Sometimes food can be a fun way to introduce children to new cultures and customs without ever leaving home – but at other times an aversion to foreign cuisine can be what kills a holiday. Emmanuel Stroobant (owner of restaurant Saint Pierre in Singapore and guest chef on MasterChef Australia) knows the importance of teaching kids to try different kinds of food. His exploration of new flavours with his children Keira (3) and Mia (1) is documented on his site Keira’s Kitchen. He tells suitcases&strollers how to teach even the fussiest eaters to appreciate new foods.
What can children learn about different cultures and other parts of the world from food?
I believe exposure is good for kids (and adults for that matter). It opens their minds and it somehow teaches them that there are options, diversity and, hopefully, how to think out of the box.
As a chef, how do you do this with your kids?
We don't consciously think about teaching our daughters food from other cultures, but what we do is to ensure that they have an open mind about food. We make them try a variety of dishes from sushi to roast pork. Sometimes they may not like it at the start, but you just need to be persistent. We find that this is most important when inculcating good eating habits [such as encouraging kids to eat vegetables].
But what if a child is a fussy eater – how can parents encourage them to try different foods they are not used to?
I am strict with my daughters. I will give Keira her meal and if she doesn’t want to eat, I will let her go hungry. Eventually she will eat it and realise it is really not bad. As a result these days, when we ask her to try a dish or ingredient, she will.
How can a parent “prep” a child’s palate for different kinds of foreign foods before they go travelling, especially to exotic destinations?
Living in a diverse country such as Singapore is wonderful as I started teaching my kids to eat different types of food at a very young age. Keira doesn't like her spice but is able to manage it if it is in a very tasty dish. So, for example she may eat my super spicy beef noodles hor fun because she loves the beef hor fun and will put up with the spice and continue to eat. Of course, this isn't an every day occurrence.
Similarly, if you are going to bring kids to a destination with exotic food you may want to gently expose them to some of these food at home. Kids love naan and chapatti [Indian bread] and if you dip a tiny bit of it into a mild curry, they will be able to manage it. Oftentimes, it is the parents that are resistant. It is hard to say, “Try this, it’s yummy,” while you yourself are cringing at the thought of the food!
[For more travel tips on getting kids to try foreign foods, see the suitcases&strollers interview with kids' food expert Annabel Karmel]
Are cooking classes a good activity for families to do on holidays, even in countries with foods with strong flavours (such as Thailand or India)?
I recommend cooking classes anywhere, anytime. They are a great bonding experience. When you are cooking with your child, they are more willing to try ingredients. They think it's play.
For ideas on travel-friendly foods for super fussy eaters, see the suitcases&strollers story here.
For ideas on how to travel with food allergies, see the suitcases&strollers story here.
For travel tips on how to eat in expensive restaurants with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.