Most of us, at one time or another, have seen a child grappling to come to terms with what’s on his dinner plate. The image of a child who is all too unexcitedly pushing his food around his plate with a fork, inquiring:
“What ARE these green things in my food?? And WHY are my mashed potatoes touching the meatloaf?! Eeew!”
As parents, I think it is helpful to remember that to a certain extent, every child will go through some version of selective eating. As children grow and assert their independence, it’s only natural that they will have more opinions and preferences (about EVERYTHING, in case you haven’t already noticed!). And while we cannot completely avoid the different food stages and inevitable food selectivity our children will have, it’s helpful to know that there are many little things we can do to MINIMIZE picky eating. (Notice we said minimize, not eliminate!)
So here is one tip that can help MINIMIZE picky eating: Take a food your child likes and add an herb or spice to it.
Believe it or not, you can start this process as early as 8-months-old! The earlier you expose your child to different flavors, typically the more accepting he will be. For example, if you gave birth to a banana lover, try sprinkling a light dusting of ground cinnamon over the top of his diced/mashed banana. Once he’s comfortable with that, try serving banana with ground nutmeg or ground cardamom over top. Rotate how you serve the bananas—one day with cinnamon, one day with nutmeg, another day with cardamom, and some days, just plain ‘ole banana!
Doing so carefully exposes your child to different flavors, and the next time he tastes cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom in a different food, he will likely be more accepting of the flavors, because you’ve made them familiar to him. Children like food they are familiar with, so it’s up to us to make them familiar! Some kids can require up to 20 tries to acquire a taste for a particular food, so don’t get too discouraged if it doesn’t work on the very first try. Try, try again, and your hard work will eventually pay off.
There are hundreds of different food, herbs, and spice combinations, but here are just a few to get you started:
- Apple: try cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom
- Pear: try cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom
- Carrots: try oregano, rosemary, or pepper
- Broccoli: try lemon juice or ginger
- Sweet potato: try cinnamon or nutmeg
- Butternut squash: try rosemary, sage, or cinnamon
- Green peas: try mint, lemon juice, or garlic
- Chicken: try thyme, rosemary, oregano, or dill
Adding herbs and spices to your child’s food helps you achieve more than one goal. You’ll be happy to know that not only are you exposing your child to different flavors and expanding his palate, but you’re also giving your child tremendous health benefits. Naturopathic Doctor, Stephanie Mottola, explains:
“Food is our greatest medicine, and herbs and spices are food. They provide the body with micronutrients needed to fuel the activity of every cell in our body, antioxidants to protect each cell and organ that make us healthy and strong, along with many other, previously unnamed compounds being “discovered” daily that help our organs to function healthfully. I think they also help introduce our children to what real, earth-given food tastes like and help to bring delicious flavor to our food, encouraging healthy eating of whole, unprocessed foods.”
There’s no need to douse the food in an herb or spice; start with a very small amount, let him get his tastes bud wet, and allow some time for him to acquire a taste for it. Herbs and spices may be started as young as 8-months-old and should be treated as a new food. Most Pediatricians recommend adding them to food 1 at a time, then waiting 4 days to ensure the child doesn’t experience a negative reaction before introducing a new one.
The earlier we make our kids familiar with a variety of flavors, the better little eaters they will likely be. And the easier our lives will be. Amen!
If you enjoyed this post, sign up to receive our newsletter for other great ideas on feeding your baby, toddler, and family. Look out for our upcoming cookbook What a Good Eater! for baby & toddler recipes with healthy herbs and spices to add flavor and broaden your baby’s palette, expected April 2016.
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