We hear a lot about fussy kids in our culture but I am always curious to see how other cultures handle food. You can’t tell me that a mother in India is worried that something isn’t bland enough or that a Chinese mom only puts corn in her stir fry because it’s the one “vegetable” that her child will eat. Even when you dine in restaurants of these cultures, you can see with your very own eyes that some kids can adapt to what is expected of them. And do so with relish.

Plus, there is good reason to encourage this expanding of the palate. We now know that herbs and spices contain powerful nutrients and antioxidants that are doing way more for our bodies than we had previously imagined. For instance, Traditional Indian Ayrvedic medicine uses a treasure trove of spices to treat many common ailments that science is now bearing out. Cinnamon not only makes food taste good, it has also been shown to lower blood pressure and blood sugar. In one study, it only took a half a teaspoon per day to do its thing. Why, I bet you could get that much on one piece of whole grain toast for a snack. It goes in oatmeal, cocoa and cookies just as well. The added bonus is that it expands the perception of flavours and wakes up a child’s willingness to explore beyond the bland so it is a great place to start.

Curcumin is a principal flavour in curry powder; it is the element in turmeric that turns curries yellow. It is also a potent anti-cancer spice. In fact, it is under investigation to be a cancer treatment as it seems to encourage bad cells to die as they are supposed to rather than letting them proliferate. Wow! Right in your delicious bowl of soup!

The old adage is true, the more colors on your plate the better. The real story goes beyond that, though. The more flavours you can incorporate the better. Not just to develop a broader palate and a more explorative sense of the world on the table but also for lifelong health.

So how does one begin?

  • Start with fresh herbs like basil and mint. Let toddlers grow them on the windowsill and pick and eat them at will.
  • Use cinnamon in everything sweet that you bake. Try nutmeg and allspice next.
  • Allow kids to smell dried herbs in the cupboard and ask them which one you should add to the sauce. Basil, thyme and rosemary smell great and go with everything so you won’t regret handing over the decision.
  • Leave a jar of Italian Seasoning (which is a mixture of dried herbs) on the table and let kids use it like the salt and pepper shakers.
  • Find mild curry powder so there is no heat to interfere with the flavour and experiment with soups and stews in the Indian end of the spectrum.
  • Try this recipe below to encourage a sense of the spice of life.

Sweet Potato Fries

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 1 teaspoon mild curry powder
  • Pinch sea salt
  • ¼ cup mango chutney
  • ¼ cup apple juice

Preheat oven to 400F. Slice sweet potatoes into French fry sized sticks. Toss in a bowl with oil and curry powder and lay onto a cookie sheet but do not crowd the pan or they won’t become crispy. Bake for 30 minutes, turn once. Turn oven off and open the door but leave the door open with the pan inside for another 15 minutes to evaporate steam and crisp up. Sprinkle with sea salt when you remove.

Mix together mango chutney and apple juice to thin into a dip.

Serve immediately with mango chutney dip or good ol’ ketchup.