As a mother, I long for my kids to love the things I love so that we can share memorable, equally enjoyable experiences. It’s the reason tennis fanatics want their kids to keep up their lessons or why bookworms want their kids to be strong readers. I love spicy food, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve also wanted my kids to be big fans of interesting, culturally diverse, spicy cuisine. But kids generally don’t like spicy food the first time you introduce it to them. Same goes for overly bitter or sour foods, but funny enough, not for sweet foods…
Below are my top tips for introducing your kids to spicy foods. Generally, you start slow, with subtle herbs and spices like ginger and paprika, working your way through to turmeric and, eventually, all the way up to hot chili peppers! All can be done fairly easily by using patience, strategy, and some tasty and unique recipes that are well suited for kids.
Start Slow, Don’t Rush
There’s no race to the finish line when it comes to liking different foods. Young palates take years to develop, and it’s better to build up your child’s interest in and tolerance for spicy food over a long period of time rather than shocking them right at the beginning.
With the aim of warming up my 6-year-old’s taste buds to spicy food, I tried a traditional Bolognese pasta with a dash of chili powder to get started. I was hoping my daughter wouldn’t notice the difference to the usual, blander Bolognese, but kids’ senses of smell and taste are far more sensitive than we think.
She did notice, and she refused to eat it, as it was too “sting-y.” So, I decided to go back to square one. I started adding paprika and ginger to the lemon roast chicken and vegie dish we have on our family meal rotation. This allowed my daughter to get used to different kicks and flavors.
Next, I tried a Coconut Chicken Curry recipe, which had quite a bit of turmeric in it. To my delight, my daughter said it was “weird” but she “liked it.” (Extra tip: spicy recipes with coconut are a good start, as the coconut tends to cut through most of the spice.) Finally, by the time I tried the Bolognese pasta recipe with chili powder again, my daughter barely noticed any change, and she went back for seconds!
Diffuse the Spice By Using Powders
A really hot chunk of cut-up chili in a curry sauce might scare your kids off spiciness all together, so make sure your spice is consistent throughout the recipe, especially at the beginning. A good way to do this is to use spicy powders in your recipes, which spread the hotness evenly throughout the dish. Chili powders also give you more control over how much spice you actually want to add to the dish, while fresh chilis can vary greatly in hotness, depending on the type of chili and where you bought it.
Luckily, there are plenty of spicy recipes from around the world that call for chili powder – it’s used in everything from hot tacos to spicy paella to falafel with a kick.
Give Them 2 Options
What’s parenting without a few sneaky tricks? If you ask a child flat out to do something, you’ll generally get acceptance or a refusal. However, if you ask them how they want to do something, in an “A or B” fashion, they’ll usually choose one, which is what you wanted anyway! So, when they ask what’s for dinner, don’t say to them, “Do you want some spicy chicken tonight?” as you could leave it open to rejection. Instead, say, “Well, do you want your spicy chicken in long strips, or square chunks?”
(P.S. This works with many things, such as: do you want a bath before or after dinner? Do you want to do the rest of your homework before you go to bed, or get up early tomorrow and do it then? Leaving options seemingly open – but realistically closed – to them means that things will usually go your way without too much fuss. Just don’t do it too often, as they’re likely to catch on!)
Slowly Introduce More Spice to a Meal They Love Over Time
One recipe that’s been on our family favorites list for years is a fun, kid-friendly curry with a “buffet” element. The dish is a simple butter chicken with brown rice, but I add bowls of golden raisins or cucumber, cut-up bananas, yogurt, and peanuts to the dinner table so that my little ones can get creative and contribute their own flourishes to their meal in whatever quantities they like.
I have been cooking this meal since they were very little, and it has always been met with excitement when I announce, “We’re having butter chicken buffet tonight!” So, when it came time to start introducing my kids to spicy food, I slowly started adding chili powder to one of their favorite meals, and over time, they grew to love the kick! See the recipe below.
Spicy Butter Chicken Buffet (For Kids)
- 1 Tbsp light butter
- ½ Tbsp chili powder (gradually increase this to 2-3 Tbsp over several months)
- 1 lb chicken thighs, chopped
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1 large garlic clove, crushed
- 2 tsp ginger, freshly grated
- 1 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes
- 1 can (14 oz) light coconut cream
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 cups brown cooked rice
- 2 cups chopped banana
- 2 cups chopped cucumbers or golden raisins
- 1 cup peanuts
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- Melt half the butter in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat.
- Add the chicken and onion and brown for a couple of minutes before removing the mixture from the pan and setting it aside.
- Reduce heat slightly and add the remaining butter, along with the garlic, ginger, cumin, garam masala, and chili powder.
- Cook for 1-2 minutes before returning the chicken to the pan, as well as the diced tomatoes and chicken stock.
- Increase the heat and bring to a boil for 1 minute.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes before adding the coconut cream.
- Serve on cooked brown rice, with bowls of chopped bananas and cucumbers, peanuts, and Greek yogurt to top with.