Nudging kids away from their comfort zone when it comes to food is a risky business. But unless you relish the prospect of eating fish fingers and macaroni cheese yourself for the next decade, you’d be well advised to broaden their palate now. The food we grow up with is often the food we prefer as adults, so if you start to introduce spices and different tastes at a young age, your kids are more likely to enjoy a wider range of foods as they get older. As well as making them easier to please at mealtimes, this is also better for them nutritionally.
‘Life is a great adventure for young children and food can be part of it,’ says Stephanie Karl, nutritionist at Dubai London Clinic. ‘Plus, as parents, it’s our role to gradually introduce our kids to as wide a range of foods and flavours as possible.’ Of course, you don’t want to blow your kid’s head off with a potent vindaloo, but there are plenty of creamy, milder dishes out there that little ones will find quite tasty. Neither butter chicken, kormas nor boneless chicken tikka are overly spicy, and they’re mainstays of most Indian restaurants. Others to try are paneer (cottage cheese), Indian breads – tandoori rotis, butter naans and kulchas – as well as lightly-spiced dahl (lentils), and most kids will lap up rice dishes mixed with yoghurt.
Some Indian restaurants are rather posh-looking and it’s true they don’t have the balloons, bouncy castles and endless entertainment options of some of the other kiddie eateries. Others are cheap and cheerful, but whether you go up or down market, the family-friendly Indian culture means that most establishments are pretty relaxed and well able to deal with squawking ankle-biters.
‘We have many, many kids coming to our restaurant with their parents,’ says chef Saurabh Malhotra of Options, a rather plush, crimson-cushioned venue at the World Trade Convention Centre. ‘It’s a big place, they can run around and they’re fascinated with the aquarium and waterfall.’
It’s a good idea to substitute water for milk with Indian dishes: the heat we feel on our tongues when eating curry comes from oils in the spices, and water won’t wash them away nearly as effectively as a cool glass of the white stuff. When ordering food for your child, request that they knock up a milder version – most restaurants will be more than happy to oblige. If, despite all your due diligence, junior goes a funny shade of red and steam starts pouring out of his ears, quickly order some yoghurt to cool the dish down.
‘In our restaurant the kids love candi kalyal – grilled chicken tandoori with cream and cheese – and we make it attractive with silver leaf,’ says Malhotra. ‘They’re amazed that they can eat something so sparkly.’
Options’ chef Saurabh suggests these kid-friendly Indian specialties to make at home
Cucumber and mint cooler
1 small cucumber
A few sprigs of mint
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp black salt
1. Put roughly chopped cucumber, mint, lemon juice, sugar, black salt and water into a mixer and grind well.
2. Serve cold, garnished with mint sprig and lemon slice.
Upma (semolina cooked with vegetables)
1 cup semolina
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small potato, cubed
1 onion, sliced
¼ cup green peas
1 small carrot, cubed
¼ cup corn
1 tsp mustard seeds
5-6 curry leaves
Salt to taste
1 tsp lemon juice
¼ cup coriander, chopped
2 cups hot water
1. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan, add half the oil and semolina and stir on a low heat for 5-6 minutes. Remove and keep aside.
2. Pour all of the remaining oil into the pan. Add in the mustard seeds and curry leaves, and when they start crackling, add the sliced onion and sauté until light pink.
3. Add the cubed potato, carrot, green peas, corn and salt and stir the mixture for 7-8 minutes. Add some of the water and boil until the vegetables are cooked.
4. Add the remaining water and bring to the boil. Stir continuously until the water is absorbed and the mixture turns lumpy.
5. Add the lemon juice and chopped coriander to the mixture.
6. Serve hot with tomato sauce or fresh mint chutney.
Curry down... it’s good for you!
As well as providing variety in their diet, Indian food is better for your kids than burgers and the like: ‘In recent years, scientists have started studying the health benefits of spices, and there is some interesting evidence emerging,’ says nutritionist Stephanie Karl. Here’s our guide to what’s what when you hit the
• Turmeric: a powerful anti-oxidant, it has anti-inflammatory properties and may have some benefit in treating digestive disorders
• Ginger: known for preventing nausea and vomiting
• Garlic: its powerful antibacterial properties can boost the entire immune system, helping the body to fight off illnesses and prevent colds and flu
• Spices that generate heat in the body help fight obesity as people burn more energy. Cayenne, for example, is thought to lower the chance of developing cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels
• Cinnamon, cloves, mustard, allspice, bay leaf, caraway, coriander, cumin, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and, to a lesser extent, black pepper, red pepper, and ginger have also been found to inhibit the growth of microbes