10 ways to get kids to eat new foods

beige food diet

Eat the rainbow they say. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Also have fresh fruit at fruit time. But if you have a kid who eats a restricted beige diet, how do you get kids to eat new foods?

We already covered 5 ideas for how to eat beyond the beige diet. From shopping together, to eating buffet style, these ideas are long term strategies for broadening a diet.

But what about right now for dinner when you want a nutritious meal filled with healthy vegetables? We’ve worked with an Occupational Therapist for years to expose our autistic child to different foods and sensory smells, textures, tastes and visuals. Sometimes you just want to try to sneak goodness into foods and see what’s tolerated.

Here’s 10 ways to get kids to eat new foods, avoiding many of the common sensory aversions with food. Texture is a big sensory issue – our children hate squishy, soft food and always have. Colour, if you’re on the famous beige diet, can also be off-putting. Our daughter can’t look at the front of the cornflakes box because there are blueberries in the cornflake cereal picture and she cannot stand that. Taste, particularly bitter flavours are also highly avoided (which unfortunately is many healthy vegetables).

five assorted vegetables to get kids to eat
Photo by Alexander Grey on Pexels.com

10 ways to get kids to eat new foods

Change the texture

  1. Texture and colour: Cover something in puff pastry (or any pastry like dumpling wrappers, shortcrust pastry) and bake until the pastry is crunchy and brown. This works for sausage rolls, vegetable pasties, apple turnovers, pizza scrolls, potato spiral pie cabbage dumplings, and many others. I was amazed when my beige diet daughter ate cabbage and other vegetables within a steamed dumpling and pasty.
  2. Texture and colour: Coat a small piece of food into a batter then coat in panko or breadcrumbs. Fry in oil for a tempura style crunch or a schnitzel style batter. Onion bhaji is another example of a vegetable that becomes preferred when coated in batter.
  3. Texture: Make it solid by freezing in a ice pop mould or ice cube tray. This works with fruit juices to up fruit intake. Also, it will taste less sweet at cold temperatures, and generally taste less strongly of the flavours as well. It’s more appealing being able to suck, chew or crunch instead of softer textures that sit funny in the mouth. For our daughter, fruit juice ice pops are the only fruit juice she’ll consume.
  4. Texture: Opposite to crunch, try juicing or turning into jellies. A child may not tolerate a solid apple. But apple juice, an apple crumble or apple jelly may be tolerated. Strawberries might be out, but strawberry milkshakes ok.

Alter the taste

  1. Taste: Chop up foods that might be bitter (apple slices, vegetable sticks) and have a sweet dipping sauce like cinnamon sugar, chocolate sauce or a salty dip like noodle packet seasoning, soy sauce or even a dukkah.
  2. Taste: Try hiding vegetables or fruits in chocolate flavoured muffins or biscuits. Before cooking, don’t forget to mash, grate or puree finely to avoid texture issues with the secret addition.
  3. Taste: Hide vegetables in burger patties, pasta sauces, meatballs, curries, muffins, and other baked good. Again, puree or food process finely to avoid textures and specks of colour standing out in an otherwise smooth sauce.

Change the colour and appearance

  1. Colour and texture: Hide all flavours with tomato or bbq sauce smothering all dinner. Alternatively, salt, nutritional yeast, stock, rice seasoning (furikake), margarine or grated cheese might be considered appropriate food coverings too.
  2. Appearance: Try changing the shape, arrangement or look of a food by presenting in a shape, in cut out shapes using biscuit cutters, in a funny face arrangement. Allow finger play with the food too. This allows kids to get used to new foods through exposure.

Change the moisture level

  1. Moisture level: Food too wet? Try baking it in a chip, dehydrated crisp or cracker. This works with vegetables, some fruits like banana, and freeze drying or dehydrating works with most fruits. Too dry? Try covering it with a sauce or spread like jam. Or brush a little milk on top and microwave quickly to soften it.

Bonus – change the agency

If a food is served out and is ‘wrong’, empower the child to fix it. Does it need salt? Is it wet and needs draining or paper towel to pat dry? Is it too hot or cold and need heating or blowing on? But until it’s had a chance to be fixed, don’t throw it out. Refer to the Division of Responsibility model – parents decide what, when and where to eat but kids decide what from that and how much to eat.

Bonus – try for healthier swaps

Typically, children with limited beige diets will eat processed foods from the shops but not fresh foods. This decreases the nutritional intake of food and is often high in fat, sugar and salt.

  1. Swap for the same product in a wholemeal variety: If foods like bread, rice, pasta or noodles are on the preferred foods list, try to slowly swap them out for healthier wholemeal varieties. Serve them the same, with the same preferred toppings or flavours. Our children can tolerate brown rice, wholemeal pasta, and wholegrain bagels, making them an okay safe food.
  2. Add healthier homemade options into the mix: Children sometimes prefer processed foods like chips and chicken nuggets. Try to slowly swap them with homemade sweet potato fries made from sliced sweet potato. Or swap frozen nuggets with a home made whole food version made from real meat or alternative protein rather than processed meats.

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