20 tips for adding foods from parents of fussy eaters
We can learn a lot from other parents and their experiences. I find myself still learning new things when talking to families. Sometimes it is small tweaks or fun and different ways to approach or offer a food.
As parents we can also learn from things that go well for us. If our child makes progress, looking at why and then evaluating whether we can replicate that again in a new situation or with new foods is often helpful.
Last week I asked on parents on The Confident Eater Facebook page which foods children had added recently, then drilled a little into why.
There were some great wins but also some lessons that may be helpful for other families. Here, I have collated the stories and will add a little of my own experience (because I can’t help myself )
New foods added by fussy eaters and why
1. Blue cheese – I love that this is now on the menu. Although many people would assume that it’s a very full-on flavour and unlikely to be a win for a fussy eater, I always caution parents not to prejudge.
Yes, most selective eaters prefer beige foods, and even those who eat blue cheese often do too. However, it is important not to rule out potential winners by making assumptions.
I have worked with many families who have children on super limited diets but with random weird additions like calamari or curry.
Our job is to offer everything and let our child decide. In this way, they may just discover something that complements the beige!
2. Tomato sauce – C bought a tomato sauce which her 7, year old, enjoyed. He likes tomatoes so it was a logical next step.
Although similar foods, or foods which are the same but in a different form are a great bet, they are also not necessarily a slam dunk. We may still have to work on the ‘marketing’.
3. Chicken in marinade – C’s son accepted some chicken as he enjoyed the marinade. Finding that ‘bridge’ that makes a food easier to accept is always a plan.
Mum is hoping the marinade will help add other foods. Which may or may not work but is definitely worth a try!!
4. Vegetables integrated into foods – G has found she is able to add some vegetables into foods for her son.
Although I am not a fan of hiding, I LOVE integrating. If your child finds carrots a challenge but can happily eat a spaghetti bolognaise that contains grated carrot, that is a win not a fail!
It can be far more challenging to contemplate or accept vegetables, for example, on their own, than added into other foods. When our child knows they are there but still eats them happily, that’s great. It’s also a good first step to eventually eating them solo.
I am working with a teen at the moment, and she felt somehow she was ‘failing’ in some way if she couldn’t eat veggies on their own even though she can when they’re in a burger or a kebab. Nope! Whatever is easiest is best
5. Chicken burger – K’s son ate a chicken burger for the first time. It’s something the family has been eating for a while and he’s been watching them do for ages. On holiday he finally felt confident enough to have a try.
Our modelling frequently seems useless as we have been eating the same things over and over and still have a child who is not interested in participating. If our child is quite selective though it can take a LOT of time.
However, they are far more likely to build a comfort level with a food that they have seen over and over again.
6. Twisties – C found her child stopped eating these for a while because Bluebird (the manufacturer) had a new machine and so the shape and flavour changed.
This is super common. A child gets used to something being a specific way and then finds even a minor change a challenge. The more sensitive they are to tastes and textures, the more this affects them.
If we have a processed food, one of the things that children appreciate the most is the uniformity. A new taste or texture is discomforting.
7. Home-made crumbed chicken drumsticks – C’s eleven, year old, accepted these because of the crumbing.
Accepting a new food because it has a familiar coating is quite common. When it’s crunchy, that is frequently an easier texture for picky eaters.
Mum also was able to do the same for chicken tenders.
8. Raw red onion – G was making a chicken wrap and adding onion. Her son was asking questions about it, so she offered him a taste. He accepted and enjoyed it.
Two lessons here: i) always offer and ii) don’t worry what it is, just offer anyway. If something may have a strong or spicy taste we can of course explain that too (in a positive way).
9. Pumpkin soup – A’s daughter saw mum making herself a bowl and when asked did she want a try said yes. She has since eaten it quite a few times.
Soup is a weird one when it comes to fussy eaters. It is often not on the happy list, and yet drinking is usually easier than eating. Perhaps putting it into a cup and calling it a thick, warm drink is a better marketing ploy!
For children who do eat vegetable purees (often the baby ones from pouches), it’s a natural next step. It’s also a great way to enable our child to eat a lot of veg in an easy form. Pumpkin soup is pretty much just vegetables!
10. Olives – M’s two, year old, daughter wants to be like mum and so has been watching her put olives on her salad. It is a logical next step for her to want to try the olives.
Often we don’t realise how powerful our modelling is. We do not get any outside signs that anything positive is happening until finally our child does eat a new food. This may take weeks, months, or years, but please don’t underestimate the importance!
11. Cheese on pizza – K’s son went from just having the tomato base to adding the melted cheese.
He already accepted melted cheese on his nachos so each Friday when they made home-made pizza, mum asked whether he’d like to add some cheese (like the nachos!!). Eventually, he said yes.
This perseverance in the face of many ‘no’s’ can be very demoralising, but also frequently pays off, in time.
12. Peas – K’s son enjoyed these in one of their meals. Mum thinks it’s probably because his food competent sister doesn’t like them, so this is one of the rare occasions where he is beating her on the food front!
A little healthy sibling rivalry can sometimes generate positive results!
13. Fresh orange juice – similarly, L’s eight, year old, managed to add this to his list of accepted foods due to peer pressure at school.
Peer pressure often doesn’t work, but when our child is ready to accept new things can be a positive catalyst. Preparing a child so they are ready for progress when opportunity presents itself is a key part of our programs.
14. Honey and cheese sandwiches – A’s son ate cheese in his honey sandwich as honey is his comfy space. Creating a ‘bridge’ by using a familiar flavour or food can frequently lead to advances.
Part of the progress has also been her son accepting that ‘not every food needs to be a favourite’. This is an important concept to gently weave through conversations!
15. Green grapes – L’s six, year old, son used to eat these, but hasn’t for 2-3 years. This is really common going through those toddler fussies where things can snowball in the pre-school years, rather than magically fixing themselves.
Mum has been having discussions about foods that her son previously ate, and in the case of green grapes, was able to get him to re-taste them and discover that he did indeed enjoy them.
16. Lentil nachos – K’s daughter loves crunchy foods and being able to choose the corn chips was a positive first step in the nachos process.
Mum then served the sauce next to – but not touching – the nachos for a few weeks to build up that familiarity. Serving foods together also creates a mental connection between them, and in this case it worked!
17. Mushrooms – A’s seventeen, year old, son ate mushrooms for the first time. They were in a pasta dish that he really likes. Mum thinks it was mostly that picking them out was going to be harder than just eating them that provided the progress!
Often as children get to the later teens they are less anxious about new foods so if a case like this comes up they able to manage the situation better. Having teen boys, myself I can also testify that taking the path of least resistance is often the go too!
18. Corn on the cob – quite a few mums have found corn is a winner. At this time of the year in NZ it is magnificent. Crunchy, sweet, and juicy but without being mushy.
T’s seven, year old, son added it at a BBQ when he saw everyone else eating it and it was dripping in butter. He previously ate sweet corn fritters (his only vegetable) so it’s a smaller step than a child who eats no corn, but never-the-less great progress.
Corn is definitely worth a try as it is quite different from other veg. You can slice off the cob to make it easier to eat too. Or presented on the cob can create an experience and that can overcome initial hesitation.
19. Fresh green beans – Mum was delighted when her son tried these. They had bought them fresh from the roadside, blanched them and then fried them slightly on the BBQ.
Her son would have seen the purchasing – giving involvement – and then putting them on the BBQ may have given them a bit of a crisp, a great texture for selective eaters.
20. Cabbage – C’s three, year old, ate some cabbage. Cabbage is a vegetable that is under-rated for picky eaters. But it ticks a lot of boxes. When raw it has quite a neutral flavour, is crunchy and quite crispy.
Mum convinced her son to have a taste as “you won’t even taste it”. Often we say just the right words to sway our child towards doing something. The marketing can be a very important part of progress.
Finally, I want to share J’s story. Her son is now licking salt from cucumber. He asked for cucumber (not currently eaten) with salt on it, and then did not eat the cucumber but licked the salt.
I know it’s easy to discount this as a fail, but I’d see this as a win on a few fronts. i) He independently asked for the cucumber, ii) he is putting it to his mouth and iii) how much of a comfort level does this experience give him?!
All these parents generously shared their stories and hopefully, have provided some inspiration for new things to try. Or, maybe they have communicated that some of the strategies you currently use are important and so not to stop doing them.
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.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/