Picky, picky, picky

So … here is a fun fact. The average adult has between 2,000 to 4,000 taste buds in total. Taste buds become receptors of information on what we like and don’t like to eat. They also can be found in the back of your throat, on your epiglottis, your nose and sinuses, all the way down the throat to the upper part of the esophagus. Infants and young children have even more cells that sense taste in the mucous membranes of their lips and cheeks (onhealth.com). Perhaps this will help us understand why we all have so many different tastes.

Parents Magazine and Child Care Resource and Referral have tackled the issue of picky eaters. What do you do if your child is a picky eater? Here is what they suggest:

• Don’t force a meal or snack. Likewise, don’t bribe or force your child to eat certain foods or clean his or her plate. This may create a power struggle over food.

• Portion control. Serve small portions to avoid overwhelming your child and give him or her the opportunity to independently ask for more. At home, try a single pea, part of a noodle, or a crumble of cheese.

• Let children explore. Young children often touch or smell new foods, and might even put tiny bits in their mouths and then take them back out again. Your child might need repeated exposure to a new food before he or she takes the first bite.

• Time is of the essence. Serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day. You can provide milk or 100 percent juice with the food, but offer water between meals and snacks. Allowing your child to fill up on juice, milk or snacks throughout the day might decrease his or her appetite for meals. Kids who resist new foods, eat snack foods or drink all day long, which limits their hunger for foods at meals. They will be more receptive to trying something new if they’re truly hungry.

• Encourage your child by talking about a food’s color, shape, aroma and texture – not whether it tastes good. Here are some great ideas:

• Serve new foods along with your child’s favorite foods.

• Some kids seek flavor and/or crunch. If your child prefers sweetness, glaze carrots with a little honey or maple syrup, or if he likes spice, season crab cakes or chicken with chili powder.

• Serve broccoli and other veggies with a favorite dip or sauce.

• Cut foods into various shapes with cookie cutters.

• Offer breakfast foods for dinner.

• Serve a variety of brightly colored foods. Add chopped broccoli or green peppers to spaghetti sauce, top cereal with fruit slices or mix grated zucchini and carrots into casseroles and soups.

• Let your child do the shopping! At the grocery store, ask your child to help you select fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. Don’t buy anything that you don’t want your child to eat. At home, encourage your child to help you rinse veggies, stir batter or set the table. If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child is more likely to follow suit.

• Avoid distractions by turning off the television and other electronic gadgets during meals to help your child focus on eating. Keep in mind that television advertising might also encourage your child to desire sugary or less nutritious foods.

• Keep a diary of all the foods your child eats. Disordered or extreme picky eaters accept only 20 or fewer foods and are often sensitive to texture, temperature, or color. If your child only eats 20 or fewer foods, ask her doctor to refer you to a local dietitian or feeding program.

• Grow a garden! Let your child help you plan a garden planting fruits and vegetables he/she likes. Take time as a family to learn about the Iowa Food and Family Project at http://www.iowafoodandfamily.com/about where you can learn about how food is grown in Iowa, download a free cookbook, or view a variety of recipes!

For those that know me well, I dislike the taste of cheese. For my husband, it’s strawberries and pineapple. My son dislikes mushrooms and will never eat a bun with his hot dog. Lastly, my daughter will not eat cantaloupe or honeydew, and will only eat watermelon if served on the rind. When you think about a range of 2,000 to 4,000 taste bud receptors, our taste buds become as unique as our DNA.

Let me know how you tackle picky eaters in your house. I would love to hear from you.


Carrie Kube is a director for Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area Board. All thoughts and opinions expressed are that of the author and not the board and/or its community partners.