Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Love Spicy Food
So thank God for Sriracha. Turns out, the bright red hot sauce in the squeezable bottle was the perfect way to get my wary kids to embrace, even learn to love, a little heat. Three years after the General Tso’s incident, spicy is no longer the enemy, and Edie and Lucy sometimes even ask me to turn up the heat. Here’s how I brought them around:
Step One: No Sriracha
Wait. Isn’t this supposed to be a Sriracha Strategy? Yes. But you have to prime them first. Spend some time introducing aromatic, no-heat spices like garlic, cumin, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric. Get their palates ramped up. They are going to be less surprised about a touch of heat if variation and hyper-flavor are the norm.
Step Two: Mum’s the Word
When Lucy was 3 and Edie was 2, they scarfed down some homemade duck confit, but then, mid-chew, Lucy asked what they were eating. When I told her, she burst into tears, spit out the remnants, and initiated a two-year-long duck boycott. From then on, I learned to serve them fairly sophisticated food under the generic names “meat” and “soup.” My girls would never eat pâté if I told them it was liver. But, not knowing, they’ll heap chicken-liver pâté onto their little slices of toasted baguette and stuff it all in their mouths.
So it goes with Sriracha. Children don’t need to know that you’re trying to introduce something new, or that kids their age in Asia eat spicy food all the time. They just need to enjoy eating, and we need to leave the hairy details in the kitchen.
Step Three: Stealth Mode
Don’t empty the whole Sriracha bottle onto their eggs as your first move! Instead, be a ninja. First, add a drop or two to the egg wash of their chicken fingers, the dipping sauce of their dumplings, the ketchup on their burgers. The squeeze bottle is genius for controlling the flow, so give them just the faintest taste. If they ask you, “Is it spicy?,” you can, without any ethical dilemma, say no. And while I just told you, in Step Two, to omit the truth on occasion, it’s pretty nice as well not to have to lie to your own children.
Step Four: Ramp It Up
Once they’ve got a taste for the mild, you are free to go a little wild. Smear a little on their bacon-and-egg sandwich, slick it across the surface of their ramen, squirt it on their chicken wings. You are going for a little more robust heat here, and while you’re no longer masking, you don’t want to freak them out with a glob of hot sauce, so don’t slather—just stir, rub, mix it in. If they protest, you can say, “Oh, you ate this in your dumplings” or “You loved it on the egg rolls last night!” If they’ve eaten it before and liked it, they have little grounds for protest.
Step Five: Acknowledge Jekyll & Hyde
I knew I had something going when Edie stopped asking, “Is this spicy?,” and instead held up her spoon and asked, “Good spicy or bad spicy?” Not all heat is created equal. Eating a ghost pepper on YouTube—so your face turns red and puffy and you sweat like a wrestler and beg for milk—is “bad spicy.” Eating a squirt of Sriracha on your taco is “good spicy.” Kids soon understand that “spicy” can mean lots of things—mild, medium, or stupid—and they can adjust to what suits them over time.
Step Six: Court Danger
There comes a point—for my kids it was at nearly 6 years old—when things that could blow you up, set you on fire, or break your bones become terribly attractive. That’s when Sriracha gets sexy. It’s something grown-ups eat, something only tough kids can handle.
So I laid out a table of mild to hot things: paprika, jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, Sriracha, various other hot sauces—and glasses of milk. We tried them one by one, little chunks of pepper, or dots of sauce on our fingers. They nibbled and licked. They laughed and made ugly faces. They loved the drama and surprise: judging what tasted good and what was too spicy; the shock of eating something too spicy and having to chug down the milk. That’s when heat became cool. And so did they.
Step Seven: Embrace the Heat
Hand over the bottle, and let them serve themselves. It could take weeks. It could take days. It could take years—and maybe, for some kids, never. Even now, my girls aren’t exactly fighting over the Sriracha bottle. But just the other week Edie accidentally ate a spot of wasabi on her sushi. She swished it around her mouth, and said to her sister, “Oh, that’s not so hot.” Then, for the first time ever, she grabbed a little dollop of the green stuff on her chop sticks, and swished it around in her soy sauce. She dunked her sushi, just like she had seen me do it countless times. Then she popped it in her mouth and smiled.