Dips for fussy eaters (even those who don’t like dips!)
Dips are a great way to support fussy eaters to eat new foods. In fact, many feeding therapists use them to help children taste new foods when they work with them one-on-one.
If your child is hesitant about tasting new foods a dip can help as:
i) It provides a familiar taste
ii) It is a known texture
iii) It can mask the initial flavour or texture of a new food (making the first taste easier)
iv) It can help with the more bitter flavours of vegetables
Dips are also a great way to increase variety and even add in extra fruits or vegetables to the diet. They are often too the first step to accepting sauces.
But what if you have a child who doesn’t like dips?
Fussy eaters who don’t eat dips (or to extend the number eaten)
There are no magical answers to resolving picky eating. If there were, I’d be a multi-millionaire
Most strategies involve us, as the parents, having a relaxed but determined approach with lots of structure and even more repetition. The same applies to teaching a child to accept dips – which is also the gateway to sauces!
Even if your child does accept dips, they may only have one or two they are comfortable with, so looking for strategies that support them to eat new ones is still helpful.
Low pressure ways of gently supporting a child to become more comfortable around dips and providing ongoing opportunities to use them is the best policy.
There are some strategies that may help too:
i) Using skewers or cocktail sticks (with blunt ends for littlies) can be a great way to encourage interest
ii) Non-traditional dips. Don’t think hummus, think peanut butter, Vegemite, or yoghurt. What is it that would be easiest for your child?
iii) Use fun foods. For example, using cookies to dip into ice cream. Teaching the concept using treat foods can help.
iv) Fun containers for the dips. Any time we can make food more interesting or appealing, it’s a win. Instead of using bowls we can use ice cube trays, egg cups, the back of a toy truck or a shot glass, for example.
v) Name the dip or have a theme. Calling the dip ‘rainbow magic’ or ‘spiderman’s delight’ or having a ‘dinosaur’ or ‘fairy’ night can help.
vi) Making it a fun, family activity like fondue or getting noodles from the sauce to the bowl without dripping (bonus points for using chopsticks).
Repetition. Often the first time a child sees something it will seem different and difficult. However, seeing something over and over again builds a familiarity and therefore comfort.
Don’t feel that dips are a no just because you have tried for a few weeks, and they are not accepted. Think reading and how we lovingly repeat (the same @##%# book) over and over again.
Starting with tiny amounts is always advisable. That way it seems more achievable. Or, sometimes it’s easier to just dip a finger or a popsicle stick in.
Why are dips helpful for fussy eaters?
Using dips can be supportive for several reasons:
i) If, for example, you are dipping chicken in peanut butter, the first taste will be the familiar peanut butter, rather than the not usually eaten chicken. This helps to build comfort with the new food.
ii) The texture of the new food will also be masked by the familiar texture of the dip, helping to buffer a new feeling in the mouth.
iii) Dips are a different sensory experience. Even if your child likes some dips, accepting new feelings in the mouth is a positive for overall expansion.
iv) Dips can encourage messy play. Playing with food is the way that babies learn to accept new foods and is an important step in the toddler learning experience. Being comfortable touching foods leads to the possibility that they will go in the mouth.
Even if your child is older, being supportive of mess and fingers can be a good thing. If we are not happy touching things with our hands, we will be unlikely to be happy putting it in the mouth.
v) Dips can help bridge to other foods. For example, ketchup to a pasta sauce can be a gradual progression and is easier than going from plain pasta to pasta sauce for many children.
vi) Dips are a good way to introduce interest, colour, and difference to the table.
Home-made dips can be a budget friendly way to introduce new foods to a child. It means we can make a very small amount so in the learning and acceptance phase we are not wasting a lot of food.
Home-made is generally best from a nutritional point of view too as we can use less or no additives and adjust the sugar and ingredients to suit our child.
Choosing a dip for a fussy eater
What rocks probably depends on their favourite flavours and textures. Is it creamy or salty or sweet?
Finding something that is a match in both flavour profile, mouth feel, and comfort level is the first step. Starting with a food that is already eaten in another context can be a good idea.
1. Honey – many children like honey and it can be matched with many foods from fruit to chicken. Or even foods we would not generally think of to go with honey like potatoes, there are no rules!
2. Maple syrup.
3. Jam or a fruit compote. Again, it works with sweet foods but also savoury. Pancakes dipped in jam or chicken pieces?
4. Chocolate sauce. Hard to get past this It doesn’t have to be unhealthy either. Home-made can be low sugar and easy to make.
5. Caramel/strawberry or other commercial sauces.
6. Pudding. Some children are happy to eat choc yoghurt, jelly, or other dessert puddings and they can double as a dip.
7. Cookie dough.
2. BBQ sauce
4. Aioli. Garlic bread is often accepted so that garlicky flavour can help link to aioli.
5. Vinagrette. Many children like strong flavours – alongside the plain pasta and crackers
7. Lemon juice. It’s a great source of Vit C.
9. Olive oil
10. Chilli. Maybe surprisingly, there are fussy eaters who like strong flavours and even spicy foods.
11. Mustard / wasabi.
12. Soy sauce. Salty, umami and no texture. Definitely worth a whirl.
13. Sweet & sour sauce
15. Tuna mayo
16. Curry sauce
1. Yoghurt. Using a favourite food is often a great plan.
2. Sour cream
3. Cheese sauce
4. French onion
5. Cream cheese
6. Cottage cheese
7. Blue cheese (yes there are even very fussy eaters who eat this!)
Nut/seed butter dips
1. Peanut butter
2. Almond butter
3. Cashew butter
4. Sunflower butter
5. Satay sauce (the simplest version is peanut butter, soy sauce and sweetener)
1. Applesauce. Children, especially younger ones, frequently have a comfort level with baby food pouches so using those as a dip can be an easy step. Or if a child likes apples, for example, using pureed apple.
2. Berry compote
3. Frozen bananas. These can be blitzed into an ice cream consistency in the blender.
5. Pasta sauce
6. Spinach dip
8. Guacamole (a simple version is Philadelphia cream cheese mixed with avocado).
9. Hummus – this can be traditional or the pumpkin or carrot versions, for example.
10. Beetroot dip
11. Pumpkin or tomato soup – or in fact, any soup could be used as a dip.
Thinking about food from a different angle can give us fresh ideas and a new way to support our child to take steps forwards. Even if you have tried dips before, having a new enthusiasm can help progress.
Dipping in is usually easier to contemplate than pouring over so can be a great way to upgrade the plain pasta or the ‘nude’ chicken
If you know another parent who may benefit from reading the blogs, please feel free to share.
Judith, MA Cantab, 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/