I'm so excited today to share a post by Jessica from Feed Me Dearly. I absolutely love her story because it proves that kids can learn to be more adventurous when it comes to food (and maybe when it comes to life itself!) I also love that some of her advice flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
In honor of this post, we'll be trying picky pear cactus later today. I'll share an update of how it goes on Facebook. If you feel like you've tried everything to get your kids to break out of the "picky," rut, I encourage you to follow Jessica's advice, and please, stop back and let us know how it goes!
It wasn’t long ago that my family had a deep and pronounced struggle with food. Our battle with picky eating had been going on for several years, and escalating by the minute. My son was particularly picky, and had gotten to the point where he wouldn’t eat anything. Even his once-favorite foods weren’t appealing to him. It was hard to watch him refuse food when I, myself, am so passionate about food and cooking.
I hit rock bottom one day when, once again, he refused to eat a bite of food at lunch and I found myself crouched down on the ground, picking up a bite of food with my teeth, pretending to eat like his favorite stuffed animal.
After I picked myself up off the ground, I looked solemnly at the plate below me. I knew that something had to change. Fighting with my kids about food would no longer be an option. I bought a book on picky eating, and made some swift changes in our household (hint: I would no longer be a short order cook). But I knew that there was more to it than our new food-related rules and regulations. Something was missing. The spark. The fun. The pure and simple enjoyment of food.
And so, with these goals in mind, I created our family’s 52-week food challenge. For a year we’d explore a new food each week using all five senses. With each new food, we would describe the color, shape, texture, smell, and even the sound that it makes if we shake it, or drag our fingers across it. And most important, we would taste it. We would harness the spirit of adventure, push ourselves to try new things, and maybe learn a few things along the way.
I could never have imagined our success when I began this journey. We’ve just passed the halfway mark, with over 25 new foods explored to date this year. All 25 foods being new for them, and in some cases, new for me. And the results speak for themselves. We’ve added a number of new vegetables to our normal rotation (e.g. pea shoots, canary melon, jicama, and red cabbage, our kids are much more open to trying new foods, and eating healthy foods has become something to enjoy not fear.
Given that many parents face the same picky eating issues as I faced, I wanted to share some tips on getting your kids to enjoy healthy foods. Below are the 5 biggest lessons I’ve learned so far from our picky eating challenge:
1. Expose them to new foods often: I’ve read that it can take multiple exposures to the same food before a child will try it. My research has told me that if I wanted my kids to eat green beans, I’d have to expose them to green beans over and over again. On the 5th exposure they might actually sample a bean. And by the 10th they’ll start to enjoy them. Although this may hold true, it seems like a rote and repetitive way to introduce new foods into their diet. What I’ve found is that exposing them consistently to different foods actually makes them more willing to try new foods, even on the first introduction.
2. Introduce them to foods with fun names and fun shapes: Foods come in a huge range of shapes, textures and colors, so why not take advantage of this? Some are round, some are spiky, some look hairy. Talk about how the foods look like their favorite characters on TV – we thought the rambutan, looked a lot like Animal from the Sesame Street. Other foods have interesting names, like the cuke-asaurus, clearly named after its dinosaur-like appearance, and a huge hit with my 3-year old son.
3. Model smart eating behavior: Model a healthy approach to food. Show them that it’s acceptable not to like certain foods, but that you need to have a reason. It’s not OK to simply say “I don’t like it”. Doing so makes it too easy for them to push things away without trying them first. Strengthen their connection with each food by asking what it is about the food that’s unappealing. Teaching mindfulness about their food is good for them.
4. Laugh through a new food experience, and never push: Laugh together, make jokes, talk about how it looks like the passion fruit has eyes. Or that the figs have teeth. A silly approach to food, rather than a serious approach (eat your peas!) can get them into the right frame of mind for some fun experimentation.
5. Be passionate about food: Show them how exciting it can be to try new foods. Even foods that look unappealing can surprise you. We got such a kick out of trying a mangosteen – we were almost afraid to try it because when we peeled it, the fruit looked like a moth’s cocoon. But lo and behold, it became our favorite new fruit.
Hopefully these are tips that you can start to use at home with your own picky eaters. We’re lucky that living in New York City provides us with a range of food choices, but even in suburban and rural supermarkets I’ve been able to find new foods for my kids. And the farmers’ markets that operate around the country are a treasure trove for those who come with an appetite for adventure.
If you’d like to follow along with Feed Me Dearly’s 52-week challenge, check out the challenge page for a full listing of the foods tried so far. It’s updated at the end of every week, so feel free to join in the fun, and leave any comments on how you’re addressing picky eating in your own home.