The Power of exposure: how to get your picky eater to eat healthy

If you are a mom of young children like me, then at some point you may have struggled with a child who is a picky eater! I will raise my hand first and confess, I have one of those. She is the youngest of my two daughters and wow she is strong willed! When she makes up her mind to do or not to do something, it’s all over. She has taken this exact approach when it comes to food. I have struggled for years to get her to eat. I have even sought the counsel of an occupational therapist and the end result, strawberries became her most hated food! My husband and I have thought and explored so many options and nothing seemed to work until we decided to take a unique approach and get her exposed to food in every single capacity possible. Below are the steps we have executed to help our youngest daughter become more open to trying new foods and making healthy diet choices.
The first step was initiating specific conversions with her about the value of food and relating it to some of her desires. She wanted her hair to grow long, for example, so I helped her make the connection between eating healthy and hair growth. Letting her know that consuming foods such as citrus, berries, avocados, kiwi, nuts and drinking lots of water would make her hair grow healthy, strong, and very quickly. She also loves to read. So, I have helped her make the association between healthy eyes and vision and foods such as carrots, red bell peppers, dark leafy vegetables and legumes that are deemed best for eye health. This first step took a little time and lots of patience. But in the end, it was all worth it.
The second step involved introducing her to where her food came from. This was an easy and enjoyable process for me, since I love gardening and growing everything I can get my hands on. We first started by collecting seeds which were either store bought or harvested from fruits and vegetables previously consumed. We then did a fun activity that personalized her experience. She loves painting, so we got a few flowerpots, and I had her paint and decorate each of them. Then we started the fun work of planting. I allowed her to choose seeds of a few vegetables that she would like to see grow and ones that she was willing to at least taste. Those seeds were planted in her special pots! Throughout this step we would constantly check on each growth phase of the plants and have discussions on the importance of plant care and the source of nutrients for each fruit or veggie being grown. The duration of this step is dependent on the choices of fruits and veggies. Choosing easy growing vegetables or fruits such as sweet peppers, tomatoes or strawberries will take between 2-3 months.
Now that the fruits and vegetables were mature and ready to be consumed, it was time to learn how to prepare them. Now this can be an intimidating step, especially if you don’t have confidence in the kitchen. So, for this step I encourage you to get creative. For my experience I tried on several occasions to get my little one in the kitchen with me and to be honest it was a hit or miss. Some days she was excited and willing and other days, she had no interest. I even went as far as giving her the opportunity to attend cooking camp. The first time around, she had no interest, knowing that she would have had to eat the dishes she prepared. However, a year later I tried with her once again and this time around she was willing. At her cooking camp she honed her knife skills and learnt to prepare a variety of meals including pastas from scratch, pizza, rice dishes, cookies and a selection of beverages. In my opinion this was where I started to see the changes in her eating habits and a willingness to try new food. This phase was a powerful phase and indeed a game changer.
The last step, which could be a little tricky, was to give her autonomy in the kitchen. It may be a daunting thought for most to let an 8-year-old loose in the kitchen. However, if you have given them the right exposure and cooked with them a few times in the kitchen, then you will know exactly what their capabilities are and feel more at ease letting them be in the kitchen. It’s the best way to build their confidence. Start out by giving them the power to make simple dishes, such as salads and juices to start. Then with time they can graduate to making more complex meals. For my little one, she found interest in candy making and for a little while that is all she wanted to make. So, I made candy with her once and after that she was on her own. Now her little hands not only make candies but also a variety of breads, pizzas, and pancakes, just to name a few. She has also tackled making traditional Jamaican rice and peas and making the coconut milk from scratch, with a little help from grandma.
Being in the kitchen has now become a fun chore for her and best of all, she is not as picky an eater anymore. Sweet peppers are her favorite veggie to snack on and guacamole her favorite dip to eat with sweet potato chips. One of her favorite meals is pasta with plantain sauce, which is really a stretch for her considering that she wouldn’t even have touched macaroni and cheese with a long foot pole back then. Her favorite drink is water, with freshly squeezed orange juice and mango smoothie coming in at a close second. She still gets a little squeamish about some foods, but I will not complain because I know I have equipped her with everything she needs to make the right food choices and if all else fails she can go to the kitchen and whip up her favorite meal all because I have given her exposure.

Previously published on the on January 28, 2024.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *