Adventures in parenting: getting the kids to try Indian food

Maybe our parental hubris arose from spending Thanksgiving week (and the equivalent of a small country’s GDP) at the Disney World parks, thus expanding our sense of where we might be able to go on family vacations in the future.

Or perhaps we’d decided to fly directly toward the sun on wax wings after I’d explained to the girls at dinner one night that our regular push to get them to try different foods wasn’t about being cruel, but rather so we could realistically think about taking them to cool places (with different cuisines) all over the world.

Whatever the impetus, Joe announced to me last Saturday morning that we would be going to our – that is, his and my – favorite local Indian restaurant that night. With the kids. Despite the menu’s complete lack of grilled cheese, hot dogs, mac and cheese, or chicken nuggets.

Uh … OK.

“Have you told the kids?”

“No,” Joe said. “I figured we’d just tell them when we’re about to go. And I’ll sweeten the deal by telling them that if they at least try a few things, we’ll take them to Orange Leaf for dessert.”

Well, this was definitely a recipe for a modest domestic adventure.

And indeed, late that afternoon, when I re-entered the house after a run, I found my family seated on the living room floor, where Neve and Joe played a game while Lily openly sobbed, her face red and puffy.

This was so not the way I thought this would go.

Of the two girls, Lily is generally far more willing to try new things where food is concerned, while Neve completely falls apart at the mere suggestion that she tries something that, to her, looks suspicious (which is to say flavorful, or plant-based, or “healthy”). If anything, I expected Neve to be the one in tears. The fact that she’d shrugged and said “OK” when Joe broke the news made me wonder if we were somehow being “Punk’d.”

But Lily continued to cry and pout and protest, and Ashton Kutcher never showed, so it seemed that Neve had simply decided to be far more zen about food than usual that day – perhaps in part because the role of “kid flipping out” had been filled.

We drove to the restaurant, got seated at a table, and proceeded to act like we brought our puffy-faced, incensed nine year old and her sister there all the time. Joe’s master plan was that even if the girls liked nothing they tried, we’d ply them with mango lassis and naan while we happily gobbled up everything else; plus, I expected that they might run into kids they know from school at the restaurant, since there’s a sizable enough Indian population in the area that one annual sign of spring involves seeing men playing cricket on the playground’s baseball diamonds. (Neve did, in fact, soon spot and say hello to a fellow first-grader, sitting with his parents at the table next to ours.)

We pressed the girls to each try a piece of spinach pakora and and a bite from a samosa, and for their entree, they each ordered chicken strips. (The kids’ portion of the menu pretty much offered that, noodles, or fries.) They tried the appetizers ambivalently, not particularly liking either one, and when the chicken strips arrived, both girls insisted they were “spicy.”

Joe and I rolled our eyes at each other.

“They’re fried chicken strips,” Joe said, exasperated. “There’s nothing on them. They’re just like you’d get at any other place.”

Neve shifted her focus to the naan by her plate, and Lily grabbed her glass of water and chugged it, putting out “the fire.”

And the Oscar goes to …

“Whatever,” Joe and I seemed to say with the glances and shrugs we exchanged across the table.

The deliciously spicy chicken vindaloo on my plate was making me happy enough to just ignore my children’s craziness for the moment. Lily could eat her weight in white rice while Joe and I enjoyed our meal. Fine with me.

And they had tried what we asked them to try, thus holding up their end of the deal, so we did take them to Orange Leaf for fro-yo sundaes.

I wasn’t sure what to take away from the whole thing. It felt good to nudge the kids to try new things, but it’s not like we converted them in any way. And they still don’t seem to grasp that other places in the world won’t cater to their narrow sense of taste.

“We could start going to some really cool places,” I’d told them, “but we’re not going to go anywhere where you’d to refuse to eat everything that’s served to you. You’d be miserable, and we’d be miserable, so there’s no point.”

Lily stared at me blankly while Neve dug for gummy bears in her fro-yo. Nowheresville.

Kids don’t have a sense of the world beyond their own, and the irony is, though we have the power that comes with adulthood on our side, we can’t seem to open the world up to them until they’re ready and willing to open themselves up to it.

As a kind of coda to this story, Joe took the boxed-up chicken strips out for dinner the other night, warmed them up, and served them to the girls for dinner.

“Are these from the Indian restaurant?” Lily asked almost immediately. Damn it. Not quite old enough for global travel, but old enough to catch her parents doing something a little sneaky. A re-taste test, if you will.

“They’re still too spicy.”

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