Seasonal Roundup: Ni Chifan le Ma? Family-friendly Chinese dining (Part 2)

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This is part two of the two series post. Click here for part one.

Introducing New Foods Undoubtedly some kids can be picky eaters, and Chinese food can be daunting: there are often bones, oil, and spice to contend with. We get tips from Maiker Valdivia, parent and chef de cuisine at Aria Restaurant in China World Hotel, and Dr. Leora Martin, registered clinical dietician at Oasis International Hospital, on how to successfully introduce your kids to new fare.

The Chef Chilean-born Maiker Valdivia and his Russian wife Cristina Kolesnichenko have lived in Beijing for over two years. They have two boys; Matias (age 6), who attends Fancaodi International School, and Lucas (2). Valdivia spent over a decade working in San Sebastián in Spain, working at many celebrated restaurants including the Michelin-starred Mirador de Ulia. Here are his tips on how to sneak some new dishes into your children’s diet. • Make it funny and interesting. “Tell them funny stories, and make associations with their favorite super heroes or favorite animals,” he says. “Explain the cooking technique, the benefits, or the history of the ingredients. Kids love stories.” • Start them young. Valdivia and Kolesnichenko love Chinese food, and began introducing their children to it at a very young age. He believes broadening their tastes early on pays long term dividends. “In the future they will have great palates,” he says. • Eat what they eat. If all the family always enjoys the same menu it cuts down the ability to reject foods. • Camouflage and persist. Valdivia says it’s normal for kids to hate new flavors on the first go. He recommends trying again if kids reject certain flavors or ingredients. “Try dishes where they are disguised or mixed with a favorite flavor, or change up the preparation or presentation,” he says.

The Dietician Israeli born Dr. Leora Martin obtained her BSc. in Nutritional Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has worked as clinical dietitian with an emphasis in pediatrics, internal medicine and post-surgical care. She shares her guidelines for expanding your children’s tastes. • No pressure. “Don’t make a big deal out of it and don’t draw a comparison to other kids or siblings,” says Dr. Martin. If a child feels pressure to like a certain food they may respond negatively, so make it exciting rather than mandatory, and chances are they’ll be more willing to explore. • Expect take backs. They may eat a lot of it one day and a little or none the next. Which brings us to… • Keep trying. Kids might need to be exposed to a food a dozen times before they are willing to taste it. Let it go and try again a few days later. • Never force your child to eat something. Respect your child and allow them to make food decisions for themselves on what and how much to eat. Dr. Martin says “Just like there are some foods that we don’t like, it is important to accept the fact that our child might also dislike a certain food.” • Let kids play with food. “I don’t mean start a food fight,” says Dr. Martin, “but let children explore new foods by smelling and touching them.”  • Set the example through family dinners. “Studies have shown that children who watch their parents eat a large variety of foods, including new foods, are more willing to try them themselves,” she says. Follow the family diet and offer the child whatever the family is eating. • Some like it hot. Some cultures introduce children to spicy food at a very young age; there is no recommended time frame. “Using a variety of spices to enhance food taste expands the child’s palate, and will reduce the amount of sugar and salt often added to make foods taste better,” she says. “That said, Chinese food is often heavily spiced with chili peppers, garlic, ginger and soy sauce. These flavors might be strong for some children. When dining out you can always ask your waiter to go easy.” • Start with the familiar. When you and your child are calm, start with foods that they might be familiar with such as dumplings and steamed vegetables, and continue from there. “Remember, once the stress factor is turned off, you might be pleasantly surprised by your child!” says Dr. Martin.

Vocabulary Useful sentence: Please don’t put [meat, MSG, salt, spice, sugar, garlic, ginger, soy…]. Qing bu yao fang [rou, weijin, yan, la jiao, tang, dasuan, jiang, jiangyou…]. 请不要放【肉, 味精, 盐, 辣椒, 大蒜, 姜, 酱油…】


This article originally appeared on page 28-29 of the beijingkids February 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on To find out how you can get your own copy, email


Photos: Courtesy of Maiker Valdiva, Charme, International SOS, Avlzyx, Chenzhao (flickr), Malaekayanti (Tumblr), and Xhaock (Weibo)

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