No More Picky Eaters! Developing your Kids’ Palate

I wrote a post awhile back about how to get your kids to eat more vegetables. You can consider this an expansion of that idea. This week, we made oatmeal, and through the process I realized, in more detail, how I am helping my kids eat a wide variety of foods. I thought I should share this new clarity, in hopes that it will help you! (Even if you don’t have kids, you can use this guide to expand your own palate!)

First you have to understand the reasoning behind the way I cook. These ideas help me meal plan each week.
My Goals:
1. I want to expose my kids to different cultures through food. Every culture uses different flavor profiles, different spice and ingredient combinations, which yield a unique result. Exposing them to different ways of preparing an ingredient can help them realize they do, in fact, like that vegetable/grain/protein. The more ways I prepare something, the more likely we are to find a way they enjoy it.
2. I want them to have an extensive palate encompassing a variety of spices, vegetables, fruits, proteins, grains. I want to introduce them to new ingredients – even when (and sometimes because) I have never tried said ingredient before.
3. I want to discover my kids’ preferences. I want to find a way of preparing healthy ingredients which they enjoy. B&C love raw tomatoes. A doesn’t, but when they’re cooked with other veggies, or in a sauce, she does.
4. I don’t want to force them to eat healthy foods but rather, hear them ask for it.
5. I want to remove the fear of trying new things. I prefer they appreciate new dishes, and be willing to try things even if they don’t like them. (Our taste buds do change, and at some point in their life, they might change their mind!)

How do I achieve those goals? Here’s the clarification.
My methodology
:
1. Use descriptive cooking terms with your kids. Discuss texture, heat, spice. Words I regularly use with my kids: acidic, aromatic, bitter, sour, sweet, salty, bland, bold, burnt, buttery, cheesy, candied, stale, strong, chewy, crunchy, creamed, crispy, watery, moist, thin, thick, chunky, soft, dry, fruity, sweet, gooey, heavy, healthy, herbal, hot, cold, spicy, tart, juicy, mild, mushy, peppery, refreshing, sharp, slimy, smooth, soggy, thick, tangy – as well as whatever method of cooking I use (bake, broil, saute, steam, etc.). When you sit down to eat, discuss your food so that they understand the meaning of these words and can use them accurately on their own.
2. Introduce them to new foods. Set a goal on how often – once a week, or once a month, for example – and plan to use that item in different ways (remember this?). Educate yourself before you buy: Search for recipes, google cooking methods, ask someone you know if they’ve used it and how. Get inspiration from magazines, blogs, cooking shows, and restaurants. Let go of any preconceived notions about limitations to kids’ diets, or about kids being picky eaters. Just because they’re kids doesn’t mean they can’t eat basically the same thing that you eat. The only adjustments you should be concerned with are portion sizes, bite sizes, and sometimes the level of heat/spice in the dish.
3. Make them try at least one bite. Everyone can be afraid of new things. Help eliminate that fear by requiring one bite before they are allowed to reject it – and then let them. Offer to pick out what they don’t like, offer more of a different item, or be sure they understand that if they don’t eat what you make, you’re not making anything else.
4. Ask them if they like it. To avoid a dismissive ‘yes’ or ‘no’, phrase it this way: “What do you think?” Here’s the most important part: The goal is not to force them to blindly eat whatever you put on their plate “because you said so.” Or even, “because it’s good for you.” This should not be a power struggle! (I don’t feel like anyone ever wins in a power struggle anyway, right?) Remember we want to learn their preferences. Ask them what they do or do not like about it. Encourage them to use the descriptive words. ***Not only does this expand their culinary vocabulary, and make them feel heard, it allows you to adjust your preparation of the dish next time, to suit their taste.***
5. Give them some space. I don’t ask how they like it after one bite. I give them a chance to eat some of it first, usually after I can tell they like it. If you’re too overeager in asking this question, they’re going to feel pressured. Give them time to try it and decide what they do and do not like. I also don’t give them a laundry list of what’s in it before they even take a bite. I wait for them to initiate the conversation.
5. I’m saying it again: Encourage them to discuss and describe their food. Start the discussion yourself:
“MMM I love how sweet carrots are!”
“I like how the tart apples balance the spicy crust on the pork.”
“I love how buttery and melt-in-your-mouth salmon is.”
“I like crunchy, salty pecans.”
6. Answer their questions. When they ask what’s in their meal, don’t avoid the question or lie to them! Tell them what it is. Almost every night, my kids will choose something from their meal and ask “What’s this?” Sometimes it’s before they take a bite: “What’s this green stuff Mommy?” Sometimes it’s after they’ve taken a few: “Is there spinach in this?” (Most of the time when they ask a question like that, the next comment is “Mm! I love spinach!”) Don’t be wary of honesty, which leads me to the last point…
7. Remember: you shape their first impressions (and can reshape previous bad ones)If you are nervous and afraid they won’t eat their broccoli, they probably won’t. Keep calm and feed on. (I had to.) The moment I stopped being so worried, uptight, and forcefully claiming “You have to eat your veggies”, it became much easier. It was suddenly a non-issue. They have no idea what food is good and what is bad or ‘yucky’. YOU teach that to them. If you just naturally eat your veggies at every meal, so will they. Here’s where you claim your control – not during a power struggle at the dinner table, forcing them to eat something – but by smart meal planning, prep, knowing your kids’ preferences, starting small, and gradually expanding your repertoire. Don’t make it such a big deal; don’t stress. You are their prime meal preparer; you control what’s normal for them to eat. They only know what you teach them.

I’m giving you permission to allow yourself a transition period. Don’t try to switch everything overnight. Start by changing or introducing one thing and work your way from there. I used to be that mom that fed my daughter mac and cheese, chicken, hot dogs, PBJs, pancakes, and pizza. That was basically all she would eat, because I THOUGHT that’s all she would like. It took time to change our eating habits, but it was worth it – and the transition happened before I knew it.
All it takes is a little mental tweak, a little planning, and some extra effort. Try it, and watch your kids surprise you! 🙂

Read the story of how making Irish Oatmeal sparked this post.

Related Article: The Dessert Deal
 I just came across this on Facebook and LOVE it. I’m sure we’ve all used the ‘Dessert Deal’ one time or another.

Our youngest opening wide for another bite of dinner to 'earn' her cookie

Our youngest opening wide for another bite of dinner to ‘earn’ her cookie

But lately I’ve been wondering: what am I teaching my kids? Finish your food, and your reward is to eat more (sugary) food. 
No wonder we have a childhood obesity problem. I have started to offer healthier things for dessert (but that’s for another post) 😉

Irish Oatmeal – and how it can help develop your palate

When we were grocery shopping this week, my 6-year-old asked to get oatmeal. I don’t usually make oatmeal, so I thought this was curious. I like having oats in the house for baking, but I’ve never been a huge fan of oatmeal. I’ve recently realized it’s due to the mushy texture – with everything I eat, I need texture: something crunchy, something to chew on. Plus, I questioned the real nutritious value of microwavable oatmeal packets, and I had never made homemade oatmeal.

But my little girl wanted it, so I figured we could try it again.
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Now, I am pretty happy with A’s palate so far. She is able to pretty accurately describe what she’s eating using good descriptive words. She always asks about what’s on her plate or in her bowl. I tell her, because instead of hiding from her that she’s eating vegetables, I want her to appreciate and enjoy all parts of her food; when she inevitably likes it, I have now opened a door to using that ingredient in other ways and reminding her that she likes it. The worst case scenario is that she’s able to vocalize when there’s something she doesn’t like.

So the first time I made her oatmeal, before school this week, I made it according to package instructions, and tasted it plain. (Yep. Still don’t like plain oatmeal. Does anyone, I wondered?) I knew I could add butter and brown sugar, but I was trying to think a little healthier, so instead I added honey and a few dashes of cinnamon/sugar. Then I got thinking about my texture issue and added a very little bit of chopped pecans I had purchased to put in chicken salad. Then she said she wanted cut up strawberries on top, so we did that as well.

Well, here’s proof of her sensitivity. I had mixed the pecans in and didn’t tell her. She quickly noticed there was some kind of nut in there, and let me know she didn’t like it. But she did seem to like the oatmeal otherwise, and even asked for seconds.

She asked for oatmeal again today, and asked to help make it. I gladly agreed, thinking, here’s an opportunity to develop her palate a bit more. (You can probably try this with your kids using a different food, but oatmeal is pretty kid friendly, and pretty easy to make small adjustments and notice differences in the taste.)

When I first started cooking, I remember feeling overwhelmed at the idea of not following a recipe EXACTLY. Watching cooking shows, seeing people taste a dish and say, “It needs more ____.” How should I know what else it needs?! I was still learning what the most basic spices and ingredients tasted like, and how best to combine them, and didn’t yet trust my palate to determine what was missing from a dish. I want to prevent my kids from having the same issue. Oatmeal is one of those things that you can modify to your liking really easily, so I figured it was a good place to start.

I measured the water, put it on the stove in a small saucepan, and explained this:
“Any time you are boiling water, adding salt helps it boil faster, and brings out the natural flavors of whatever you’re cooking.”
Once we reached a boil, we added the oatmeal and put the timer on, stirring almost constantly. We removed it from the heat, covered it, and let it sit for 3 minutes. Then I removed the lid, stirred, and let her taste it plain.
“I want you to taste it how it is and tell me what you think we should add.”
She tasted it, made a face, and said, “I want to add cinnamon.”
So we added some cinnamon. She tasted again. “I think we need more cinnamon.” (I think she was right.)
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More cinnamon, another taste, and even while making a face, she said “I think that’s good,” and held out her bowl. Because of the face she made, I asked, “Do you want to add some honey to sweeten it?” and she agreed: “Last time I had it there was honey in it and it was really good!”
So we added honey and she was happy with it. She did say, “I don’t want any pecans. I don’t like the nuts and how they stick to my teeth.”

Well maybe she didn’t, but I did. I made myself a bowl and topped it with the pecans and then – chocolate chips. Not just to add some texture, but to add that smooth mouth-feel that happens when chocolate melts. And, because, let’s face it, I’m still a chocoholic at heart! ❤
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*Adding chopped bananas or strawberries, raspberries or blueberries will lend more nutrition and flavor.
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Click here to read more about how to develop your kids palate, and rid yourself of picky eaters!

Fun kid’s lunch – English Muffin pizzas

I wish I could remember where I saw this idea. On a blog or Pinterest, maybe in a magazine? Either way, I saw it at the perfect time because I did have an extra set of English Muffins as they were BOGO a week or so ago.

So today, impulsively, I decided to try it. The kids always love when they get to help with stuff so they were all for it. Plus, it gave me a day off from sandwiches, which is nice because I’m not using bread (that saves me money in the long run- we use up to 12 pieces of bread, about half a loaf! – if everyone has sandwiches!)

What you’ll need:
Sheet pan
Toaster
Oven
English Muffins
Pasta sauce
Shredded mozz or other cheese
Fresh veggies and/or meat for toppings
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I started by lightly toasting 3 whole grain English muffins. Then I covered a small sheet pan with aluminum foil and put the muffins on it. I used a spoon to scoop and spread sauce on each muffin. My eldest (in the picture) is 5- almost 6!- and wanted to do her own sauce. Then I let the kids add their own veggies and top with cheese.
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Then I baked in the oven at 400º for 6 minutes.

I thought they were delicious. I’d probably make them for ME next time, or maybe for dinner with mushrooms and red onion and fresh tomato. Yum!

I have to be honest though. My 5 1/2 year old LOVED hers, but as much as my two youngest love tomatoes, they really just wanted them raw. Camille picked the tomato and cheese off hers and left the muffin. Brendan only ate half of one and left the rest for me. Haha. I’m guessing it had something to do with the whole grain, as they only occasionally have whole grain toast.

Try it! You’ll be surprised how quick, easy, delicious and nutritious it is!