By Preena Chauhan
It’s well known feeding a toddler is not an easy task. As they get into solid foods, their palates are continually experiencing new flavours and textures, and their likes or dislikes become more pronounced.
Although I’m not a mother myself, being an Indian cooking instructor for over fifteen years has exposed me to many women going through motherhood wanting their small children to eat a variety of foods, try exotic and new flavours and also get them to eat the same foods the ‘big people’ eat. In the end, if your toddler embraces the same foods you and your family enjoys, this will make mealtimes easier and less work — no one can argue with that!
Here are a few ways you can make your Indian meals more toddler friendly:
Make it mild. This is an obvious one, which you probably already thought of. Keeping Indian curries and dishes mild and easy going is key to getting your toddler to enjoy Indian foods. The first waft of hot spices like chili powder or black pepper can steer your little ones away from Indian foods indefinitely. Exotic spices in a dish need not be hot or necessarily have bold flavours. Make a mild version of a curry, set some aside and add in extra spices as you would normally make the dish for yourself, which will also save you from cooking a completely different meal fore each member of the family.
Keep it simple. It’s not only the heat-giving spices like chili and black pepper that can turn off a toddler from Indian foods. Think about other bold flavours to avoid that offer the palate pungent and bitter tastes–such as whole cumin seeds (pungent, bitter), ajwain seeds (pungent), amchar (mango powder), asafoetida (pungent), fenugreek (bitter) and cilantro. As a small child, I vividly remember myself picking each and every cumin seed from a Jeera Rice that my mother happily presented me and the same went for cilantro. As we get older we learn to love these flavours but the young palate is still exploring and may find these flavours too intense and unfamiliar. Ground cumin on the other hand is more likely to be acceptable when mixed into a curry. Use a simple mix of basic Indian spices to create good flavour like ground cumin, ground coriander and turmeric.
Mash it up. It can be hard getting a toddler to eat a rainbow of healthy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, string beans, red peppers and squash. Try a nutrient-packed medley of mashed vegetables with mild Indian flavours like Pav Bhaji–a typical Indian street food. The great part is they won’t know how nutrient dense their dinner is! Try mashing steamed cauliflower into a Channa Masala. Blend in broccoli, carrots or pumpkin in a nourishing Dal dish to give your toddler a well-balanced meal of protein from the lentils plus the vegetables. Serve it with something delicious on the side – toasted garlic naan triangles for dipping, which will make it fun for your toddler to dip into the daal.
They like it sweet. Although I don’t advocate pushing anything sugary onto our toddlers, we know they may enjoy an Indian curry if it has a hint of sweetness. In the state of Gujarat, traditionally lentil and bean dishes tend to be sweeter. Try making a chickpea curry, Channa Masala with a touch of sweetness by adding jaggery or gur, unprocessed Indian sugar. If you’re reluctant to add sugar, add sweet potatoes or coconut milk, both which will add sweetness to a curry.
Make it fun. You may have heard of the Japanese tradition of creating exotic and tantalizing bento lunch box kid’s menus in shapes of every animal under the sun. This certainly takes some creativity, planning and a bit of talent too! Although we don’t have to go to that extent to create a ‘Disney themed’ lunch, putting a bit of effort in making Indian foods fun for tiny hands to handle isn’t a big feat.
If you’re serving Tandoori Chicken and Naan for dinner, turn that main into something fun like a Tandoori Chicken Naan wrap or roll and slice them so they can be eaten easily. Or place shredded Tandoori Chicken onto a naan wedge with a bit of mildly spiced pizza sauce with some grated cheese on top. Stuff Channa Masala into a mini whole-wheat pita pocket with tomatoes and a drizzle of Cooling Cucumber Raita. Try Naan or chapattis cut into fun shapes using a cookie cutter. Bread Tandoori Chicken and bake in oven to make Indian spiced chicken fingers. ‘Reformatting’ your meals may be the key to getting your little one to embrace Indian foods.
No one said mealtimes are ever easy for parents with toddlers which is not to say they cannot try exotic Indian spices and get the health benefits from our highly nutritional cuisine of lentils, beans, vegetables and healing spices. When marketing my spice blends to families at various trade shows around the GTA, I’m always so impressed when a parent takes a sample of our Channa Masala or Mattar Paneer and offers it to their child of one or two years of age. The toddler takes a bite, likes it and the parents quickly ask for the recipe. It may take some trialing and trying but soon enough you may just find your little ones eating all their veggies and loving them too with delicious Indian flavours and spices!
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