As I introduce new vegetables and fruits to my children, I encourage food exploration. A child’s decision to eat or try a new food depends on their sensory perception of it. If the child does not like the way it smells, feels, or looks they probably will not taste it until the food becomes more familiar to them. To make food more familiar, I encourage my children to explore food using all of their senses.
Easy Vegetable Introduction & Sensory Play Ideas for Picky Eaters
- allow them to self-feed at the table or highchair
- let them independently explore produce in the natural state
- read picture books with a variety of produce
- participate in structured play
- participate in age appropriate kitchen tasks.
As for independent produce play, I simply put my child on a blanket and allow my children to explore produce in its natural raw state. I watch intently. I watch for potential choking because children will put the it in their mouth- their curiosity gets the best of them. I find self-reward when they experience the sense of taste while exploring (playing) with fresh vegetables. Not only did they discover the color, texture, and smell but they also experienced taste because they wanted to try it without my pressure tactics. As you can imagine, I always feature the same produce at the next meal.
Structured play is easy and fun. Instead of using paint brushes for artwork, allow them to use ends of celery and other produce to stamp paint onto paper. For the younger child, let them use their fingers to paint with the purees they eat at the highchair.
As for cooking skills, I allowed my children to get active in the kitchen by 18 months of age. They removed the kale leaves from the stems, peeled cooked but chilled whole tomatoes, peel clementines and shelled beans–or at least I encouraged them to try. Sometimes, it was successful and other times the experienced the produce in their own unique way. Either way, we increased familiarity away from the meal.
Vegetable Introduction Strategy for the Picky Eater
I often tell my clients to think of introducing a new vegetable as meeting a new person. Imagine your partner wants you to socialize with someone you dislike. Your partner pressures you to talk to them at the party but you really do not like this person because she is bitter, pungent, and possibly smelly. The more your partner pressures you, the more you distance yourself from the person.
Now imagine, your partner does not care if you socialize with this person. During your first encounter, you stand on opposite sides of the room, no eye contact. At the second meeting, you walk past each other at the buffet table brushing elbows. During the third meeting, you exchange a simple hello. By the 11th meeting, you have grown on each other and actually enjoy each others company.
The major difference between the two scenarios is your desire to meet this person on your terms. You were not forced to socialize. There is nothing more awkward than forced socialization. Using the second approach with introducing your infant or child to a new vegetable is easy, rewarding and fun.
Simply put your child who can sit alone on a clean blanket with a favorite toy. Next to the toy, place a broccoli stalk. Step back and observe. You did it; you just gave your child the opportunity to meet broccoli on her own terms. Don’t forget your camera because you will want the picture of your child putting the broccoli to her mouth. Remember- children explore their environments with their mouth so supervision is necessary.
A resource and blog I love to get ideas from is Happy Hooligans. You will find many new ideas, crafts and fun for you and your little ones- a must follow!
References:Suzanne Evans Morris and Marsha Dunn Klein, Pre-Feeding Skills 2nd Ed. (Austin: Pro-ed, 2000), 11. P. Heath, C, Houston-Price and OB. Kennedy, “Increasing Food Familiarity without the Tears. A Role for Visual Exposure?” Appetite. 57, no. 3 (2011): 832-838. P., Dazeley, C. Houston-Price and C. Hill, “Should Healthy Eating Programes Incorporate Interaction with Foods in Different Sensory Modalities? A Review of the Evidence,” British Journal of Nutrition. 108, no. 5 (2012): 769-777. JA, Mennella, S. Nicklaus, AL Jagolino and LM. Yourshaw, “Variety is the Spice of Life: Strategies for Promoting Fruit and Vegetable Acceptance During Infancy,” Physiology and Behavior. 94, no. 1 (2008): 29-38.
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