Melting Pot: Expanding Your Child's Palate While Dining Out
A World of Flavors in Central NJ
Chicken nuggets. Mac and cheese. French fries. Sound familiar? If you dine out with children, then you are probably well acquainted with these “kiddie menu” mainstays.
These dishes are ubiquitous because, too often, restaurants (and parents) assume children won’t like full-flavored foods. Meals for kids are lumped into a separate category, with offerings that are bland, devoid of seasoning and completely unrelated to the restaurant’s specialties.
This way of thinking, however, cheats children out of trying new and exciting tastes. Early exposure to diverse seasonings helps broaden a child’s palate, which results in a less picky eater over time. It’s also easier than you may think to get your child to try new things while dining out. One sure bet is to take your family to restaurants that specialize in international cuisines. You don’t have to frequent fast-food places just to please your child. Exposing your child to a variety of meals from around the world helps familiarize them with different ingredients and preparations of food.
With New Jersey’s fabulous multicultural dining scene, you can take your little ones on a culinary adventure without ever leaving the country! Here are some family-friendly places to try.
Palace of Asia
Palace of Asia is one of the most approachable Indian restaurants in Mercer County; if you’ve never had Indian food, this is the place to go. Not only is the restaurant beautiful and transporting (decorated in sapphire-blue and gold tones meant to evoke the ancient Moghul empire upon which the cuisine is based), but the staff are patient and accommodating toward children. Start with biryani: Most children love a comforting bowl of rice. This one is a mildly spiced, slowbaked pilaf made of fragrant basmati, tender pieces of lamb and sautéed onions. It’s then topped with hard-boiled eggs, raisins and nuts and served with a lightly spiced yogurt. For a child-friendly curry, try chicken tikka masala. The dish is mild in heat but has many layers of flavor. Fluffy naan, a fresh and tender tandoori-baked bread, or whole-wheat roti, a thin flatbread, are both ideal choices to mop up the curry sauce.
Recommended dishes: Lamb biryani, chicken tikka masala, naan or roti breads
Morgan’s Island Grill
Morgan’s has a wonderfully easygoing vibe, with sunny yellow walls and tropical plants decorating the cozy, clean space. The minute you step into this casual eatery, you are greeted with the aroma of savory Caribbean spices.
Caribbean cooking is a great blend of Indian, Chinese, African and British cooking styles. The resulting flavors are like nothing else. You’ll find spicy jerk-style meats (a spice blend and also a cooking technique) as well as mild curry dishes. The entrees here are served with fun, flavorful sides like rice and peas (beans), yellow rice, sweet plantains, a kicked-up (but still kid-friendly) mac and cheese, sautéed curried cabbage, and warm cornbread. The chicken curry is a child favorite because of its mild but flavorful seasoning. Kids also love the filled patties, which are flaky turnovers filled with curried minced meat or vegetables—perfect for little hands to hold and nibble on.
Recommended dishes: Chicken curry, beef, chicken or vegetable patties, rice and beans, plantains
Mazhu Japanese Restaurant
There’s a child-friendly vibe as soon as you walk into Mazhu. The walls are lined with pictures of families enjoying a hibachi dinner. The restaurant is spacious and open, with numerous hibachi tables, a sushi bar and ample booth seating for families. Service is kind, warm and friendly, especially toward children, who are provided with kiddie chopsticks and special water cups decorated with umbrellas. All the dishes here are packed with flavors like ginger, soy, and fish sauce. Miso soup and salad with a peanut-ginger dressing are served with most entrees. Even the teriyaki-infused broccoli is popular with children. By far the best bet for kids is the entertaining hibachi experience, where a chef cooks your meal right in front of you on a large grill while performing tricks with ingredients and utensils. It’s dinner and a show all in one!
Recommended dishes: Teriyaki dishes, vegetable noodles, hibachi meals
Headquarters Sannine Lebanese Restaurant
The atmosphere here is cozy and great—a surprising find in a fairly typical New Jersey strip mall. While the décor is minimal and not particularly fancy, the almost motherly service makes Sannine especially inviting. Everything tastes fresh and homemade. Appetizers come quickly to the table here—a lifesaver when you have small, hungry children. The creamy, smooth hummus is a favorite. Labneh, a strained yogurt with fresh herbs, is also a big hit. Both are served with warm pita bread for dipping. All of the meat dishes, from the kibbeh kebob (a deep-friend ground-lamb croquette mixed with cracked wheat, onions and spices) to the shwarma (grilled marinated beef ) are perfect for children. They are seasoned with a diverse array of spices but are still mild enough for young taste buds.
Recommended dishes: Hummus, labneh, kibbeh kabob, tabouli, kafta, shish kabob
Istanbul Restaurant & Patisserie
Turkish cuisine offers a fun and flavorful dining experience for little ones, and the kids’ menu is actually worth looking at here. On it, you’ll find chicken shish kebob and adana kebab, two grilled skewered-meat dishes spiced with oregano, mint and cumin. A musttry for kids is the lahmajoun, a Turkish “pizza” made of flatbread topped with minced lamb, beef and tomato paste. There is also pide, a homemade pizza dough topped with your choice of ingredients. Entrees are served with a tasty rice pilaf.
Recommended dishes: Hummus, kebabs, Turkish pizza (lahmajoun)
South Indian cuisines are not as well known in the United States as North Indian restaurants’ rich, creamy Moghul-style dishes are. South Indian cuisine is known for its rice, lentil and vegetable-based food. It’s lighter, sometimes spicier and often vegetarian. The masala dosa is the item most requested by kids. Dosa is an experience! It’s a huge crepe, almost two feet in diameter, made of rice batter poured thin and cooked crisp. It’s served plain or filled with a lightly spiced “masala” mashed potato filling and is a fun and exciting meal for kids to see on their plates.
Recommended dishes: Masala dosa, kids’ cone dosa
PALACE OF ASIA
540 Lawrence Square Boulevard S., Lawrenceville
ISTANBUL RESTAURANT & PATISSERIE
1000 Aaron Rd., North Brunswick
761 NJ-33 #306, East Windsor
440 US Highway 130 Ste 10, East Windsor
MORGAN’S ISLAND GRILL
110 Mercer St., Hightstown
HEADQUARTERS SANNINE LEBANESE RESTAURANT
1892 U.S. 130, North Brunswick
TIPS ON RAISING ADVENTUROUS EATERS
1. Seek out spice. Don’t be intimidated by that word. Spice doesn’t mean a dish will be painfully hot. Globally inspired restaurants are known for their diversity of ingredients and seasonings, offering entrees that are well seasoned but not necessarily chili-pepper hot. Older kids may enjoy smelling or tasting some of the spices they will encounter from your home spice rack before heading out to the restaurant.
2. Find their favorite ingredients. It’s always easier to introduce new tastes via familiar foods. If your little one enjoys rice, for example, try an Indian lamb biryani. Noodles are a wonderful option—pad Thai, soba, ramen and lo mein dishes all offer new and diverse flavors.
3. Don’t give up! It can take several tries for young taste buds to acclimate to a new food or flavor. The more you expose your child to different cuisines, the more of a “food habit” it will become.