According to science, our taste buds dull as we age, so it’s no wonder that tiny tongues and younger noses may have heightened responses to textures, flavors and smells.
Classifying kids as “picky eaters” is not a helpful way to relate with their food experience, which may differ from an adult’s outlook. At the Y, we recommend replacing “picky” with positive and encouraging language that inspires youth to “take polite bites,” “try again later” and consider trying food in different formats. For example, broccoli flavor varies depending on how it is prepared (raw with dipping sauce, steamed, roasted, sautéed) and the texture of a sliced avocado (popular on toast or salad) is different than a smashed one (like guacamole).
Use these tips to reintroduce kids to the yummy side of nutrition and watch their “ew”-face disappear.
Give different fruits and vegetables fun names.
Kids learn a lot from each other. Many children take their peers’ opinions to heart, especially when something is considered gross or uncool. Giving a more fun name to a food can give it a second chance against a bad experience or negative review. Instead of brussels sprouts, try muscle sprouts.
Let kids develop the menu.
When children feel ownership of a project (like a meal), they are more likely to support its success. When grouped with siblings or friends, they are also more likely to try something that others are trying as well.
Involve children in the prep process.
Even better, start a garden so kids can plant, harvest and eat the foods they helped grow. Offer healthy options for adding flavors (like Greek yogurt dipping sauce or fresh cracked pepper) so they can personalize their snack.
Make fruits and vegetables part of a lesson.
Create a polite bite “passport” to learn about produce from around the world and share fun facts about the produce being offered. A sticker or stamp can be awarded for every new food explored!
Focus on presentation.
If a fruit or vegetable looks unappealing, children may hesitate to give it another try. Some foods might be gentler on the eyes, so start there. Offer a baked sweet potato instead of a mashed turnip, for example.
Model the behavior you want kids to imitate.
Many children look up to the adults in their lives, so it is important to model good food behaviors. Share why you like a particular fruit or vegetable and name some favorites. If there is a particular vegetable or fruit you don’t like, make a habit in front of children to say that “it wasn’t my favorite but I would try it again in a different format.” This will encourage open-minded thinking around new flavors.
How do you help your kids try (and enjoy) new foods? Share your tips in the comments!