Why picky eaters prefer beige foods
Crackers, bread, pasta, nuggets… It is pretty easy to guess what most picky eaters will choose to eat if they are in charge. I know this is a source of enormous frustration for many parents. They look at their child’s plate and everything is tonnes of white and beige.
Reasons picky eaters prefer beige foods
Why are these pale foods almost universally accepted over other foods?
1. Consistency and uniformity – most of them are processed or pre-packaged foods and so there are fewer surprises. A cracker will always be the same in terms of taste, texture and consistency. A lasagne, for example, will always be slightly different.
2. Many of our child’s favourite foods are this colour – which is very chicken and egg. Ice cream, fries, nuggets, bread etc. are all favourite foods and are white/beige so favourite foods are deemed to be white/beige. Which comes first?!
3. Less overwhelming – from a sensory point of view these foods are not as overwhelming as something that is brightly or multi-coloured. Muted beige is easier to contemplate.
4. In-built defense mechanism – from an evolutionary perspective these are foods that would, in general, have been safer. This is probably not even a conscious decision, but something that is wired from a time when toddlers did start to roam and could possibly eat something poisonous. Brightly coloured things were more likely to kill you, think poisonous red berries!
5. Habit – chicken and egg again! Eating foods that do not challenge us ensures that we will feel safe eating them the next time. Beige/white foods are often those which are accepted and so a child looks for other things that are similar as a safety measure.
Pre-packaged foods not only have the advantage of being uniform, but they are also often ticking other boxes that make them desirable:
i) The texture is often appealing. Crackers and toast, for example, are crunchy and dry, which is a win for many picky eaters. Pasta requires very little chewing, so it is easy to eat. This is also the reason nuggets are preferred over regular chicken, the consistency is easier to eat compared to the more chewy chicken.
ii) Salt and sugar are often added. Fries, crackers, cereal, nuggets – all have those magic ingredients that make them moorish and have us coming back again and again.
iii) The flavour is usually bland. Pasta, bread etc. have very little flavour on their own. This makes them a safe and easy choice.
Our experience is positive and therefore it is a self-confirming circle. We eat a cracker and it ticks safety, colour, textural, moorish and non-challenging boxes so next time we feel hungry it is a natural choice.
The more we choose the same foods over and over, the more that becomes burned into the brain and the habit gets more and more entrenched. Foods that are different, like brightly coloured vegetables look less and less appealing over time.
That all sounds very gloom and doom, especially if we are thinking of our childs plate and know that colour is not a feature! However, although children do tend to prefer the beige/white foods, we can definitely help them to move from these to other choices.
How can we help?
As a parent we often feel lost as to what to do next. Although we desperately want things to change, it is challenging to find a way to make a difference. This is especially true if we have a child that is extremely anxious/stubborn/uncomfortable around food.
But, not doing anything, leaves us stuck with the same patterns and those habits just get more and more difficult to shift. Often the very smallest changes are the best ones to start with. It can also be about approaching the problem from a different angle.
1. White/beige foods are not necessarily nutrient free or ones to put our head in our hands over. At the bottom of the blog I have listed some foods that may be a win.
2. A change to a slightly different colour can often be okay. The logical choices moving gently from white/beige would be yellow and light orange. For example, if cheese is a favourite, can we introduce a similar tasting cheese but in a slightly different colour?
3. Look at ALL the foods our child eats and see if there may be any doors we can open. For example, if they do eat some other coloured foods, what are they? Which foods may we be able to add that are a similar colour?
4. We can use the familiar food as the base but introduce something that is a different colour to go alongside. For example, if crackers are OK, we can offer a dip like hummus. If that is okay, can we have a different hummus with pumpkin or with a little red capsicum?
A word of caution:
Although many of the foods your child enjoys may be bland, do not assume that all foods have to be mild tasting. I have worked with a family who have a child who eats under 10 foods and one is blue cheese dip and another whose favourite food was calamari and aioli. Yes, bland foods are often favourites, but it definitely does not mean that only those will be okay.
Other White/beige foods
Neutral coloured foods that are outside the bread/cracker/nugget/pasta realm!
1. Bananas – if you child doesn’t eat these it is worth thinking smoothies, banana cake or muffins.
2. Apples – these can be easier peeled and I would advise thin, crunchy slices. Pureed apple can also be an option.
3. Pears – there are a few different varieties, which might tick the right boxes for our child. Tinned can be more easily accepted for some children.
4. Coconut – could be fresh, dessicated or coconut milk/cream/yoghurt etc.
5. Frozen green grapes – you can always serve on a popsicle stick.
6. Peeled zucchini or cucumber so we only have the paler insides.
7. Radish or daikon. Daikon is usually milder tasting but is lovely and crunchy – think thin sticks.
8. Cauliflower – we can roast or fry this so it is drier and crispy.
9. Mushrooms – uncooked these are white and texturally can be OK, especially with dip.
10. Parsnips – slicing thinly and roasting until lovely and crispy.
11. Purple kumara (sweet potato) – very thinly sliced and roasted so it’s like a chippy.
Dairy-based foods like cheese, yoghurt and smoothies are also an option.
If your child is stuck on the beige foods you can introduce new things but this may be tiny steps. I’m always happy to chat if you’d like some inspiration and simple plans to move forwards.
Judith is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
Judith is also mum to two boys and is the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/