Some parents are gifted with epicurean kids; the rest of us may have to work a little harder to introduce anything more exotic than chicken nuggets. What are such parents to do when they want their kids to try foods from around the world?
It’s beneficial to widen children’s palates with global flavors at a young age, says Amanda Capriglione, a registered dietitian from Garden City who runs a website called themommyandmerd.com. “It can help prevent them from becoming picky eaters,” Capriglione says. “It’s important for when they grow up, to have a more well-rounded, healthy lifestyle.”
Newsday asked five Long Island families with roots in Israel, Mexico, Jamaica, Pakistan and France how they suggest transitioning kids into foods from their heritages. Capriglione reminds parents to always check to make sure international dishes don’t have ingredients that their children are allergic to. “Always ask if you’re not sure,” she says.
Meet the family
Irene and Adam Coopersmith of Syosset and their children, Maya, 4, and Evan, 2. Irene, 35, owns Aleph Bet Academy preschool in Queens, and Adam, 39, is a sales manager for a wholesale plumbing company.
Their heritage Irene is Israeli. She moved from Tel Aviv to Queens with her family when she was in third grade.
A kid-friendly choice Falafel
Why it’s a good introductory food “It’s crispy and it’s fried, so kids really like that,” Irene says. The falafel, made from ground chickpeas, is a good source of protein and also is vegan, she says. Falafel is typically served with an Israeli-style salad made from chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. “Israeli salad is cut small, so pieces are really easy to eat,” she says. Falafel also can be served with hummus or tahini. “It’s flavorful, but not overwhelming,” Irene says of such a meal.
Where you can order it “Most Israelis don’t make falafel,” she says. “It’s fast food. It’s like a New Yorker buying a slice of pizza.” She recommends Mamoun's Falafel, 408 Jericho Tpke., Syosset, 516-802-3641, mamouns.com.
Meet the family
Natalie and Gerardo Romero of Deer Park and their daughters, Naomi, 4, and Josephine, 1. Natalie, 32, is a youth director at a church, and Gerardo, 35, works in maintenance at Pace University in Manhattan.
Their heritage Gerardo moved from Veracruz, Mexico, to the United States in his 20s. Gerardo’s mom, Francisca, still lives there, and Gerardo says he and Natalie plan to take the children to visit her in December. “If we go home to see my mom, my mom will cook something Mexican,” Gerardo says. “I want them to be able to try that food without asking what it is.”
A kid-friendly choice Sopes
Why it’s a good introductory food The base of the sope is a thick corn tortilla. Refried beans are spread on the tortilla, and it’s topped with lettuce and crumbly queso fresco cheese, which can be found in global supermarkets. Chopped or shredded beef or chicken can be added if desired. “My daughter calls it little pizzas,” Gerardo says. Instead of spreading red sauce, you’re using refried beans, Natalie says. Sometimes Natalie will substitute shredded Mexican blend cheese instead of queso fresco. “For kids we kind of modify,” she says.
Where you can order it Little Mexico, 280 Post Ave., Westbury, 516-333-2038, littlemexicorestaurantbar.com. “We drive all the way out there for good Mexican food,” Natalie says.
Meet the family
Kareema and Scott Fernan of Babylon and their son, Troy, 5. Kareema, 32, is a senior accountant at a private foundation and Scott, 36, is a detective.
Their heritage Kareema is Jamaican; she moved to the United States when she was 4.
A kid-friendly choice Rice and peas
Why it’s a good introductory food Though it’s called rice and peas, it’s actually made with rice and beans, which makes it an easy transition for kids who may already be used to eating rice and eating beans separately, Kareema says. “It’s made with white rice, coconut milk, and dried red kidney beans that have been soaked overnight,” Kareema says. It’s a traditional Caribbean side dish with many variations, she says.
Where you can order it Kareema suggests Jamaican Paradise, 1708 Sunrise Hwy. in Copiague, 631-608-4488.
Meet the family
Afshan and Adnan Tahir and their son, Ayaan, 4, and daughter Alina, 2. They live in Bellerose and are moving to Huntington in October. Afshan, 33, works for Northwell Health in compliance, and Adnan, 36, owns his own businesses.
Their heritage Pakistani. Afshan and Adnan both were born in the United States. Afshan says she always wanted to marry a man of Pakistani heritage to maintain the Urdu language and cultural traditions with her children. “I still want to give them food they’ll eat at my mom’s,” she says. “And I like that food, too.”
A kid-friendly choice Chicken biryani
Why it’s a good introductory food It’s made with chicken and paired with rice. “The rice is really nice and soft,” Afshan says. “It’s something we eat at least once a week. It has a kick to it, but not to the point where they’re going to be like, ‘My mouth is on fire.’”
Where you can order it Bundu Khan Kabab House, 25319 Union Tpke., Glen Oaks, 718-343-0666. “I’ve ordered from there,” Afshan says. “I just tell them to make it not too spicy, it’s for the kids. They know.”
Meet the family
Diana and Alexandre Loupy of Massapequa and their sons, Matisse, 6, and Hayden, 4. Diana, 40, is a teacher, and Alexandre, 41, is a banker.
Their heritage Alexandre moved to the United States from Paris about 15 years ago.
A kid-friendly choice Crepes
Why it’s a good introductory food Matisse and Hayden have been introduced to a variety of French foods. Both boys, for instance, like escargot. “They gobble them up,” Diana says. But to start kids who don’t have a French father? “What kid doesn’t like crepes?” Diana says. Alexandre agrees. “Crepes are very easy to make, and the sky is the limit when it comes to fillings,” Alexandre says. “Jams, Nutella, fresh fruit, powdered sugar, you name it, you can create it.” Alexandre says he wants his children to be familiar with the foods he grew up with. “So many dishes are so deep woven into our culture that it’s important for them to, at the very least, to have tried it.”
Where you can buy it Plenty of places offer crepes on Long Island, but Alexandre prefers taking the kids to Manhattan for authentic crepes, and he recommends La Bonne Soupe, 48 W. 55th St., 212-586-7650, labonnesoupe.com. When Alexandre craves a taste of Paris on Long Island, the family splurges at Le Soir, 825 Montauk Hwy., Bayport, 631-472-9090, lesoirbayport.com.