Lemon grass chicken. That’s what my oldest ordered the last week at Peppermint, a Thai restaurant we went to as a family. When her dish came everyone, my husband included, couldn’t wait to try her dish–it was stunning. Thin slices of charbroiled chicken topped with veggies, a light brown sauce that was wafting citrusy scents in all directions and on top a batch of fried, crispy spinach. I didn’t even know you could fry spinach!

Beef Satay--from the Kids' Menu

So how did my daughter end up with the enviable entree? She asked. There’s several strategies we’ve tried to get our kids to try new foods (and shun the ever-present chicken fingers offered on the kids menu). Here’s what’s worked for us.

Talk to the server. Your server knows the menu better than anyone else. Ask away to find out what she recommends. Try specific questions, “I like noodles and spicy dishes, but not something with a lot of meat, what do you suggest?” We’ve found that general questions, “What do you suggest?” yield general answers and aren’t nearly as helpful. My daughter was the only one from our table who talked to the server about her meal–the rest of us had already picked our favorites. And wouldn’t you know it, she tried something new and we were all vying for the last nibbles of her food.

Split a dish. Forget the kids’ menu, encourage your kids to share an adult meal or split one with her. My younger two love shrimp so often they just get whatever shrimp entree is available and we ask for two plates.

Eat family style. We won’t win any awards for best etiquette–when we eat at a restaurant we always try each other’s dishes, or one of my daughter’s decides she doesn’t like part of her meal so we put it on her sister’s plate. The other day we tried a new Polish restaurant, Babushka’s Kitchen after a hike in the woods. Everyone ordered a different flavor of pierogie or entree. Once the food arrived we were swapping bites of all sorts of things. My oldest downed her dad’s kraut with noodles, while I swiped bites of his swiss cheese and mushroom pierogie (heavenly!). It was so much fun to try all the new flavors. My middle child took a bit of her chicken paprikash and said, “Oh, mom, this is soooo good. You gotta try this.”

Try an appetizer. When I was a kid we never ordered appetizers. Ditto on desserts. But we’ve found that appetizers are perfect for sampling something new. First, your kids are already hungry. Second, they’re small bites–kid-sized–if she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t have to eat more. At the Thai restaurant we ordered spinach potstickers. I was sure that the spinach-infused rice dumplings stuffed with tofu wouldn’t appeal to my crew (I was sorta counting on it because I really like them). But in the end I only got one pot sticker and then I had to split the last one with my youngest.

Come hungry. Kids with empty tummies seem much more willing to try something new–and eat it–then kids who’ve been snacking all afternoon.

Pierogie time!

Pick an interesting restaurant. You can’t really expect your kid to go beyond chicken fingers if you’re at a burger place (unless of course they serve a creative assortment!) But the child’s plate at the Polish restaurant either had pierogies or chickcen paprikash. At the Thai place, the kid’s menu included chicken or beef satay. You don’t have to go for a restaurant steeped in culture, but we’ve found family-owned, non-chain restaurants are more likely to have options that intrigue the kids.

Order dessert. Okay, this one is optional. But coconut ice cream or apricot-filled handmade kolcachky–yum! Dessert can be part of the fun of trying new flavors. (We came up with this recipe for banana mini-eggrolls after visiting the Thai restaurant.)

Now your turn, how do you get your kids to sample something new at a restaurant?

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