Caroline Kaufman, M.S., R.D.
New Year, New Foods: How to encourage picky eaters (and their parents!) to try new foods in 2013
Have you made your New Year's resolution yet? There's no better time than 2013 to start eating more vegetables. They're healthy, tasty, and versatile, and they're going to be one of the hottest food trends of the year according to the ad agency Sterling-Rice Group. If you have picky eaters at home, adding more vegetables to the dinner plate can feel daunting. But, you can make this resolution stick by exploring vegetables before dinner, choosing flavorful cooking methods, and getting the whole family on board.
Both kids and adults can put up a fight when it comes to eating veggies. A kid who says “ick” can be just as frustrating as a partner who says, “I never liked green beans, and I never will.” Kids often get picky around the same time they assert their independence, and they're less than eloquent about their feelings. It's natural for them to be afraid of trying new foods - they've got remnants of a survival instinct that favors sweet, familiar foods because they were less likely to be poisonous. Give your kids extra time to warm up to new foods by letting them explore vegetables from farm to table.
Encourage your independent child to explore food off the plate as a:
- Grow a vegetable or herb at home. Let them choose how to prepare it, or sprinkle fresh herbs on everyone's dinner plate.
- Visit a farmers market. Walk through the stalls, exploring the variety of freshly picked vegetables. Maybe she will be excited by multi-colored carrots or love how a yellow pattypan squash fits in her little hands. And farmers are usually happy to offer a sample.
- Kitchen Helper: Your child just got promoted to assistant chef! After washing their hands, younger children can get out the measuring cups, scrub produce, tear lettuce, snap beans, and mix with their hands. As they get older, they can mash, pour, measure, and cut food with kid-safe knives. Encourage them to smell, taste, and touch the vegetables along the way.
- Menu Expert: Choose two healthy and deliciously prepared vegetables, suggests Liz Weiss, M.S., R.D., co-founder of Meal Makeover Moms and coauthor of No Whine with Dinner. For example, ask your kids, "Would you like carrots or green beans for dinner, or both?" You'll feel good about whatever they select (fingers crossed that it's both!), and they'll be able to assert their newfound independence.
While novelty is one reason for pickiness, taste and texture are others. Maybe the veggie is too soft, crunchy, bitter, or bland. Instead of steaming green beans, try sautéing them in olive oil and sprinkling with sea salt. The bitter crunch of cauliflower may be a turnoff, but roasted in small pieces with breadcrumbs, it's more like popcorn. Don't be afraid to add a little fat for flavor.
One fun way for your family to kick-off the year is to start a "new veggie club." Every month, try a new vegetable and learn about it together. How and where does it grow? If January is "squash month," sample a variety of types and preparations. Maybe sautéed summer squash is a flop, but baked acorn squash with maple syrup is a hit. You don't have to like cooking to serve vegetables. Stores often sell pre-cut vegetables that you can throw in the oven, pan, or pot. Frozen veggies are a convenient alternative to fresh - and just as nutritious. With a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables and a little prep, you can whip up an Asian-inspired side dish See what's in season and create a calendar with your family – maybe over your next dinner.
Caroline Kaufman received an M.S. in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University and a B.A. in English from Harvard. She completed her dietetic internship at the University of Virginia Health System, where she specialized in pediatric nutrition. Caroline is a San Francisco-based registered dietitian, freelance writer, and health blogger who specializes in childhood and family nutrition. Her award-winning blog, Sweet Foodie, features family friendly meals, time-saving tips, and food photography. Follow Caroline on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.