Strategies for Engaging Picky Eaters with Healthy Foods

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When I presented at the Child and Adult Care Food Program's (CACFP) Sponsors Association Meeting a few weeks ago, I offered ways to help picky eaters shift to healthier eating patterns. The post Fun Ways to Get Picky Eaters to Try New Foods featured the first topic I addressed: sneaking in nutrients.

Now I'd like to talk about another topic from that same presentation.

Let's talk scent.

Engaging with smell is a great activity. We often run ourselves ragged making craft projects, driving to various activities, and then trying to tackle dinner. But what if dinner is the family activity and the craft? This is especially great for helping kids engage with food in an unexpected way.

For example, you could help kids explore their senses of smell by setting out small bowls of herbs and spices on the table – use ones with rich aromas like cinnamon, basil, garlic, ginger, chocolate, cocoa, nutmeg, vanilla, etc. Allow your tot(s) to take a big sniff of each bowl and let them taste a tiny pinch of each one. Let them describe the scents and tastes of each one. Also, write out the names of each herb and spice for the child(ren) to see. Together, you can cook or bake a recipe using some of these aromatics -- it's a fun way to transfer knowledge about the spice rack to the plate.

You can also take things to the next level with a small herb garden.

Plant a variety of herbs and vegetables in the garden. Let the family all pick what they want to grow and cook. That way, eating is something they own instead of something that is shoved to them on their plates.

Growing herbs is easy and inexpensive. You can get seeds from local garden shops,  Home Depot, or your local nursery. You can also buy grown plants from these places or even the grocery store.

Once you've grown the herbs, here are a few fun ways to incorporate them into meals.

  • Mint goes into beverages so they enjoy water with flavors instead of soda
  • Parsley can go into a salad
  • Cilantro can go into homemade salsa
  • Basil can go into spaghetti sauce
  • Oregano goes into pizza
  • Seasonings can be mixed so they have their own proprietary blend for pizza and pasta or soup or whatever you are cooking.

Have kids smell the herbs as you pick them, then again after chopping. What do they notice? How has the scent changed? Once the meal is prepared, have them sniff again. Can they find their herbs?

Planting, watering, and harvesting what you've grown is a fun activity for the whole family and a great way to help kids engage with new flavors and scents.

Want to share this info? Here's a printable handout, just for you!

CACFP Handout Two

And here are other fun resources for kids, fresh from the Nutrition Education Store!

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