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What's the best way to get my daughter eating spicy food?

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She doesn't seem to like any spice in her food at all, and I love it! We often eat very different meals because I make something with a little fresh chilli in it, or that uses lots of spices, or is even just very peppery. I prefer to eat asian food because I find it a lot lighter and so those dishes are often cooked just before we eat too, whereas my daughter eats much earlier in the evening.

I'd love to get her eating chile con carne for a start, but she hates pulses too (another of my favourite foods).

Any good tips to start her off? She has had a mild thai curry at a friend's house, but I think that was using a jarred paste and I normally make my paste from scratch and it can be a bit hot.

I think we often get into a rut with kids food because you don't want to go to the trouble of making something new that they then reject out of hand...

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  1. Sweeten it up a little. Add a bit of agave or brown sugar to your chili etc.

    1. start with heavily spiced but not hot spicy food. jet her get used to complex flavor mixtures. then slowly add the heat

      1. How old is she? That might help us give better advice? I agree with the sweet/hot idea. Even McD's is advertising sweet chili sauce for nuggets. Something that she could dip into an interesting sauce might catch her interest.

        1. If she doesn't like spicy, and she eats earlier than you do, why not make her the same dish without the heat. I was a picky eater as a child and my mother would at least leave pieces of things large enough that I could take them out. I think it is unfair to give her dishes that have the unwanted ingredient permeating the dish. Just my HO.

          1 Reply
          1. re: escondido123

            As a child I too hated spicy foods. It was the only pickyness my parent's tolerated. My mom would pull some chili from the pot before she added the cayenne and save a few beans to throw in my bowl. I was eating the same food as everyone else, just without the spicyness. Oh, and I completely grew out of it and am a chili-head now.

            To a child (under 10), things taste much spicier than they do to an adult. If she eats well and healthy, give her a break on the heat index.

            Even in chile-prone cultures, they cool food down for kids with more rice, or yogurt or something.

          2. Try mixing yogurt with the spicy part or use it to dip. With Indian food, yogurt is always served. For kids, rice,yogurt and the spicy meat/curry or veg is mixed up. Never drink plain water to cool down spicy heat, it just makes it worse! Always, milk, buttermilk or yogurt. bread in a pinch

            1. Agreeing with others that sweetness can be your friend in this regard. But just in terms of child psychology, I'd make sure not to seem like you're pushing things very much. But you surely know your child.

              There are also some ways to make many Asian or other dishes that allow you to adjust heat to taste at the end--with sriracha, hot pepper flakes, sliced fresh chiles, chutneys, etc. Maybe you could tune your cooking in that direction, allowing you to add the heat that she is not yet ready for?

              1. She is almost 3. Generally quite open to tasting different foods but very clear about what she likes and doesn't likes (like her mama, maybe?)

                Anyone have any specific "spiced" recipes that their kids love?

                11 Replies
                1. re: kookiegoddess

                  3 is too early to worry about this. Even chile-centric cultures avoid forcing hot stuff on children this young.

                  1. re: kookiegoddess

                    Definitely don't worry about it! I thought maybe you were dealing with a picky 13 year old. At 3 you're lucky she'll touch anything but mac & cheese :-)

                    1. re: arashall

                      that's nonsense.

                      kids a real people, with real tastes that vary. kids only eat mac and cheese when all they are offered is mac and cheese

                      1. re: thew

                        We had some south Indian neighbors who had problems getting their toddler to eat much, including the rice and yogurt that seemed to be norm for that age. By the time they moved about all she wanted to eat was mac and cheese.

                        We had no problem instilling an adventuresome eating spirit in my son (mainly by example), but I'm not going to generalize our experience to anyone else.

                        1. re: thew

                          Funny you say that. I struggle to feed my daughter when we come over to the states because the children's menus are so limited over there, and also offer very little in terms of vegetables which she normally has in or with her lunch and dinner. For one memorable meal we ordered her chicken nuggets and fries and I had to pick all the fried coating off the chicken - she wanted to see that it was actually chicken she was eating, not just some brown food! I do think that if you keep your kid's food options too "safe" all the time then they will start to only eat their "safe" foods....

                          1. re: kookiegoddess

                            Kids menus are generally junk.

                            I have a friend and when her kids were old enough to eat grown up food, they ate what mom and dad ate.

                            sain, Indian, Thai.... and they loved it. I remember having a curry dinner at their house one evening and there was their son in his high chair shoveling it in with his hands!

                            Caviar? He loved it. If I had started eating it early on perhaps I'd even like it now.

                            1. re: monavano

                              Agreed that kids menus are junk! I hate it when we're at a catered event and the kids get junk food for theirs, while the adults are eating well. My kids always want what we are offered -- roast beef, asparagus, spanikopita -- instead of the pizza they are offered.

                              1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                Asparagus is impressive!

                                1. re: monavano

                                  Yes, I agree, my 7 y.o. eats asparagus too, I never would have eaten it at that age, but then again, back 30+ years ago, it was really only served heated up from a can.

                                  1. re: Phurstluv

                                    I hear ya! I can't even think for a second about consuming canned asparagus, not even for soup.
                                    DH still has a soft spot for Laseur peas, but I've gotten him used to fresh or frozen.

                      2. re: kookiegoddess

                        I agree it is too early to worry about get her to eat overly spicy food, especially spicy-hot. I did make a rice dish yesterday that involved rice and a few lentils cooked together then mixed with lots of caramelized onions. I added a little mild curry powder (nothing fancy, from a jar) to the onions and salt of course. My little son literally jumped for joy when he tasted it: the onions were sweet and the lentils not really visible. Of course my other son doesn't like rice... But he has discovered the fun of grinding black pepper onto omelets (but he is 10).

                      3. I say we interlopers leave the parenting decisions to the OP and keep our opinions to ourselves while focusing on being helpful. It sounds like she's doing an excellent job of feeding her family.
                        Very lucky kids!
                        I have a nephew who can look at an entire menu and order spaghetti with red sauce. No meatballs. No chicken.
                        Poor kid grew up eating total crap and worse yet, his parents let him decide what he aet his whole life (he's 14 now), like his mom is some short order cook. It's embarrasing in a restaurant.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: monavano

                          I know what you mean about kids being fussy in restaurants. When we were on holiday recently we were eating from a huge buffet every day and I was utterly horrified to see a kid of about 16 ordering plain pasta for both lunch and dinner each day. Nothing on it at all.

                          1. re: monavano

                            My 14 yo is that picky and that embarrassing, but he did not grow up eating crap. Some people are just born picky. All we can do is keep cooking what we're cooking and hope the exposure helps. My mother was an indifferent (and sometimes horrid) cook and I still turned out to love food.

                            1. re: Isolda

                              My taste in food has far, far surpassed what I grew up eating. Mom and Dad were meat and potatoes and Polish food. Never once did we go to a Chinese restaurant or the like.
                              I have to say, our meals were by and large homemade and well balanced.

                          2. There were certain things that just, while not necessarily "spice" as in "hot" just were not pleasant to my undeveloped palate as a kid (and I loved veggies!), but that I began to very much enjoy as an adult. Not a parent, so no advice.

                            1. She is not even 3?? haha, give her some time. My daughter is 3 and she has Korean mommy and grandparents but she still doesn't eat anything spicy.
                              I don't think spicy food is good for their gentle stomach?
                              My mom usually cooks her dinner and she simply scoops out her food before she adds any spices.

                              1. At 3, I would not even try. I mean, I have a 10-month-old and a 3.5 year old, and the 10 month old is much more enthusiastic about food. In fact, if he can pick it up and jam it between his teething gums, he'll eat it, food or not.

                                It seems like most kids are naturally at their pickiest in the preschool and early elementary school years, and I'm pretty sure it's an evolutionary thing that's almost impossible to override. I mean, try to get her to taste things, but as long as she's eating something at least marginally healthy some of the time, you're doing fine. I ate oysters with great enthusiasm at age 2, then didn't touch them again until I was 10 or so, and I was never super picky.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: aikigypsy

                                  That is so normal, when my boys were toddlers there was barely anything they wouldn't eat. As they got older they got a bit more opinionated, not picky really, just know now what they like & don't like. And tastes change as they get older, haven't we all done that?!

                                  And why on earth would you take your child to a restaurant but order something that you know he/she won't eat?! Guess some folks don't mind flushing their $ down the toilet, but I prefer to get my kids something they want to eat, so they have a pleasurable dining experience, rather than try to teach them a lesson about trying new things at a restaurant, then they don't eat it, it gets wasted along with my cash. Lessons like that are best done at home.

                                  Sounds like your 3 y.o. has a healthy varied diet. Be grateful. Let him/her develop their own tastes in time, don't be in such a rush for them to grow up and get with the program, they are this young only once and for such a short time!! Enjoy it!

                                  1. re: Phurstluv

                                    Phurst, I'd assumed she'd eat the nuggets as she loves chicken!

                                2. Why don't you use the same technique/method your mother used on you....it seems to have worked!

                                  Fun!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Uncle Bob

                                    This a good point Uncle bob! I think I was slightly different - and extremely lucky - that my mother was dating a Lebanese man when I was very young, and I was exposed to a lot of typical arab dishes at a young age. the smell of hummus and tabbouleh is one of my favourites... Anyway I have been enjoying these things for so long I can't imagine not liking them, but then again it did take me many years of tasting hot food before I stopped asking for things "spicy but not TOO spicy"

                                    I am aware that young children's palates tend to narrow a bit at this age so I'd like to keep offering her some new tastes and flavours from week to week. I have to say I think she eats extremely well for her age, it's just me being a bit of a foodie mother trying get her to eat even more things!

                                    I may have a go with a very mild kedgeree next week (rice, hard cooked eggs, little curry powder, smoked fish, lemon, parsley, onion). She loves fish, smoked or plain, and the curry flavour is more aromatic than spicy.

                                    thanks for all your replies!

                                    1. re: kookiegoddess

                                      So, over a long period time...kinda through Osmosis.... Sounds like a good idea. ~~ Be sure to serve grits, turnip greens, and cornbread on occasion so her taste will be well rounded. :)

                                      Luck!

                                  2. KG - bring your child into the prep process! Have your child assist in the planning, prep and cooking of any type dish you want to create. Even if it means limited "help" at this point. Getting kids involved before the food just appears on their plate also helps to empower them.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: scoopG

                                      Scoop, already doing this where organisation and time permit. Just want her not to reject all vaguely spicy food out of hand, which is a slightly different issue.

                                      1. re: kookiegoddess

                                        Not if she is gently adding some spices to the mix!

                                    2. I always made my daughter the spicy version and the non-spicy version, and asked her to take one bite of everything before deciding. I upped to ante to two, or three bites as she got older. She sucked down the blue cheese, caviar and mussels when she was three, and had started in on grilled duck breast and foie gras not too long after. Since I'm chinese, the dim sum, rice, tofu, veggies, etc. have been on the table since day one.

                                      I forgot to pack her lunch one day, and, almost cried in joy when she told me the camp lunches were OK, at least the turkey wasn't nasty mystery meat. But, Mommy and Daddy's are still better.

                                      1. Let her eat what she wants.

                                        1. Another one for the sweet/hot combo. Add a little tang, too.

                                          Or try Flaming Hot Cheetos. I think they sprinkle kiddie crack on that stuff because every kid we know loves them, toddler and up. Kids.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: inaplasticcup

                                            RIOT!!!

                                          2. Not wanting to sound like an old futz here but jeepers - she's just 3! Offer her lots of different things, eat things you enjoy in her presence, let her try what she wants to try but don't put foods into categories. Kids have a kind of backward logic - if you push something, they'll resist. Don't push, don't point things out, treat everything delicious the same way - spicy or not - and eventually she'll start to eat all kinds of things. At a meal where the main dish is spicy, make sure there are at least a couple of possible choices for her - if she wants to eat the spicy dish, great. If not, she can eat the rice or the potatoes or whatever else is on the table. Don't make a big deal of it or it will become a war and, trust me, it's a war that you cannot win.

                                            My kids were horrible eaters when they were little. They rejected all food - spicy or not - I stomped away from the table in a rage more times than I care to admit. Now, adults in their twenties, both of my kids are fantastic cooks and can out-exotic me any day of the week. Go figure. A little perspective is what you need, here. And a sense of humour.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Nyleve

                                              I agree. Three years old is too young to sweat this. Even if you had a three-year-old that popped down jalapenos like they were cough drops, you should expect at least two or three attitude swings in the pre-teen years.

                                              1. re: Nyleve

                                                Pediatrician told me point blank that at 3, they are just beginning to realize that they have control over some of the things in their life (up to 3, they really don't control anything!) They are beginning to (or can) control bodily functions, and have a say in what they wear....and in what they eat.

                                                The more you push, the more she'll rebel...so give her the non-spicy stuff for now, and let her try little bits of yours as she gets older. She'll come around.

                                              2. Maybe it isn't a matter of taste or being fussy...maybe it actually hurts her mouth. That would certainly be something I wouldn't want to eat again--and I might start giving my mother the old stink eye ;)

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: escondido123

                                                  yup. Little mouths are a lot more sensitive than ours. (I remember one of mine having a shrieking FIT when he tried ordinary Crest toothpaste, shouting that it BURNS MY MOUTH MOM...uses it daily now, but just had to wait until the mouth wasn't as sensitive) Let HER set her own limits on spiciness.

                                                  1. re: escondido123

                                                    I grew up eating spicy food because it was part of our culture; it was not forced on me. However, I always had an upset stomach, and lived with it until I realized that it was the spicy food that was doing it to me. I then stayed away from the spicy stuff and the stomach problems went away. To this day I can't eat anything spicy hot. I agree with escondido - she may be sensitive to it, so please don't force it on her.

                                                  2. Make your spicy foods. Eat with her at her normal dinner hour (but a smaller portion than you'd normally have so that you'll have room when it's time for you to eat). Don't comment. Just eat with obvious enjoyment. If she tastes it and simply doesn't like it, you're still ahead of the game, because she is willing to try something new. My guess is that she has reached that stage where her palate is really sensitive and will pass through it perfectly well if you just ignore it.

                                                    1. My daughter has always been a fabulous eater and generally enjoyed "adult food" more than "kid food" (though she does love a good hot dog with ketchup). The one thing she does not tolerate is spice. She's 5, and is just now coming around on the idea of trying mildly spicy things. So maybe give it a couple of years.

                                                      We went to our favorite Szechuan restaurant the other night and had a waitress who didn't trust that we actually wanted our food hot, so the dan dan noodles we were served were pretty mild. She ate them and loved them! It was her first legitimately spicy food.

                                                      I have been successful in the past with getting her to eat some of our spicy food by toning it down with yogurt, sour cream, etc. Like mixing sour cream into the salsa or more yogurt into her curry bowl. So you could try that.

                                                      1. You can always do what my parents did and provide milk and sweets at the table, of course that's also how I ended up turning into a fat kid.

                                                        My parents didn't prepare separate meals for us; we had to eat what was on the table. Of course when we were younger, they were more judicious with heat, but as we got older, they ramped it up and found that we tolerated dinner better if we had yogurt salad to put on our spicy rice and milk or desserts as a back up. In extreme cases, a spoonful of sugar would help the medicine go down... or the masala as it were.

                                                        1. Spicy foods are painful to eat, just watch Man v Food and for kids w/ sensitive tastebuds, eating spicy is just like that (and it was for me). I think, especially young, you're either born to like it (my brother and his kids, too, loved spicy foods from the beginning) or not (I learned to like it was an adult). That said, with my daughter, I started adding small amounts of red chili pepper to food I cook. At first, just enough that you could tell it was there. And then I slowly increased it. She still doesn't like spicy foods, but at times I'm surprised that she eats foods that are somewhat spicy without batting an eye. Curry is a great start. My daughter has always loved it but not the spicy version. Now I can make the medium version and she'll eat it. And, just because she didn't eat spicy food doesn't mean you can enjoy it. You can make the dish, remove a part and then add the spice. And, if you cook for her earlier in the day, then you can add your spices then and simmer it for the heat with things like curry or chili.