Thai food is the savvy choice for families looking to introduce their picky eaters to international cuisine. Thai cuisine is renowned for being a comfort food choice while still offering bold and sensual flavors. It can be sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy. Plus, the noodles, soups, rolls and spices often have a robust, appealing texture that picky eaters can find appealing.
These recipes use specialty ingredients, many of which can be found in the Asian goods aisle at your local supermarket. In case they aren’t available or your family just doesn’t like them, you can use alternatives (such as substituting lo mein noodles with fettucini) and skip others altogether, such as duck sauce. Of course, the dish will taste different, but a missing sauce or spice won’t detract from the overall Thai experience.
Here are 5 family-friendly Thai dishes that are very easy to make at home.
The classic carryout choice. The comfort food king. This pad Thai recipe uses simple ingredients for a light and fresh flavor, and it’s an easy dish to eat by the bowlful.
Why Kids Like It: This recipe uses simple ingredients and has a familiar texture to many Western noodle dishes. This recipe uses peanuts, a staple of Pad Thai – for kids who have only eaten peanuts in butter form, they might find this intriguing!
Thai Basil Beef
Basil is a big component of many Thai dishes. This half-an-hour, easy and meaty dish gets a lot of flavor from its use of basil, and the light carrot slaw balances it with a refreshing cool taste. It’s quick, filling and offers more familiar ingredients – beef – in case the texture of regular pad Thai is still a little too unfamiliar. If you can’t find Thai basil, sweet basil is a fine substitute.
First, a Quick Word on Basil
Here’s a brief glance at the different types of basil used in Thai cooking.
- Holy basil (or hot basil) adds heat to dishes. It can be hard to find, so Thai basil is often used as a substitute.
- Thai basil has a savory, spicy, anise-like taste and sturdy texture. It’s often said to have a licorice-like flavor too, which is an important aspect of Thai cooking. Thai basil can be hard to find in American grocery stores, but it can be found in most Asian grocery stores.
- Sweet basil is the type we’re most familiar with. It has a sweet “Italian” flavor. It’s a fine substitute for Thai basil if you aren’t able to find any, and you don’t mind losing some of the finer points of Thai basil’s more subtle flavors.
Why Kids Like It: The ground beef adds a layer of familiarity that kids of any age can get behind, and it uses ingredients familiar to the Western palette, including garlic, scallions and a little sugar.
Veggie Curry Soup
This simple, easy-to-prepare Thai soup offers a lot of carbs and earthy flavors (the noodles and mushrooms) and the veggies add some nice zest. Don’t let the recipe limit you – use whatever veggies your family will eat.
Why Kids Like It: This recipe doesn’t get too crazy with unfamiliar ingredients, and even then, it’s a very customizable dish. You can mix up the veggies to cater to what your family likes most. Skip the noodles, use a brick of cheap ramen, or substitute the tofu for pork or beef. Plus, baby corn is funny and cute!
Shrimp Pad Thai
The coastal regions of Thailand are beautiful. The limestone karst formations towering over Phang Nga Bay are unlike anything in the world. But enough about the sea fun – let’s talk seafood!
This yummy shrimp variation on pad Thai adds a succulent seafood twist to the dish. This may seem like it requires a lot of ingredients, but it pulls together quickly. Many of the ingredients can be found in the Asian foods aisle of your grocery store. If you can’t find chili garlic sauce, you can adapt the flavor for Western taste buds by using Sriracha instead.
Why Kids Like It: Kids who like seafood will have no problem relating to this dish. And if your kids don’t like seafood, simply switch it out for chicken or another meat. If you’re vegetarian, try tofu or your preferred protein.
Thai Chicken Casserole
Texture is one of the most important hurdles in getting picky eaters to try new food. This chicken pad Thai looks similar to many Western noodle-based casseroles, making it much easier to get the family on board. Plus, you won’t have to bother cooking the noodles or using more than one dish to bake the dish.
Why Kids Like It: This casserole’s texture is similar to many Western casseroles. Kids will trust the appearance, then find delight in the peanut sauce and cilantro. If your family is unsettled by the idea (or the odor) of fish sauce, know that the smell goes away during the cooking process, leaving just a deep umami flavor.