5 Ways to Get Your Parents (Or Anyone, Really) to Try New Foods

We've all been there with our parents – the same ol' restaurant, with the same ol' menu– because they're reluctant to try something new, strange, or simply unappealing. And there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, per se. People like what they like, and odds are, your parents' eating habits have been pretty set for decades.

But wouldn't it be nice to try something else for a change?

Convincing your folks to move on to new cuisines and cultures can be a wonderful experience for all involved, and not just because kimchee is awesome. "Ethnic" foods, or foods found outside your traditional cuisine, are frequently:
  • Less expensive: When HOTUS and I order Chinese takeout, we can turn $15 into dinner that night and lunch for the office the next day. While not as cheap as home cooking, it's darn comparable.
  • Healthier: Okay, so the ghee (clarified butter) in Chicken Korma won't put it on the happy side of the Eat This, Not That list, but non-traditional dishes can often pack in vegetables, lean cuts of meat, and healthy oils. Compared especially to most American-style restaurant meals, ethnic food is frequently a lighter choice.
  • Educational: By eating foods outside of your customary cultural cuisine, you're exposing yourself to a new world of ingredients, flavor combinations, and styles of preparation, which you can then implement at home.
  • Delicious: Mmm. Take two bites of baba ghanoush and call me in the morning.
But then again, we're not talking about you here, are we? We're talking about your parents – wonderful people, to be sure, but not necessarily the most daring of eaters. So, how can you get your beloved Ma and Pa to dig into falafel, injera bread, and even sushi (or "bait," as a certain family member calls it)? Try five these strategies:

1) Pay for it. Sometimes, older folks (actually, any folks) simply don't want to blow money on something they're not sure they'll like. So, pick an inexpensive restaurant and treat 'em. Think of it as an adventure you don't need hiking boots for.

2) Start at home. Prepping a meal for mom? Throw in a teriyaki side dish or a plate of pierogies. By surrounding a new food with ones she likes, it may seem more approachable.

3) Order a gateway food. Introducing your parents to a mild dish – one with a less-assertive flavor, similar to a recipe they might already love. Pad Thai is way Americanized, but it's an effective tool for getting reluctant eaters into more daring Thai Food. For me, lassis and samosas were the gateway dishes to a lot of delicious Indian cuisine.
  • SPECIAL NOTE: This can be a way effective strategy for people with an aversion to spice, which was probably the most-cited fear in yesterday's Ask the Internet comments. Feeding your parents a super-mild quesadilla proves to them that all Mexican food isn't a five-alarm chili, which could encourage them to attempt other dishes.
4) Embrace media. This might sound lame (I hope not), but for many folks, seeing a dish in a magazine, on a TV show, or at the movies – when it's been styled and served in the best possible light by super-attractive people – can make it seem tremendously appealing. I wonder how many parents wanted an Italian meal after watching Julia Roberts slurp spaghetti in Eat Pray Love? Or how many folks decided Indian food could be super-awesome after 30 minutes of Aarti's Party? Or how many moms and dads tried matzoh ball soup for the first time after seeing a glossy photo in Saveur? Probably a lot.

5) Know when to accept defeat. My dad will never, ever, ever develop a love of curry, no matter how many "mmm … slurp … ahhh" sounds I make while eating a big ol' bowl of it. And that is totally, 100% fine. Not everyone has similar tastes, and pushing a loved one too hard can (seriously) get pretty annoying. Food should be a joy, not a struggle. Move on.

Opening parents - and anyone, really - up to new cuisines, and as a result, new cultures, is something from which we can all benefit. Happy eating.

Readers? Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Fire away.


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