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Padma Lakshmi's advice for parenting picky eaters: 'Make it fun!'

April 9, 2015 at 1:41 PM ET

If your kids are used to eating hot dogs and ketchup every night for dinner, it can be hard to introduce new recipes and interesting cuisines like Thai or Indian foods.

But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost when it comes to expanding your picky eater’s palate. Actress and “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi caught up with TODAY.com at a dinner hosted by Airbnb in New York City, explaining how travel has influenced her cooking—and how parents can make unique dishes that the whole family can enjoy.

Padma Lakshmi celebrates European travel with Airbnb on April 7, 2015 in New York City.
Getty Images file

“My daughter is probably a rare case because she grew up on ‘Top Chef,’” Lakshmi said. “So even when she was nursing, she had a lot of funky flavors through me, in her breast milk. But she has a really good appetite. At home, we make one meal for everybody. It’s a mild meal that doesn’t have a lot of chilies in it, which I add later to my food.”

For parents who aren’t so lucky, she says to start simple.

“If you’re going to try Indian food, you can have plain rice and Tandoori chicken,” Lakshmi said. “Make it fun—say it’s orange chicken! Tandoori chicken is really mild, it doesn’t even have the skin on it. If you’re going for Thai food, have plain rice and chicken satay. Krishna [Lakshmi’s daughter] loves satay because it’s chicken on a stick!”

“You need to look at the cuisine and find the most kid-friendly items within that cuisine,” she added.

One of the former model’s favorite family recipes is for kitchari, a traditional Indian dish she makes every Sunday. But Lakshmi has updated the recipe to make it healthier.

“It’s a really savory rice and lentil porridge,” she said. “It’s usually two cups of rice to one cup of lentils, and I just invert the proportions. I do two cups of lentils and one cup of rice. While that’s boiling together with salt and bay leaf, I sauté a lot of vegetables and I cut them small, so you can’t pick them out. It’s really comforting and you can eat it in one bowl. You can freeze it, or it lasts forever in the fridge.”

Another way to get kids into new cuisines is to get them into the kitchen.

“Krishna loves to cook,” Lakshmi said. “In fact, she’s great at rolling out pie dough. I make the pie dough but I make her do the rolling out because she has little hands. She breaks the end of beans. We have a stool that we keep in the kitchen and she’s always dragging it everywhere because she wants to be tall enough to reach the counter.” 

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