark a discussion of how the greens are bitter, sweet, crunchy or soft. You can also cook some of the greens (collards, kale) and compare the raw and cooked versions.
Prepare a variety of foods for the senses. You can put any strong-smelling or -tasting food on a platter and have the kids taste each one, with a drink of water in between each taste. You can even spring some fun taste/smell science experiments on them, like having them taste potato and apple slices while plugging their noses (they taste similar when we can’t smell them).
Compare different spices/flavorings. Smell/taste a variety of dry spices (both raw and cooked), such as cumin, cardamom, coriander, sweet paprika, and cinnamon. To cook the spice, just heat it up on low heat in a dry pan until it releases its aroma. You can also give your kids a chance to compare other flavorings, like vinegars, ginger, sauces, condiments, etc.
Compare alternative sweeteners. Kids love sweets so give them a chance to try different sweeteners, such as honey, brown versus white sugar, maple syrup, beet syrup, rice syrup, agave, and stevia. Discuss the plant sources of these sweeteners.
Taste the seasons. For example, in the fall, create an apple tasting menu from the different varietals. You can talk about how different types of apples have different textures when cooked and get the kids to describe the flavors of the apples. This is usually a big hit with little kids.
Hit the salad bar. Salad bars in upscale supermarkets provide great, albeit expensive, tasting menus. My daughter and I spent an hour in Central Market picking things she wanted to try from the salad bar. It was eye opening to watch her eat beets, mutter paneer, and slightly spicy Asian noodle salad. She also tried a few sample cups of soups, including clam chowder. So go to your favorite market and have some fun!
Look for informal opportunities to taste new foods.If you don’t have time or energy to do anything formal with tasting menus, keep a lookout for child-driven opportunities to do some food tasting. For example, my daughter refused to eat salads until I created one with a mixture of baby greens in it. The apparent cuteness of the greens led to her spending the entire meal tasting each green and giving it a fake name (apparently, baby kale is actually called Kandah). Although she’s still not a great greens eater, she will occasionally zero in on a salad and eat it with me
Elise Gruber is a writer and project manager who grew up in Miami, where the eating of clams and conchs was considered normal. She loves to cook and think about food so is not enjoying the “beige food years” so much. In fact, she nearly burst into tears of joy when her kid yelled, “Mommy, I like beets now!” at the salad bar.