When I sent my oldest son to college, I thought about whether he was prepared to handle the college experience. “Will he separate the lights from the darks when he does laundry?” and “Will he keep his dorm room picked up?” came to mind.

With all the things I had on my list of worries, “Will he eat well?” was not one of them. I knew my son had been exposed to enough healthful food and had a good attitude about food in general. I was sure he’d be fine.

I know college cafeterias aren’t known as bastions of fine dining, but you can find some decent options. Of course, if a freshman comes in only eating buttered pasta and chicken nuggets, bad habits will get worse when all the meal choices are left up to the student.

That’s why it’s so important not only to cook for your family but also to encourage them to experiment with different types of foods. That way they will have options when you’re not the one plating their dinners.

Yes, serving lots of fruits and vegetables to your kids while they’re young and assuring that their diets are relatively healthful is critical to getting them off on the right path. Adding variety can be a bit more challenging, but it’s also important.

Experimenting with different cuisines, flavors and textures is not just good for kids — grown-ups can always benefit from an expanded palate, too. After all, leading by example is the most effective way to get a child to do anything.

When I think about menu planning for my family, I try to incorporate a healthy mix of Asian, Mexican, Italian and other international flavors, along with fruits and veggies. Some dishes are more loved than others by my crew, but they’d never know what foods they like or don’t like if they’ve never had a chance to try them.

Asian Pork Lettuce Wraps are a good example of pushing the dinner table limits while still keeping the flavors fairly accessible. Thin pork chops are marinated in a salty/sweet/citrusy liquid made from fish sauce, lime juice and a little brown sugar. Then the meat is grilled, sliced and served in a Boston lettuce leaf with a tangle of rice noodles, crunchy cucumber and carrot matchsticks and fresh herbs. A zippy dipping sauce made from more fish sauce, lime juice and brown sugar, spiked with ginger and chopped peanuts, is served alongside. While the fish sauce may be a new and challenging ingredient, I promise the dish itself doesn’t taste fishy.

Of course, one dinner doesn’t make your student adventurous. But a lifetime of good eating will prepare your child for the complexities of the college cafeteria.

As for the dorm room and laundry? Only time will tell.


Reach Meredith Deeds of Edina at meredith@meredithdeeds.com. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.