It’s a question that parents ask me all the time: How do I get my child to eat Indian food?
In this blog post, I’m sharing a few of my tips as well as advice from my incredible internet community of moms and dads.
How to go from “No daal, mommy!” to “More daal, mommy!”
When my son Tony was born, I was told by friends and family members to start feeding him Indian food as soon as he started solids – and so I did. While I do think that helped develop his palate, I am also confident that it’s never too late to get your child interested in food from another culture.
My son is now a very picky toddler. Some days he loves the Indian meals I prepare – to the point where a bowl ends up on his head! But there are other days where he gives me a very emphatic “NO MOMMY” and that bowl of food ends up on the floor.
I am by no means an expert on this topic – which is why I’ve asked my incredible community of parents to share their tips/advice/thoughts on getting children to enjoy eating Indian food. I’ve also asked them for their children’s favorite recipes and have listed Indian recipes to try according to age – you can find that later in this post.
That said, please consult your child’s pediatrician before changing his/her diet.
This post is going to be “in-progress” for awhile. I’ll continue to update it as I learn more (I’ll be starting my second son on solids in another 3 months and hope to share more then too).
I can’t wait to hear what you think of these tips! Not everything will work for every child but hopefully this post will give you some ideas. Please leave a comment to let us know what works for your family!
How to Get Your Kids to Eat Indian Food:
Indian Food for Breakfast!:
I’m starting with my own personal advice here. I’ve found that my son is hungriest when he first wakes up and will eat just about anything I put in front of him. Now that he’s a little older (2 years) he’ll first demand an apple or a banana but the moment I put a plate of Indian food down in front of him – he’ll gobble it all up and even ask for more. I’ve used this trick to feed him just about everything – including food he flat out refused to eat the previous night for dinner. “No daal, Mommy” at dinner turns into “More daal, Mommy” for breakfast! Nothing is off limits. There’s no rule that says you can’t serve shrimp biryani for breakfast (I’ve done it). See that picture above of my kid eating palak paneer? He’s still wearing his Daniel Tiger pajamas.
Start them early… very early if possible:
- “I think it helps to eat the same food when they’re in utero and breastfeeding so they get acclimated before eating it themselves.” – Sana A.
- “My son is almost 3 years old. He’s been eating Indian food right from the start! I tried to blend rice, meats, all types of veggie dishes when he was about 6-7 months. Of course, I didn’t make it as spicy as I normally would. – Farah K.
- We started early, 6 months, with Indian flavors in purees of veggies and in their finger foods even adding a bit of curry powder to scrambled eggs. I love taking them out to buffets so they can try a lot of different foods without too much waste. Also making it a habit to always eat yogurt with Indian food allows them to tolerate some spicy dishes at restaurants.” – Julie C.
- “I think the key for us was introducing it early (pretty much at six months) and not making very many accommodations for it being “kid-friendly” except for the level of chili (it was still packed with flavour!)” – Radha S.
- “My girl’s first food after yogurt was butter chicken and she LOVED it!! I feel like the key is early exposure. We do baby led weaning so skipping the baby mushes and purées really helps raise an adventurous eater.” – Molly P.
Introduce Spices Slowly
- “I included a pinch of turmeric from the first solid food he had. I made all his food in the IP and still do. After a couple of weeks I added cumin and slowly introduced cloves. I remove the whole spices before making the purée (except for cumin). Once he started having more complex solids, I made his food with minced ginger and garlic. I add a little home made ghee as well.” – Malinee N.
- “When I started with purees I would add in Indian flavours like garam masala, onions, garlic and ginger.” – Sampuran
Make Food Flavorful, Not Spicy:
- “I say the trick is to get them started early. Get them accustomed to having spices and not just bland foods.”
- “I started them with a very soft rice mixed with butter, lentils and very soft mashed meat and then slowly added the food we would eat to the rice.” – Hena S.
Serve Yogurt on the Side:
- “Both of my girls went through a couple week stage where they said things were spicy …we gave them a cup of yogurt and told them to enjoy 😉.” – Lauren M.
- “Always serve raita on the side – helps cooling if food is too spicy. also, kids love to dip things.”
What About Older Kids?
Get them Involved:
- “I have started involving my almost 5-year-old in the everyday cooking. He will add the spices into the pan and stir for me. Gets him more excited if he’s involved.” – Shalu C.
- “He also became more interested in food since he started helping out in cooking. He has been cooking rotis with me since he was 2 1/2 years old. Let him play with the dough and gave him a small roller to imitate me, and voila few months later, he was rolling out rotis with me! I think that also helped pique his interest in food. He helps me stir the pot, sauté, adding spices etc.” – Jiji G.
Make it Fun:
- “Making it fun like rolling sabzi into chapati and calling it an Indian burrito has helped.” – Ruchi N.
- “I make spaghetti with tadka and veggies- I make paneer pizza with veggies- tandoori chicken wraps. My kids love Indian food too but when it gets boring I switch things up.” – Sejal C.
Let Them Have a Say
“I let them pick a side (fruits, salad, small mithais, etc) to eat with their Indian meals (which they generally hate to eat) – works every time.” – Manuni S.
Go Easy on the Heat:
- “My kiddo is 3. Getting used to the spices has been rough. Especially because my mom, who does most of the Indian cooking thinks things aren’t spicy when they totally are. I think that kind of scared my kid away initially, he just assumed he wouldn’t like Indian food. Since I started doing more Indian cooking and controlling spice things have gotten slightly better. Also yogurt with everything!” – Ruchi N.
- “12y boy complains it’s spicy, so I let him decide to add peppers or not, and I always ‘rescue’ stronger dishes with coconut milk, which I have him add and taste until it’s just right. It sort of mellows everything.” – Mark E.
Eat Together and Eat the Same Meals
- “We eat as a family, so they see us eating the same thing. I also try to keep dishes fairly mild and keep chilis on the side for us adults to add.” – Alexia G.
- “Do not give any more choices other than what’s on their plate (making something special just for them because they won’t eat) my 2 year old loves eating all kinds of food. At dinner table we discuss food names and what’s in it and a lot of vocab building happens there!” – Pooja V.
- “My daughter is 15 months old. I offer her the food that I cook for me and my husband: rice, dal, paneer, chickpeas, kidney beans, Pav Bhaji, Khichdi. I try not to have to cook separately for her so she gets into habit of eating Indian food. She takes the same spice level as we do normally.” – Heena G.
- “My 2 year old has been LOVING your Langar daal since he was 14 months old! He’s also been fine eating the yellow daal and black eyed peas (basically all the daals are great because I can dump and go). He eats much more easily if everyone is eating at the same time vs only him eating.” – Khyati T.
Ease into it:
- “I’m trying to introduce my stepson (9 years) with milder flavors first. He has grown up without a lot of flavor. He likes your pulled pork and basmati rice. I have to hide onions and garlic carefully, but he’s coming around to ginger.” – Katherine C.
One Bite Policy:
- “Rule in my house is to at least try one bite of anything that’s new – they can choose to say no if they don’t like it.” – Sona S.
- “I have a one bite policy. If my seven year old tries something and he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t have to eat any more of whatever it is. I think it’s helped him become the adventurous eater that he is, he’ll literally try ANYTHING. We also talk about how our tastebuds change over time, sometimes it’s worth re- trying something that we maybe didn’t like a long time ago. He loves all curries, but especially loves butter chicken and korma. I asked him the other night if curry sounded good, he replied, “I’m always up for curry!” – Michelle W.
- “‘You don’t have to like it, but you do have to try it.’ I read an article right when my oldest was first starting on solid food that said it can take an average of 13 times of being exposed to something for your taste buds to become acclimated. So that was our mantra.” Didn’t like it this time? No biggie, maybe next time.” And offer it again, and again, and again. I also was sure to point out that maybe he would like it cooked differently. He’s 10 now, and will eat pretty much anything you put in front of him.” – Kayce C.
- “Two of my kids have no problem trying what I make. I have one that is picky. We have a standard rule of a “no thank you” bite. I don’t force my kids to eat everything, but I do require a “no thank you” bite if they don’t wish to eat what I make. Sometimes they find out that they like it and will continue to eat.” – Sara H.
Serve with Dip (even if that means ketchup):
- “One tip I found that works for getting my kids to eat in general is offering a dipping sauce, so whether that is a yogurt dip or a chutney, dipping food makes it exciting for kids and they’re more likely to eat it. While this is slightly embarrassing to admit, we will let my son put ketchup on anything if it means he will eat it. So he puts ketchup on butter chicken, for example. He’s only 3, but I’d rather let him do this and eat than not.” – Alexia G.
- “Mine (now 6 and 10) eat anything if it’s dipped or smothered in tikka masala sauce. 😁 They basically get a side “dipping” bowl of it every time we go to the Indian lunch buffet.” – Kira H.
- “The kids eat what everyone else eats or they don’t eat at all. And after 1 night of that, they realize that’s the law!” – Sana A.
- “I’m not of Indian descent and neither is my husband. Many years ago I tried to convince my husband to eat Indian food and he would not hear of it. Several years ago, he tried Indian food on a cruise and fell in love. He cooks Indian food all the time. With the exception of spinach, my kids will eat whatever he cooks. The reason is that we did not give them a choice. It was either eat what was served or miss out on dinner. I am sure he is a little lighter on the seasoning then someone who is native to this food. It is all delicious and we are not short order cooks. 🤷♀️😂🍴The are 11, 14,15 – Deena L.
- “One rule in our house is that we all eat what I have made for dinner. NO SUBSTITUTE. They can have whatever they want for lunch but dinner they don’t have a choice.” – Sana W.
Lots of Praise & Compliments
“We fed him bites of Indian food early, which I’m sure helped to pave the way. When he was old enough, I made a big deal out of taking him out to a proper Indian restaurant for the first time. Treated it like a rite of passage. I explained that this was my all-time favorite type of food, and how important it was to me. I even talked about how intimidated I was by it when I tried it for the first time (I grew up in the midwest, so Indian food was pretty exotic and foreign in the beginning.) He was so excited to be invited to share in something so special to me, he tried everything! I highly praised his bravery for trying so many new dishes, and we compliment him regularly for his adventurous eating habits. He even likes sushi! He now prides himself on having “grown-up taste.” 😊– Michelle W.
Don’t Force It
- “Also one thing I have never done is forced my kids to eat, I never ever shoved not even 1 bite down their throat. I have seen many desi parents making such a big deal about it and force feeding…. a lot of kids hate and give hard time to eat anything because of this reason.” – Seba A.
- “My 2 cents here as a dad of 2 teenagers…. First, do not push Indian food onto them everyday, they’ll simply hate you for it. We mix it up within the week with American, Italian, Mexican or Chinese.” – Peter P.
Get them used to the flavor… even if that means Screen Time
Okay okay okay…. so no one offered this advice in my group but I’m going to be controversial here and admit that I do this sometimes. It’s incredibly important to me that my toddler eat Indian food and so while I don’t make a habit out of this, if I’ve made something new that I really want him to eat and he refuses, I’ll feed him a few bites while he’s watching tv – then I’ll stop. If he’s hungry he’ll ask for more and I’ll have him move to the table to finish eating. I think the key is stopping after a few bites – that way I know whether he’s actually hungry or eating just because he’s not paying attention. No judgement y’all – please do what you think is best.
Bribery and Promises of “Dessert”
Sigh. Again, no one offered this advice but I like to keep it real with you guys. I know this is probably a terrible tactic BUT like I said, it’s important for me to get my child to develop a taste for Indian cuisine as it’s basically all I cook for dinner most days. If my kiddo refuses to eat, I’ll promise him something sweet when he’s done.
I started writing this post when my son was 2.5 years old. Now, he’s almost 3 and loves to say that “we eat dessert AFTER dinner.” He happily eats dinner on most days knowing he’ll get a treat. I try to stick to healthy treats like mango (which he loves) or “mango ice” (just frozen mango chunks lol) but sometimes I’ll give him fruit snacks (annie’s organic to assuage my major mom guilt) or homemade popsicles or those mini mango mochi ice cream bites from Trader Joes. 🤷🏽♀️
Recipes to Try According to Age
Please note, you should absolutely discuss your feeding plans with your child’s pediatrician. Ours recommended introducing one food at a time and that’s what we did. Only when we felt comfortable did we begin introducing meals to our son.
Also, depending on your child – you will want to remove or decrease the amount of cayenne or chilies that a recipe calls for. I would also suggest reducing the amount of salt.
And remember, these are just ideas. Just because a recipe is listed here doesn’t mean your child will automatically like it! I compiled this list based on the information that parents provided me in this post. Try a recipe below and if it doesn’t work, try it again another day.
Babies 6 months to 1 year
- Start by adding spices to foods that your baby is already eating. Try adding them 1 or 2 at a time. You can try: turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, nutmeg, cumin, coriander – just to name a few.
- Khichdi: a first food for babies but enjoyed by older kids as well
- Plain lentils with a little garam masala
- Basmati rice
- Pea Pulao
- Pav Bhaji: we had some (non-Indian!) friends over for lunch and I watched as their 9 month old ate more of the mashed bhaji than all of us adults combined!
- Butter Chicken
- Butter Chickpeas
- Mango Chicken
- Chicken Tikka Masala and Rice
- Keema with hidden veggies
- Chicken Pulao
- Palak paneer
- Aloo Paratha
- Yogurt Rice
This list is primarily for those already accustomed to eating Indian food. If you are introducing an older child to Indian food, I’d first start with the list for younger kids.
- Butter Chicken
- Keema Biryani
- Pav Bhaji
- Butter Chickpeas
- Mango Chicken
- Chicken Tikka Masala and Rice
- Dum Aloo
- Chicken Pulao
- Chicken Biryani
- Scrambled Eggs or an Omelet with Spices
- Dal with Rice
- Aloo Gobi
- Vegetable Biryani
- Chicken Curry
- Chicken Curry with Potatoes
- Kofta Curry
- Pan-fried fish marinated with Indian masalas
- Paneer Butter Masala
- Saag Paneer
- Matar Paneer
- Sambar vada (call the vada an Indian donut!)
- Lamb Rogan Josh (it looks red, but it’s not spicy)
- Chana Masala
- Coconut Egg Curry
- Toor Coconut Dal
- Egg Korma
- Tandoori chicken
- Chicken Tikka
- Aloo Paratha
- Chicken Tikka Masala
- Dosa (try making it like a pizza with veggies and cheese on top).
- Mixed Veggie Paneer Parathas cut like pizza slices
- Kerala Chicken Stew
- Poha & upma with vegetables to make it look colorful.
- Aloo Matar
- Sandwiches layered like cakes with cream cheese & chutney
- Roti Wraps or Roti “Tacos”
- Chana Masala
- Chicken Korma
- Cabbage Peas
- Tomato Corn Soup
- Ground Meat Coconut Stew
- Coconut Rice
- Chicken Bhuna
- Langar Dal
- Indian Veggie Lasagna
- Masala Pasta
- Green Peas and Eggs
- Indian Shakshuka
- Egg Bhurji
Kids 5+ years or Adventurous Eaters
You can give your child anything listed in the above sections as well as pretty much any Indian dish at this point. However, if your child is new to the cuisine or does not enjoy eating Indian food, then start with the list for younger children.
These are for more adventurous eaters: