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Prairie Fare: Tempting Picky Eaters Often Takes Patience

A “leery eater" A “leery eater"
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Be patient when offering new foods.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“Here’s a tentacle. Do you want it?” my friend asked as she speared a piece of steamed octopus with her fork.

I never have been asked to ponder that invitation at a dinner table, zoo or any other place.

As she lifted up the leafy garnish, I studied the creamy colored doughnut-shaped pieces of protein. Sure enough, that was a tentacle in the mix. I almost leaped out of my seat when I saw the little suction cups on the underside.

“No, you can have it,” I replied demurely. I think my saucerlike eyes gave me away.

My culinary adventurer friend ordered an octopus dish for an appetizer at an Italian restaurant. Although I was a little reluctant to try it at first, I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor, which was fairly mild. The texture was quite tender and similar to a scallop.

Even better, the dismembered tentacle didn’t leap off the plate and attack me.

I wouldn’t say that I am a picky eater, but maybe a bit of a “leery eater,” especially where little-experienced types of seafood are concerned. People in other parts of the country might have the same reaction to lutefisk, our Scandinavian delicacy, as I had to octopus.

Many people are “discriminating eaters.” Some fairly recent research suggests that we may be born with the tendencies to avoid certain foods. In a study of 66 sets of identical twins ages 4 to 7, University of North Carolina researchers reported that about 72 percent of their avoidance of certain foods could be explained by genetics.

However, remember that our environment also influences food choices. Kids get clues about eating from those around them. Be patient when offering new foods.

Many children are neophobic (afraid of new things) when it comes to trying novel foods. Research shows that it may take as many as 15 exposures to a food before a child will accept it.

Here are some tips to encourage the eating of a variety of healthful foods among kids, but the same sort of practices might work for adults. Patience is, perhaps, the most important thing to remember when introducing new foods.

  • Encourage children to help select and prepare food. At the grocery store, consider having the child help choose foods, such as a different type or form of vegetable. In the kitchen, find age-appropriate 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. Encourage children to slow down their eating at the dinner table and recognize when they’re full.
  • Turn off the TV and don’t answer the phone during meals. Keep mealtimes a pleasant time to catch up with each other.
  • Offer only one new food at a time, along with foods your child likes.
  • Be a good role model. Studies have shown that if a teacher talks enthusiastically about foods and eats them with children, the child is more likely to eat them. The same theory applies at home. If you pass the broccoli without taking a scoop, most times, your child will skip the veggies, too.

Here’s a recipe courtesy of the University of Kentucky to tempt any picky eater.

Baked Crab Dip

1 (8-ounce) package fat-free cream cheese

1/2 c. reduced-fat sour cream

2 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp. dry mustard

Pinch of onion salt

3 Tbsp. shredded cheddar cheese

1 c. crabmeat

Milk, if needed for thinning

In an ovenproof dish, combine all ingredients except crabmeat. Stir in 2 tablespoons of cheese. Fold in crabmeat gently; add a few drops of milk if needed to make it creamy. Sprinkle top with remaining cheese. Bake at 325 F for 30 minutes. Serve with whole-grain crackers.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 90 calories, 5 grams (g) of fat, 4 g of carbohydrate, 9 g of protein, 0 g of fiber and 320 milligrams of sodium.

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

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Sept. 26, 2013

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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