By Sarah Kavlich, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s
When you’re a parent dealing with a picky eater, childhood and picky eating can seem synonymous. It’s easy to cater to the pickiness in an effort to avoid a struggle at mealtimes. However, this can sometimes worsen their habits. With summer just around the corner and as we move into warmer months filled with fun, travel and a break from school, parents can use this opportunity to try some new and interesting foods with their picky eater. Whether you’re traveling or staying at home, this time of year can offer an opportunity to experience a new culture through food.
Tips for introducing new foods to toddlers
Remember that kids are learning to eat so consider changing your mindset before heading into meals. Remember that they won’t necessarily eat much of a new food the first time they try it. Repeated exposure to that new food will help them become more comfortable with the food over time. Research suggests it can take up to 20 encounters with a food before someone develops a preference. So, if it is a food you would like to be a mainstay in your child’s diet, don’t give up right away but also don’t force it. Maintain structure by letting your child know that everyone in your family eats the same meals, and there are no separate kids’ meals. This can be a tough pattern to break but offering a small amount of the new food alongside a few familiar foods or a favorite dipping sauce during the meal can help.
Tips for traveling with picky eaters
Exposing your children to new foods while at home, in a lower pressure environment, can help expand their palate before traveling. Start by offering just a small taste test of the new food alongside some familiar foods that your child already feels comfortable eating.
Talk about your upcoming adventure and some of the things your family might experience there, including testing new food together. Kids learn by example and often model the behavior of the people they are closest to, so make sure you have an open mind as well. It’s ok for children to have different food preferences than their parents. If your child shows interest in a new food that you may not enjoy, go ahead and let them try it without assuming they won’t like it.
On your trip, pack a few of your child’s favorite foods or snacks that travel well like bars, dry cereal or crackers, or pick up some fruits, vegetables, yogurts, or cheese at a local market to help ease them into the new cuisine. Healthy snacks will also help your child from becoming overly hungry between meals. Use words like “exploring” and “adventure” as you offer new foods to promote a more enjoyable atmosphere. Most importantly have fun as you learn together and create lasting memories with your family.
At home before a trip, set the stage by offering some of the foods you might experience on your upcoming travels, like this healthy recipe:
Rice with Lemongrass and Green Onion from Epicurious.com
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup long-grain white rice
1 3/4 cups water
2 12-inch-long lemongrass stalks, cut into 2-inch-long pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large green onion, chopped
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 2/3 cup onion and turmeric and sauté 5 minutes. Mix in rice. Add water, lemongrass and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 18 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand covered 10 minutes. Discard lemongrass.
Heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add green onion and sauté 1 minute. Add rice and stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt.