Wait … isn’t the idea to get the kid to eat Brussels sprouts? Yes, ultimately. But exploring food with all of our senses is often the first step to eventually, tasting new foods. Whether your child is in feeding therapy or you’re just trying to raise a more adventurous eater, here are 5 strategies for encouraging kids to discover various sensory aspects of new foods before they muster the courage to take that very first taste:
- Still Got Easter Eggs? The plastic ones, that is. Take the 2 halves and line an egg carton with red, yellow, green and/or orange eggs. Cut up fruits and vegetables into dime-sized pieces and practice matching colors. Each time your child picks up the new food, tell him “Red tomato with Red Egg!” and help him find the red egg so he can drop in the tomato. Now you have a kiddo who is picking up all kinds of fruits and veggies, even the slightly wet, cut-up pieces, which many kids hesitate to touch.
- Pop in a DVD. Copy-Kids created a DVD of adorable kids eating fruits and vegetables, “because children learn best from other children.” Sit down and watch it with your child, along with a colorful snack tray of bell peppers, broccoli, avocado, blueberries…you get the idea. Keep it positive and don’t emphasize the eating part. Just pick up the same food you see on the TV and say something silly about it. Roll it down your cheeks and talk about how it feels. Give it a big kiss and proclaim your love for orange, red, yellow and green peppers! It’s not always about biting into a new food – that comes later. But, if taking a bite happens in the course of playing and watching a silly DVD, then that’s terrific!
- Create Your Own Food Network Show with your kid as the host! If the best he can do is direct the show behind the camera while you cook, that’s still a great start. At least he’s in the kitchen, interacting with the food (albeit from a distance) in a positive, fun way. Later that evening, invite the whole family to watch his creation together and serve the food you made on film. Soon, he’ll be hosting the show and cooking new dishes while you operate the camera.
- Watch More TV. Before you think I’m obsessed with television, let me share 2 terrific resources that will help your kids explore new cuisine. The Good Food Factory is the Emmy award-winning kids’ cooking show televised in California. But, you can still watch vintage episodes as well as 2 newer episodes on line. Or, check out the tiny tasters on the Doctor Yum videos. Created by a pediatrician, the website includes lots of how-to videos featuring kids doing the cooking. Using videos to introduce the joy of food to your kids is just that – an introduction. Afterward, head to the grocery store. Pick out that new produce you saw on a Doctor Yum video – like a prickly pear or a lychee or a dragon fruit. Cut it open…take a lick…one thing might just lead to another!
- Make Handprint Pictures Using Purees. First, include your child in the process of making the edible “paint” puree. Anything will do: yogurt, pudding or even cauliflower blended to a smooth paste. Add a touch of color to the cauliflower by using natural food dyes or blending in real food, such as carrot juice or spinach leaves, letting your child pick up the spinach and add it through the safety top of the blender. Spread the puree onto a cookie sheet or flat plate. For the child who is tactilely defensive, you may notice that he will touch the puree with either just the side of his thumb or the tip of one finger. That’s a fine place to start! Over time, he’ll progress to tolerating his entire hand flattened into the plate of puree and then, pressing his messy little hand onto paper to make a handprint. For ideas on various animals you can create with hand or even footprints, click here.
What do all of these strategies have in common? They’re fun and they involve YOU – the most important person in your child’s life! Be silly, be positive and join in! Get your hands messy, model healthy eating and praise what your kiddo can do on that day. Learning to try new foods involves all of our senses and remember, tasting often takes time.
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating. She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food! Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee. She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.