By Sara Brenton
I have worked with every kind of child - the kid who would eat everything in sight, the kid who won’t touch anything he doesn’t recognize, and the child who has a few standard favorites she doesn’t deviate from. All these children pose a challenge in the kitchen and some children have sensory issues surrounding foods. This is not an issue I typically try to “fix” because it isn’t a preference, but rather a part of a condition that is beyond my scope of care. Sensory issues with food are something that a medical professional needs to diagnose and treat (which is beyond my scope).
Involving children in the preparation of their food can help them feel more confident in their meals, but this isn’t always a steadfast way to challenge their eating habits. I have a four-year-old autistic boy who loves meatballs, apples, bananas, pizza, chicken nuggets, Lucky Charms and cake. These are the only things (beyond Happy Tots pouches) that he will eat freely, and he will not even try to eat anything else. Well, he does eat some snacks like chips, goldfish, and the occasional cookie.
With this four-year-old, I have come up with some great ways to get him to eat other things without him even knowing that he is eating something different. I have swapped out meatloaf made with ground chicken or turkey and substituted veggies (pureed carrot, bell pepper, onion, and fresh herbs makes for a very moist, healthier meatloaf. I also throw in whole grain breadcrumbs and a bit of flax seed meal in the mix for added nutrition and fiber. He eats meatballs cut up, so he doesn’t know the difference between the meatballs and the meatloaf! It requires a bit of thought but it’s a great win-win, because he loves it, and gets added nutrition!
When a child is hesitant to try new things, sometimes simply presenting them in a different way can help them feel more comfortable. Veggies cut into interesting shapes look like something fun to try. Mixing pureed veggies, like butternut squash, carrots, and other mild, sweet veggies into other foods can boost the nutrition and help with kids who are hesitant to eat these items in their original forms. Broccoli and cauliflower made into “tots” make something that looks unappealing (veggies) into something that is definitely more interesting and easier to pop into their mouths! There are many items in the grocery store that can help with this kind of issue, because let’s face it, not everyone has the time, skill, or desire to make everything from scratch (and that is okay!).
The younger you introduce robust flavors, interesting food combinations, and new items into a child’s diet, the less likely they will be to become picky eaters. Giving them a diverse palate early can only help you when it comes to introducing new things. I have made babies interesting foods, from curried cauliflower to lemon dill salmon (just to name a few), which were received very warmly by the children. They were full of flavor and very interesting to the child’s taste buds. Experimenting when a child is young gives them a broader interest in fun flavors and makes them more likely to want to try the next creation that comes out of your kitchen!
About the Author. I am Sara Brenton, a career professional nanny of 20+ years and a classically trained chef, with an A.A.S in Culinary Arts and a B.S. in Food Marketing from Johnson & Wales University. This puts me in a unique position to be able to experiment with food for and with kids! From hiding the good things in the “junk” foods (like shredded zucchini in chocolate muffins, carrot puree in tomato sauce, or butternut squash puree in mac and cheese) to coming up with ways to include kids in their own food preparation, there are ways to get the job done! I hope to share tips, techniques and ideas for you on helping picky eaters broaden their horizons and getting kids as young as two involved in cooking!