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Prairie Fare: Picky Eating Can Be Helped

Various strategies can help children and adults be more adventurous with food.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, food and nutrition specialist
NDSU Extension

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to have dinner at a restaurant with two teens that self-describe themselves as “picky eaters.”

One of them was my child.

We decided to go to a restaurant with rotisserie chicken and potatoes. They both like these foods.

Green beans and salads appeared on the menu but not on their plates.

However, they enjoyed their potatoes, which provide potassium, vitamin C and fiber. In fact, all vegetables are excellent sources of many vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Two of my three children have been “discriminating” eaters. My son grew out of the tendency and now is an adventurous eater who likes to prepare foods.

My third child has always enjoyed gardening and preparing foods. She will eat almost anything, except cilantro. It tastes like soap to her. That sensation is linked to genetics.

Some research shows that children may be born with tendencies to avoid certain foods. British researchers reported that over half of the tendency to avoid certain foods could be explained by genetics.

I pondered my own eating as a child and in my early adulthood. While I ate vegetables ranging from green beans to rutabagas from our garden, I could not tolerate raw tomatoes.

Around this time of year, vine-ripened, rosy-red tomatoes appeared on the table of my childhood at almost every meal. I did not like the texture and the flavor of tomatoes.

I was encouraged to try tomatoes, but I was never forced to eat raw tomatoes. That was good parenting.

My parents suggested that I sprinkle the tomatoes with sugar or salt and pepper.

That didn’t help.

They made bacon, lettuce and tomato (BLT) sandwiches. I was content with my bacon and lettuce sandwich on homemade bread.

However, I’d eat tomatoes in spaghetti sauce, casseroles and as ketchup.

I did not eat raw tomatoes until college when I discovered the delicious flavor of fresh salsa.

Much research has been done on picky eating behavior. Parents often worry about their children’s eating habits. They wonder if their child’s diet is going to lead to deficiencies with long-term effects.

Most of the time, picky eating does not cause health issues.

However, serious cases of eating issues termed “Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder” (formerly called “Selective Eating Disorder”) usually require help from a professional.

What do you avoid, if anything? Ponder the vegetables that have never inhabited your plate. Maybe you would like them in a different form, such as grilled or roasted. You might be surprised at the change in flavor and texture that comes with preparation techniques.

Some of these tips may help both adults and children become more adventurous with foods.

  • Be patient. It may take 10 or more exposures before a new food is accepted.
  • Encourage outdoor and indoor gardening. People who help grow food are more likely to eat it.
  • Visit farmers markets and pick out something fresh to try at home.
  • Purchase a less familiar fruit or vegetable food at the grocery store. They are available in fresh, canned, dried and frozen forms.
  • Try smoothies with a mixture of fruits and vegetables. Spinach is a good addition to berry smoothies.
  • For children, find age-appropriate kitchen tasks. For example, a young child could wash fruits and vegetables or help set the table.
  • Keep a routine. Serve meals and snacks at a consistent time.
  • Forget the clean plate club, even if you grew up with the tradition.
  • Slow down your eating pace at the dinner table.
  • Turn off the TV and don’t allow phones at the table during meals. Keep mealtimes a pleasant time to catch up with each other.
  • Offer only one new food at a time, and pair less familiar foods with accepted foods.
  • Be a good role model. If you pass the broccoli without taking a scoop, most times, your child will skip the veggies too.

See “A Pocket Guide to Preparing Fruits and Vegetables” from NDSU Extension for numerous ideas to prepare 28 fruits and vegetables. Search online for “NDSU Extension Grilling” to find grilling resources, including recipes for vegetables, fruits and proteins

Here’s a recipe I would have avoided as a child but now enjoy.

Caprese Salad Kabobs

24 grape tomatoes
12 cherry-size fresh mozzarella cheese balls
24 fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
12 skewers

On each of 12 appetizer skewers, alternately thread two tomatoes, one cheese ball and two basil leaves. Whisk olive oil and vinegar; drizzle over kabobs. Serve as a side dish with your favorite grilled protein, such as beef, chicken or pork.

Makes 12 kabobs. Each kabob has 44 calories, 4 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 2 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 10 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson)


NDSU Agriculture Communication – July 28, 2022

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu

Editor: Elizabeth Cronin, 701-231-5391, elizabeth.cronin@ndsu.edu


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