“Stop playing with your food and just eat it!” If you’re like me, you’ve probably said this to your kids once or twice out of exasperation. But, it turns out one way to get picky eaters to try new foods is by encouraging them to play with it.
“Allow them to play with (food) in a safe way and they’ll become more comfortable over time,” says Shelly Summar, LD, RD, at Children’s Mercy Hospital. “It’s okay to touch the food and play with it and there’s no pressure to eat it.”
Here are a few no-pressure ideas to make food fun for your kids:
1. Story-time cooking. Nutra-Net, a non-profit that teaches low-income families and children to cook healthy, low-cost meals, facilitates story-time cooking for children between the ages of Pre-Kindergarten and Second Grade. For example, the teacher might read a picture book like If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Joffe Numeroff and then the group makes muffins together.
“The more involved you are with kids, the more they are willing to try (foods),” says Lisa Medrow, RD, LD, and executive director of Nutra-Net.
If your child is older, read books like The Little House on the Prairie series and try tackling a pioneer food recipe together. Check out The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories by Barbara M. Walker for some ideas. Not only can you discuss the historical elements of the food, you can talk about the differences in what foods were available then compared to now.
2. Plan a cooking party. Cooking with peers is another incentive for children to try new foods. Since her children enjoy cooking with her, Elisa Smith organized cooking parties for each of her sons’ fifth birthday parties. Not only was it a fun, creative option for her kids and their guests, the party was a low-cost alternative.
“I am all about frugal when it comes to parties, so planning it myself and having it in my home fit my budget,” Smith says.
Smith provided the young guests with inexpensive aprons she machine-embroidered with each of their names. The children made homemade pizzas with a choice of toppings and played games while their pizzas baked. After eating their pizzas, they rolled out sugar cookies with pre-made dough and used cookie cutters to make shapes. Party favors included the apron, small wooden rolling pins, cookie cutters, a package of sprinkles and a homemade cookbook featuring kid-friendly recipes that Smith printed from the Internet and compiled in a $1 photo album.
Area culinary institutes, gourmet food shops and some grocery stores also offer cooking parties for kids if you’d prefer not to organize an in-home party.
3. Cook from a kid-friendly cookbook. Find an illustrated, kid-friendly cookbook and make a recipe together. Cookbooks not only offer practice in-basic reading and math skills, they also can help young children learn step-by-step, sequential processes.
4. Take a cooking class together. Don’t feel confident in the kitchen yourself? Take a cooking class with your child. Or, sign your child up with one of their friends for one of the many kids’ cooking classes available at area culinary institutes and grocery stores.
“Kids’ cooking classes are a great way to teach children that cooking is something they can learn and enjoy the rest of their lives,” says Megan Grushon, RD, LD, a Hy-Vee grocery store-based dietitian, who provides nutritional guidance to customers and facilitates cooking classes and parties for children.
5. Throw a tasting party. Invite your child and their friends to bring a favorite, or an unusual, fruit and vegetable to your home and throw a tasting party. Take turns trying new foods either blind-folded or by trying to guess what’s in the bag. Offer low-fat, low-sugar dips to see how the tastes of fruits and vegetables change once dipped. Provide the children with take-home cards picturing the different foods offered and have them circle the ones they liked.
“Even if they tried something they never eat again, their learning to try things is not a bad thing,” Medrow says.
6. Encourage daily involvement. From planning a meal to shopping, preparing and setting the table, include your child in each step of the process.
“As much as you can, include them in a fun way that’s not torture to them!” Medrow says.
At the grocery store, head to the produce section and choose both familiar and unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. Talk to the produce manager about how to cook vegetables you’ve never tried before. And, if possible, sample in-season produce.
During meal preparations, assign your kids the task of cutting up soft fruits and vegetables with a plastic knife, measuring out ingredients or tearing up lettuce and spinach for a salad. Or, if nothing else, have them wash and spin salad greens in a salad spinner.
Ultimately, remember that you are your child’s most important role model when it comes to eating a healthy assortment of foods.
For more information, visit www.nutra-net.org, www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org and the kids cooking magazine, www.chopchopmag.com.
Christa is a freelance writer and has two children.
Calgary’s Child Magazine © 2022 Calgary’s Child