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Please help me feed my 17 yr old brother-in-law!

Help! My BIL is coming to stay with my husband and me for the next month, and he has stated that he would like to try new flavors/foods. While his mom is a great cook, she cooks non-chowhound, kid food: heavy on the meat and starch and light on the veggies. While I would like to help expand his horizons on the food frontier, I would rather not force the issue either. My first thought was to ask him what he likes and then try to liven those things up; however, I fear the list of foods that he likes will be short. So, I ask you fellow chowhounders, how would you go about introducing new flavors and foods to a 17 year old boy?

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  1. I'll make an assumption: He seems to have picked up the idea that you're something of a chef, and is probably looking forward to some of your cooking. Can I ask what you might particularly prepare for yourself?

    I wouldn't worry - the fact that he's stated that he wants to try something new gives you a huge amount of freedom. I'd cook something cosy like finger food or tapas. That will set up a relaxed atmosphere, introduce a lot of small dishes at once, and you can use that first meal as a great way to introduce the topic of food, what he usually eats, and what he might want to try.

    If you can avoid it, I'd avoid stocking up beforehand, and ideally take him shopping to a local market.

    Otherwise, here are some suggestions for things teenagers don't normally eat:
    Mussels/oysters
    crab/lobster
    sushi
    asparagus
    artichoke
    a nice (but meaty) salad - roast quail, bacon and hard boiled egg?
    game meat
    cured meat that's not pepperoni (parma ham etc)
    wild boar?
    seared tuna

    1. I would suggest preparing a couple of dishes where several of the items Soop mentioned can be introduced "imbedded" so he can try a bit of this and a bite of that.

      I'm thinking specifically of a Paella where you can introduce a couple different seafoods, veggies, etc. I make a Mixed Seafood Paella with Artichoke Hearts that has shrimp, scallops, clams, andouille sausage, artichoke hearts and hearts of palm, plus the usual tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, saffron...

      1. Your suggestions are wonderful; however, I think I need to start even more slowly than what you have suggested. My sister-in-law tells me he's a cheeseburger/pizza/hot pocket (yikes!) kind of guy.

        To answer Soop's question of what I'd prepare for myself...Since it's summer, we spend lots of time grilling b/c we have no A/C thus the oven goes into hibernation. We like to do lots of grilled everything (meat, fish, poultry, veggies), salads, curries, light pasta, fruit/cheese. We try to keep it pretty light.

        I do agree that we're not going to stock up before he gets here...My plan was to take him to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods and pick up things that he'd like to try.

        4 Replies
        1. re: super_b

          Grilling should be pretty teenage-boy friendly. You could try anything on a skewer, maybe with different marinades (like chicken and veggie skewers, and do some with BBQ sauce and some with some more exotic flavors, or just do veggie skewers and grill some sausage so he has something familiar), or any kind of burger with different flavors or ingredients mixed in (like a kebab with ground meat and mixed-in middle eastern spices, or a beef burger stuffed with roasted red peppers and cheese in the middle).

          1. re: Pia

            Oh hell yeah! You could do barbequed shrimp, or another really teenage friendly dish; tacos! Carne asada calls for marinated flank steak (you could use something pricier though) barbequed and served in tacos. Add some homemade salsa and guacamole?

            Then you have your corn-on-the-cob, a steak sandwich.. and if you can make a good salad with a good dressing (lamb's leaf, baby spinach, watercress, tomatoes, black pepper? I find rocket too bitter). Another great side is Jamie Oliver's smashed olive and cherry tomato salad. Messy and fun to make too!

            I tell ya' the barbeque is a cracking start :)

            Man, I'm salivating at the thought of a juicy steak in ciabatta with a light salad as above.

          2. re: super_b

            He might not be familiar with certain vegetables so a trip to the market is a great idea. Some kids have never eaten melons. Curries are a great idea and he will probably learn to eat salad without ranch dressing. To be on the safe side, I would stock a few of his favorites for hunger attacks are keep a good supply of deli meats and cheeses for sandwiches. Maybe individual pizzas he can heat and eat. I seem to recall our son eating all the leftovers for after school snacks and still being hungry for supper. I bet pulled pork sandwiches would be a big hit (I make mine in a crock pot) esp if fresh corn is available. A good vegetable stir fry with fresh sugar snaps and broccoli and oyster sauce would be a great new flavor that could still pair with steak, fish or chicken.

            1. re: super_b

              I would definitely start slowly. Taking him shopping with you is a great idea. Trader Joe's is a good option, because they let you taste pretty much anything if you ask at the sample station. Whole Foods has this policy too- just ask and the employees will open up a package of whatever it is.

              If you live near a farmer's market, go there to pick up some in season produce. The vendors usually love to hand out tastes and talk about what they grew. These options are good for shopping, because he won't feel guilty about having you purchase something that he may not like.

              Also, make versions of the foods he already likes. A fresh mozzerella pizza on the grill, homemade veggie hot pockets, and turkey cheddar cheeseburgers are all different takes on what he likes.

              Why not ask him what cusines he'd like to try? Take a trip to a Japanese restaurant for lunch or dinner and have some sushi. If he likes the flavors of the meal, use that as a building point to come up with further meals.

            2. Personally, I would plan my regular menus and double the amounts. [a 17-year old boy can eat a lot of food!] After a week, it will be clear what cuisine and food items he is particularly enjoying and menu planning can then take into account the things he enjoys.

              When my brother [much younger] was sent to live with us for a summer, I would often discuss a particular dish that we love, but was too complicated to make with only two hands. He got the hint and picked up a knife. By the end the of the summer, my brother was a terrific sous chef and was offering to make meals on a regular basis.

              The next summer he started working as a line cook and worked in kitchens all the way through college. He created an Outward Bound cookbook. Even during his one month wilderness outing in Alaska, he refused to eat anything less than good food. To my knowledge he is the only outward bound participant who carried 5 lbs of flour and yeast out into the field.

              1. Grilled skirt steak tacos with onions, cilantro, and real salsa on real corn tortillas.

                Grilled FRESH salmon or tuna with a simple mango salsa.

                Coconut milk curry

                REAL Indian food. Not chicken smothered in some sauce made from mccormick cury powder.

                Grilled meats using REAL Indian spicing - again, this will have nothing in common with those stale, horrible grocery store "curry powders."

                I'd also suggest some non-threatening maki along with Soop.

                Middle Eastern fare? Falafel, hummus, baba ghannouj.

                I have nephews that stay with us every summer. "Picky eaters" at home, but when they are with us, we eat like kings, and they brag about it to their parents. Grilled fish is ATTACKED, but they never eat fish at home. grilled steak and chicken tacos are DEVOURED, but they don't really like Mexican food at home. Thai food? No way. Way too spice for them. But they had second and third helpings of "that chicken in that coconut sauce with the nutty flavored rice" (red curry.) It never ceases to amaze me what these kids will eat with reckless abondon after their parents tell me they won't.

                Most foods will be fine, just don't get them out of a jar, or from the frozen section.

                1. Off the top of my head, here are some dishes that my 21 year old likes, which are outside of the usual meat&potatoes type dishes, and which are don't involve turning on the oven

                  fish tacos
                  salad nicoise
                  cold thai beef salad
                  grilled, marinated boneless chicken breasts, served on a bed of salad, with blanched asparagus, and grilled red potatoes

                  1. To help him expand his horizons- show him your favorite cookbook or the link to CHOW and let him decide what looks good/ what he wants to try. It gives you a starting point- whether you liven up his favorites or try new ingredients. Since he's 17, he can help cook the meals and learn how and why certain ingredients go together. If he's interested, you could put him in charge of some of the weekly meals. Have fun!

                    1. I have three sons, the youngest is 17, and they are all very adventurous eaters. We eat very well with lots of variety and usually healthy, well balanced meals, but I always keep a freezer full of crap like hot pockets, frozen pizza, etc. for snacks because boys that age eat at least four meals a day, one of which is usually about an hour before dinner.
                      My kids like to make guacamole to snack on with tortilla chips. You could teach him that easily enough. They are also big on smoothies/blender drinks with ice cream or yogurt and fresh or frozen fruit. The current drink of choice is a whole lot of vanilla ice cream blended with a basket of strawberries. I can't emphasize the snacks enough.
                      Most of my sons' friends have not been raised to be adventurous eaters, some don't even get home cooked meals, but they have always eaten anything I have served them, no matter how different for them. I can't count how many times I have heard some kid say that he had never had a particular vegetable or fish or ethnic dish, but it always gets eaten.
                      Sometimes we do theme weeks, like Asian, Italian, French, southern, barbecue, and I make the kids choose the menus ahead of time. It's pretty fun and it gets them involved. I'm down to one kid at home now, and we still do it. Your BIL might enjoy something like that.
                      It is fun to expose the kids to new stuff, so I'm sure you will be enjoying the challenge as much as I do.