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In America: ethnic restaurants and kids

It is a very common thing in the US, for parents to assume that kids cannot eat a lot of the ethnic dishes. To the point where most parents get something very generic, plain, and bland especially for the kids (like a grilled chicken breast dish) when the whole family go out to an ethnic restaurant.

Why is that?

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  1. You are confusing "cannot" with "will not." I was one of those children. I cried when I was served a cheeseburger that had alfafa sprouts on it, and refused to eat it. I refused to eat anything in a chinese restaurant except either plain rice, or plain fried rice, which is what I got. Literally, refused to eat. I refused to eat hundreds upon hundreds of tasty, healthy meals my mother prepared from scratch. All I wanted was hotdogs and "white" food (mashed potatoes, french fries, plain noodles, plain pasta). I picked the little bits of mushroom out of tuna noodle casserole. I would not eat anything with onions or green peppers because they tasted "hot" to me. I was a tiny, skinny, beanpole of a child and underweight most of my younger years because of my pickiness. Thankfully, I eventually outgrew it, and was socially pressured enough to try more things that in combination with maturity, my palate changed and developed. Now I like everything.

    Many kids are like I was, and it's not because the parents aren't trying to get them to eat different things.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rockandroller1

      I have no idea how my 4-year-old set up his own Chowhound account to post this. I am proud that he chose rockandroller as his handle tho ;)

      In all seriousness, this post describes me as a child to a T (if a restaurant didn't have pizza or hot dogs, I didn't eat...forget about cheeseburgers, I must have been the only kid who didn't like ANYTHING at McDonald's, well, except those divine cinnamon danishes that came in the styrofoam box...) and now my beanpole kid. We have put every food under the sun in front of him, repeatedly, as is suggested by every nutrition expert, and he has to try everything, but his repertoire is very, very limited. We're born with a preference for sweet - breast milk is sweet - and from there we move to grain cereals and fruits and vegetables in jars, but your sweetest and least offensive vegetables: carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans.... Getting a palate to appreciate/like something that isn't bland and/or sweet is from what I can tell a long process. Now in my late 30's, I'm a very adventurous eater, with a very short list of foods I genuinely dislike. This shift didn't happen until I was in college and was exposed to all kinds of foods. So I don't think you can chalk it up to if the parents don't eat it, the kid won't. It seems that a lot of kids - although probably not all - are pretty stubborn when it comes to trying something new. Because, as another poster put it, I don't think it's fair for other diners to have to witness the power struggle, we simply don't dine out at ethnic restaurants with the kiddo. We save those for when we're eating sans kids or we order in so we can have the power struggle at home and also have other offerings. This might be why you don't see many small kids at ethnic restaurants. Courteous parents, if you ask me.

      1. re: rockandroller1

        Sounds like my 22 year old daughter who eats pasta without sauce, plain lo mein, hamburger with ketchup only, but ranch dressing on everything including pizza (or buffalo wing sauce in a pinch).
        Her favorite sandwich>>mashed potatoes, cheese and mayo on a potato roll.

        My 13 year old daughter eats everything 'exotic' and has since being a toddler. The difference, she was born in China. I truly believe there is a difference between Nature and Nurture. Afterall, they have both been served the same meals at home and taken to the same restaurants.

        If the 22 yo won't eat what's being served at out table, then it's up to her to make her own. The only concessions my wife makes, is to keep some plain pasta aside before adding sauce, and the daughter gets matzo balls from the boiling water without the chicken soup--what could be more tasteless,

        As children, we ate everything, and were exposed to all available ethnic foods. I still don;t like Mexican or Japanese, but I've tried it (here and in those countries). Ieat other Asian, Latino, Continental and African cuisines.

        Maybe the kids will outgrow it.

      2. Because that is what they eat in non-ethnic restaurants too.

        Snarkiness aside, I do the same if the cuisine is new to my child. Yes, my three year old child had Tandoori chicken without much spicing the first time we went to an Indian restaurant. But I also made sure that he got to try all of the other dishes that we ordered and I'll probably do the same thing the next few times we go. I always try to make sure there is one guaranteed item that he'll eat otherwise the dining experience could be ruined due to hunger, boredom, etc.

        What is the number? You need to try something 9 times in order to develop a taste for it? Kids have a pretty steep learning curve when it comes to food because all of it is new. Ethnic foods would, I assume, would be even harder due because it would have such a radically different flavor profile than what most US children are used to.

        Oh, and one more thing - it's not always about the food with kids - often food is an area where they can assert their own power -somethimes it doesn't matter if they actually like something or not - they just want to assert their dominance by refusing it. I prefer to avoid any potential power struggles when in public - it's simply not fair to the other diners.

        1. To be honest, I don't see families at ethnic restaurants outside of the Accepted Three (Italian, Chinese, and Mexican) in my area. There's a little Indian place I frequent and in the seven or eight years I've been going there I have never seen one child. I saw a couple of kids in the Vietnamese restaurant but they turned out to be the owner's kids. Outside of major cities the majority are not foodies and they consider a place like Olive Garden or PF Chang's exotic cuisine. If the parents aren't going to eat it, the kids sure won't either.

          3 Replies
          1. re: MandalayVA

            This might be heresy on chowhound but you also have to realize that chow-worthiness is no longer the only criteria when dining with kids.

            In my particular case, I really have simply stopped visiting some of my favorite restaurants simply because of TIME. I love, love, love Ethiopian food and just assumed that it would be a very easy cuisine to introduce my child to. Wrong, wrong, wrong. My favorite Ethiopian place simply takes way too long. 2 hours for dinner with a 3 year old? Not fun, not acceptable, not going to do it. The best Thai in my town? Husband and wife team and everything is from scratch and they don't start cooking until you order. It's a great place to take a friend you haven't seen in a long time, it's the worst place in the world to take a toddler.

            The 'big three' are popular because they can be fast - orders can be expedited, or you can just decide to order simply and know you'll be out the door soon.

            Oh, and showing up early thinking that you'll get served faster? Often you run into issues with some food not being ready yet or prepped yet and you're stuck at the restaurant even longer.

            1. re: sebetti

              Yeah, how long the entire experience takes is a big factor if you have young kids.

              1. re: sebetti

                Toddlers and smaller children, yes, I agree that it's a lot to expect them to sit and be well-behaved, much less like the food. But what about older children? I don't even see teenagers in the places I cited--the kids I referred to at the Vietnamese place looked to be young teens.

            2. I'm not sure I agree with your premise. Maybe parents and kids in your circle are like that,
              but you are reducing 300,000,000 people down to one flawed idea.

              1 Reply
              1. re: bbqboy

                Considering the numerous threads about non-Chowhounds around here why wouldn't you agree? Kids have to be exposed to the cuisines. My love of ethnic food was a direct response to a foods-of-the-world project my fifth grade class did--before then the only ethnic cuisine in my house was Italian. I would have never been taken to an Indian or Greek or Japanese or Korean place by my parents.

              2. OP said "It is a very common thing in the US, for parents to assume that kids cannot eat a lot of the ethnic dishes. "

                the reality is that parents know their own child and know that they will not eat a lot of ethnic food, especially if it is being presented to them for the first time. Who wants to share that particular restaurant experience? Not me.

                1 Reply
                1. re: laliz

                  One way to get around that is to try a place where the table will have a variety of dishes on it. In the past week we've taken our five-year-old twins for dim sum and Ethiopian food -- both repeat visits. We've found that if we give them enough choices, they'll find something they actually like.

                  Similarly, we've taken them to an AYCE sushi place, where they had a great time.